Little solidarity for German Opel strikers

7th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

More than 16,000 workers in total downed tools at four Opel factories in Germany but union hopes of similar action in Belgium, Britain, Spain and Poland fell flat.

Brussels -- German Opel workers found more fatalism than solidarity among counterparts elsewhere in Europe on Friday as hoped-for mass demonstrations over threatened job cuts failed to materialise.

More than 16,000 workers in total downed tools at four Opel factories in Germany, including around 10,000 at the largest at Ruesselsheim near Frankfurt.

But union hopes of similar action in Belgium, Britain, Spain and Poland fell flat.

In Antwerp, Belgium, where some 2,300 workers are facing resundancy under General Motors' plans to slash 10,000 jobs, workers downed tools for just one hour to attend briefings by unions.

"The game isn't over," Flemish regional leader Kris Peeters tried to tell Belgium's Le Soir newspaper on Friday.

But Antwerp union chief Rudi Kennes sees no hope. "There is no plan (to keep the plant working) and neither will there be money," he told AFP.

No protests were planned in Britain, Spain or Poland -- where plants are broadly happy with General Motors' shock move to pull out of a sale heavily backed by the offer of state aid from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The new restructuring will "essentially" hit Germany and Belgium hardest, German works committee chief Klaus Franz said on Thursday.

The Spanish press has been largely optimistic about the effects of the company's U-turn, and Spanish union rep Ana Sanchez stressed: "Our situation is completely different to that of the Germans."

Britain's biggest trade union Unite, which greeted GM's decision with delight on Wednesday, said Thursday it was keen to work with GM to ensure job cuts were voluntary.

British Business Minister Peter Mandelson, anxious to protect GM's two Vauxhall factories there, said there must be a "fair balance" of jobs lost and state aid given by European governments.

The European Commission had raised objections to German aid it feared was conditional on jobs being retained at the German plants.

Germany is home to about 25,000 Opel workers, roughly half of GM Europe's total workforce, and the government had lobbied hard for GM to sell its European operations to Canadian autoparts maker Magna International and Russia's Sberbank in the hope of keeping all the German plants running.

Berlin had promised 4.5 billion euros (6.6 billion dollars) in state aid to Magna, angering other European countries where the loss-making Opel has workers because of fears they would bear the brunt of badly needed restructuring.

GM is now expected to seek aid from Germany and other European countries to carry out a three-billion-euro revamp. A German government spokesman said Friday he expected GM to provide details of its plans next week.

In a first direct consequence of the company's decision General Motors Europe head Carl-Peter Forster quit in disgust, a well-informed source told AFP on Friday.


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