German Opel workers fear for their futures under GM

6th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

Workers at Opel's four German plants protested on Thursday to voice their anger at a shock decision by GM this week to back out of a planned sale of the firm.

Ruesselsheim -- Uwe Raubert has worked at Opel for 33 years. But now that parent company General Motors has scrapped plans to sell the unit, he is not expecting to be in a job for much longer.

"I'm going to laugh myself sick if GM restructures us. It's not going to work, it's all going to do down the drain," Raubert told AFP as he and 10,000 fellow workers protested at Opel's Ruesselsheim plant in Germany on Thursday.

"My wife has already told me to start looking around for a new job," the 47-year-old said. "Everything is up in the air. There is huge scepticism among workers about GM's plans."

Workers at Ruesselsheim near Frankfurt, as well as over 6,000 at Opel's three other German plants, protested on Thursday to voice their anger at a shock decision by GM this week to back out of a planned sale of the firm.

Under the terms of a preliminary deal hammered out in September, GM was set to cede a 55-percent stake in Opel, including Vauxhall in Britain, to Canadian auto parts maker Magna International and state-owned Russian lender Sberbank.

Magna's plan, enthusiastically backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel with 4.5 billion euros' (6.6 billion dollars) worth of state aid, was set to involve 10,500 job cuts, including 4,500 in Germany.

But the Canadians were pledging to keep all of Opel's four German plants up and running, and this was preferable to the alternatives -- insolvency for Opel, or GM restructuring Opel itself.

Now though, it has all come undone. GM has decided that it will keep hold of Opel and intends to slash costs by 30 percent, meaning the elimination of about one-fifth of the 50,000-strong workforce across Europe.

Workers in Germany fear that under GM, the future of Opel's four German plants is less certain.

GM even threatened employees and unions that it might file for insolvency for Opel if the workforce upheld its threat to refuse wage concessions -- a move blasted as "blackmail" by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily.

"GM's concept is just the old one from May. It is much harsher than what Magna had promised us," said Armin Herber, a member of Opel's works council at Ruesselsheim and an employee for the last 23 years.

"Everyone at Opel is now scared for their job," Herber told AFP. "It's just mad. Now GM's back and their first calling card is to threaten us with insolvency."

Klaus Franz, the head of Opel's works committee, told the protest in Ruesselsheim that GM was now in its "deepest ever crisis of trust with workers, with the public and with politicians."

"All possible reactions, from disappointment and anger to frustration have gone through our hearts, souls and heads these past few days ... It is incredible how GM has played with the feelings, the fears, the worries and the needs of Opel workers and their families," Franz said.

But he expressed confidence that Opel would survive.

Opel "is the jewel in GM's crown,” he said. “That gives us confidence."

Martin Achter/AFP/Expatica

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