Reprinted from OnLabor
he Swedish strike against Tesla is escalating rapidly, as suggested in my previous piece about the conflict for OnLabor. On the fourteenth day of the strike, several unions have called solidarity strikes to support the industrial union IF Metall in its efforts to secure a union contract for workers in Tesla’s repair and service shops across Sweden. The strike against Tesla was called after five years of failed efforts by the union to get Tesla to the bargaining table.
Swedish labor unions very rarely go on strike, and only after carefully considering other options. But when they do, they have a vast legal mandate to pressure employers into negotiating collective agreements (which cover almost nine out of ten employees). Permitted conflict measures include the right for unions (and employers) to use solidarity strikes, blockades, or lockouts against parties in conflicts where they are not themselves involved.
A factor particularly likely to trigger solidarity action, besides Tesla’s refusal to sign a contract, is the fact that the company is trying to circumvent industrial action. According to media reports, Tesla has brought in strikebreakers. They have also redirected ships to other ports and transported vehicles on passenger ferries instead of cargo ships.
Avoiding industrial action has been considered anathema in Swedish labor relations ever since the Saltsjöbaden agreement of 1938. Consequently, labor unions perceive Tesla’s behavior as an escalation of the conflict and have responded by expanding the strike with new measures.
These are the industrial actions announced so far:
October 27: IF Metall called a strike in Tesla’s repair shops, totaling about 120 workers.
November 3: IF Metall expanded the strike with a blockade on selected repair shops across Sweden, owned by other firms but certified by Tesla. This sweeps in an additional 470 workers who are still allowed to service other vehicles, but not Teslas.
November 7: The transportation workers’ union (Transport) issued a blockade against four Swedish ports, prohibiting the unloading of new Teslas arriving in cargo ships.
November 9: IF Metall announced that it will raise compensation for striking union members to 130 percent of their wages, in order to cover costs for pensions, vacation pay and other benefits which the employer would otherwise pay for on top of wages. The money comes from IF Metall’s conflict fund, built up over the years with union dues. As Swedish unions rarely go on strike, many have vast funds that allow them strike for a long time, if necessary.
November 10: IF Metall expands the blockade to four other Tesla-authorized shops.
November 15: The electrical workers’ union (Elektrikerna) will go on strike in twelve repair shops and block all repair and maintenance on 213 charging stations for Tesla vehicles (“superchargers”) throughout Sweden.
November 17: The transportation workers’ union will expand its blockade to all of Sweden’s approximately 50 ports, where unloading of Teslas will be stopped. The building maintenance workers’ union (Fastighets) will block all cleaning and maintenance in four locations where Tesla has repair shops and offices. IF Metall will expand the blockade to an additional four Tesla-authorized shops.
November 20: The postal workers’ union (Seko) will stop all deliveries by two of Sweden’s largest delivery companies, including mail and spare parts, to and from Tesla repair shops and offices.
November 21: The painters’ union will blockade 109 repair shops all over Sweden, to stop all work that involves auto body work like paint, coating, or lacquer.
According to Torbjörn Johansson, Chief Negotiator of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), the union strategy is not to expand the strike to as many workers as possible, but to tailor the conflict measures so that they target vital parts of Tesla’s operations. He explained: “We want to find things that makes it really hard for Tesla to breathe, eat, and live.”
The Swedish government has signaled that it will not interfere in the strike. On November 1, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson commented: “Swedish legislation is clear and Swedish labor market traditions are clear, so I expect the parties to resolve this the normal way.”
A week later, the Minister of Employment, Johan Perhson, said: “We have a model that allows for the measures that are now taken,” and added that it would be “sad” if Tesla were to leave Sweden as a result of the strike.
Tesla has, for its part, only made one public statement: ”It is unfortunate that IF Metall has taken these measures. Tesla follows Swedish labor market rules, but like many other companies we have chosen not to enter a collective bargaining agreement. We already offer equal or better agreements than those covered by collective bargaining and see no reason to sign any other agreement.”
According to IF Metall, however, Tesla’s wages are below the industry average (which is the case in the US, too, reports CNN) and the benefits do not match those in the union contract. Among other things, the contract offers guaranteed yearly pay raises, an insurance package, retraining and professional development subsidies, additional pension payments, and yearly working time reductions that grant workers more leisure than stipulated by law.
As the conflict unfolds, an expansion to other countries cannot be ruled out. If Tesla redirects its ships to Norway, the Norwegian union Fellesforbundet has said it will consider supporting the Swedish strike with conflict measures in Norwegian ports.
Union members who go on strike are protected by law against retaliation from the employer and entitled to compensation for wage losses by their union. If members refuse to go on strike they can be excluded from the union. Non-union members have the same striking rights and the same protection from employer reprisals, but are not entitled to union compensation. However, if they do join the union, they are immediately covered by the compensation benefit.
So far, the Tesla strike concerns blue-collar workers, but white-collar unions could join. For instance, they could block bank payments or other services, as they have done in the past.