13 unions from 4 countries are continuing the strike against Tesla

The following articles were written by Lars-Erik Utberg and Davis Kaža, members of the Workers Party Group, and were initially published in the Veckans Nyheter newspaper. Internationalist Standpoint is currently working together with the Workers Party Group with the aim of building a genuine workers International

Since the Swedish Industrial and Metal Workers Union (IF Metall) initiated strike action against Tesla on October 27 last year, the conflict has grown to become the most important battle in the Swedish labor market in several decades. The strike also has important international implications. Today, the strike does not only include ten different trade unions in Sweden. At the beginning of December, trade unions in Denmark, Norway and Finland also announced sympathy measures with the Swedish trade unions.

Denmark’s largest trade union, the transport workers union 3F Transport, was the first to announce sympathy measures on 5 December. The Danish transport workers union organizes both drivers and port workers. The union has initiated a blockade on the transport of Tesla cars to and from Sweden.

On December 6, the Norwegian trade union Fellesforbundet followed suit and announced a similar blockade on the transport of Tesla cars. The blockade came into effect on December 20.

“Our union comrades in IF Metall have the full support of Fellesforbundet in the conflict with Tesla. They are taking the fight against an anti-union company on behalf of the entire labour market”,

Jørn Eggum, chairman of the Fellesforbundet, told the Norwegian newspaper Børsen when the blockade was announced.

On 7 December, the Finnish transport union AKT also joined the struggle. The dockworkers of the AKT also initiated a blockade on the shipment of Tesla cars on December 20.

“IF Metall and their Swedish employees have AKT’s full support. The fact that we have comprehensive collective agreements and that the trade unions support each other is an essential part of the Nordic labour market system”,

said AKT’s President Ismo Kokko in a press release.

As the transport unions in Denmark, Norway and Finland initiated their blockades in solidarity with IF Metall, there are now 13 trade unions from four countries that are taking part in the strike. According to strike researcher Christer Thörnqvist, quoted in the IF Metall union newspaper Dagens Arbete (Daily Work), this is “virtually unique in modern Swedish labour market history”. According to Thörnqvist, the Swedish labour market has probably never experienced this many sympathy measures in one and the same conflict.

Cross-border trade union cooperation

The most remarkable thing of all is the cross-border support for the strike. Trade unions have been slow, or reluctant, to adapt to the increasingly globalized economy, where companies’ activities have long since transcended national borders. When employers have moved production out of Sweden to low-wage countries in Asia and Latin America or used staffing agencies from Eastern Europe to dump wages and conditions in Sweden, the trade unions have not been able to resist. Instead of striving for unity across national borders, to safeguard wages and conditions, the conservatism of the trade union leadership has allowed companies to pit workers in different countries against each other.

The Tesla strike, however, shows that unions indeed can work together across national borders. The fact that the trade unions in Denmark, Norway and Finland are joining the Swedish unions fight against Tesla is an example of exactly the kind of methods of struggle that trade unions need to adapt to defend workers’ rights in a globalized economy. Without cross-border trade union cooperation – which includes sympathy strikes – workers have no chance of standing up to giant multinational companies like Tesla.

If union leaders, as well as rank-and-file union activists, can draw this conclusion, the strike at Tesla could become the most important conflict in the Swedish labor market since the Metalworkers Strike of 1945. And it could become an example for trade union activists in other countries on the need for solidarity action across borders in order to defend workers rights against multinational companies.

Neo-liberal think-tank attacks right to strike

On February 14, neoliberal think-tank Timbro published a report called “After Tesla”. The report is a far-reaching attack on the right to strike and the possibility of initiating sympathy action – and thus an attack on both the trade unions and on democratic rights and freedoms in Sweden.

The Tesla strike has been going on since October 27. Today, 13 trade unions in four countries are involved in the conflict. Support for the strike appears to remain high among the general public. But among representatives of the employers and several right-wing parties, discontent is growing. A common theme for these, ever since the strike began, has been to call for limits on the right to strike, and in particular on the right to sympathy action.

However, for most of this time, the right-wing criticism of the strike has been rather cautious. With Timbro’s report, this previous caution has been blown away. The report is authoritarian in its character and the proposals are aimed at restricting the democratic freedoms and rights of all workers in Sweden. Even the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, which is the main financier of Timbro, has been forced to distance itself from the views in the report.

So, what does the Timbro report propose?

One of the most far-reaching measures proposed by the authors is to abolish the possibility of taking sympathy action altogether! The right to sympathy measures is a crucial part of the strength of the trade unions in the event of a conflict and is based on the solidarity that exists between different workers of different professions. The strike against Tesla shows how important sympathy actions are in increasing the pressure on an employer who, like Tesla, refuses to sign a collective agreement and is prepared to go very far, including the use of strike-breakers, to oppose a strike. Trade union sympathy actions across national borders are today more important than ever in order to win a conflict against multinational companies that play off employees in different countries against each other.

The Timbro report goes even further. The authors also propose that the constitutional protection of the right to strike in Sweden should be abolished! The right to strike has uniquely strong legal status in Sweden, as it is written into one of the four laws that make up the Swedish Constitution. This is a democratic right that workers in all countries should have – not something that should be abolished in Sweden.

The Timbro report also proposes that a union must have at least one member in a workplace to be able to take industrial action against that company. Such a change would give all employers strong incentives to emulate Tesla and make it more difficult for their employees to join a union. Workers in smaller workplaces would be particularly vulnerable.

Another controversial proposal in the report is to ban political strikes. This right must be safeguarded by the trade unions, especially in these times of calls for increasingly authoritarian interventions by the government/state.

All in all, the proposals in the Timbro report would entail a severe restriction of the right to strike and thus also of democratic rights and freedoms in Sweden. Some may wonder why the measures proposed in the report are so harsh even though there have hardly been any strikes in Sweden for a long time. The answer is that the authors from Timbro look both to the future and to other countries. The Finnish Government has put forward proposals to restrict the right to strike. In France, President Macron overrode parliament to force through a deterioration of the pension system. The authoritarian trend within the bourgeoisie is very clear.

The Swedish trade union movement must prepare for more and tougher battles in the future.

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