The first ever strikes and a solidarity blockade against the US carmaker could force it to rethink its entire anti-union model
F or the first time anywhere in the world, workers for the US carmaker Tesla have gone on strike. It’s not a coincidence that this strike is happening in Sweden, which has one of the strongest labour movements in Europe. More than 90% of workers are protected by collective bargaining agreements, and the system has strong backing among employees and employers alike. With good reason: the Swedish labour relations model has sustained relative industrial peace between wage-earners and corporations for decades.
By refusing to play ball, Elon Musk’s car giant may have picked an unwinnable fight. What started as a minor local disagreement has grown to the point that it could have global implications, with potential ripple effects for labour movements and auto workers across Europe and the US.
Tesla doesn’t manufacture cars in Sweden, but it does operate workshops to service its cars. The dispute began when a group of 130 disgruntled mechanics had their request for a collective bargaining agreement rejected. As is customary in Sweden, unions in other sectors came out in solidarity. Dockworkers, mail and delivery workers, cleaners and car painters have so far all agreed to refuse to work with Tesla products. Stockholm’s largest taxi company has also stopped buying new Tesla cars for its fleet. Their fight against Tesla’s anti-union business model could now spread to Germany, where Tesla runs factories and has a significantly larger workforce. The powerful German union IG Metall has said that it is ready to launch collective bargaining negotiations if the workers demand it.