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Elon Musk Calls Strikes Insane as Swedish Workers Take on Tesla

Elon Musk calls the IF Metall workers' protest insane
Elon Musk calls the IF Metall workers’ protest insane. Credit: Thomas Hawk / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

In a significant development, Elon Musk expressed strong disapproval of the ongoing strikes, calling them insane, as they are affecting Tesla workshops in Sweden. The strikes, aimed at securing collective bargaining rights for workers, have become a focal point in protecting Sweden’s union model from global labor practices.

IF Metall, a prominent trade union, has been leading the strike across eight Tesla workplaces in Sweden for the past five weeks, marking the first time employees of the US carmaker have taken such action.

The situation escalated when Musk, the tech billionaire and CEO of Tesla, took to X (formerly Twitter) on Thursday to share his thoughts, stating, “This is insane.” His remark was in response to a social media post highlighting secondary strikes by Swedish postal services, which have been causing a disruption in delivering license plates to new Tesla cars.

Commitment to carry forward the strikes

IF Metall, a substantial union boasting over three hundred thousand members in Swedish industry, remains steadfast in its commitment to the ongoing strikes, asserting that they will persist “for as long as needed.” The union initiated the strike in response to Tesla’s refusal to enter into a collective agreement with its members.

Collective agreements, which address crucial aspects such as salary, pension, working hours, and vacations, play a pivotal role in Sweden’s labor market model. These agreements, in theory, enable unions and employers to regulate the labor market, reducing the role of the state in such matters.

Despite a decline in union membership in Sweden over recent decades, a significant number of workers are still part of unions, with approximately nine in ten employees having collective arrangements.

Additional support from unions

The Tesla strike Elon Musk called insane has garnered support from eight additional unions, sparking concerns about its potential extension to neighboring Norway. Fellesforbundet, Norway’s largest private sector union, has indicated its willingness to take sympathetic action in solidarity with the ongoing strikes.

Marie Nilsson, the chair of IF Metall, emphasized that the ongoing strike goes beyond the concerns of Tesla workers. It is a broader effort to safeguard the Swedish union model.

Nilsson is of the view that if companies like Tesla operate without collective agreements, it could set a precedent for other international companies and various industries. She stressed the potential long-term impact, stating, “It can take a long time,” and affirmed the union’s commitment to persist for as long as necessary.

Support from different sectors

The strike has garnered support from diverse sectors, with transport and harbor workers refusing to load or unload Tesla cars at all Swedish ports. Electricians are withholding service or repair work at Tesla workshops, while charging stations and painters are refraining from working on Tesla cars.

Additional sympathy strikes involve service and communication workers halting the distribution of posts and shipments to Tesla. IF Metall spokesperson Jesper Pettersson noted the union’s readiness for a prolonged conflict. Despite the absence of ongoing talks with Tesla Sweden, Pettersson expressed openness to future discussions at the earliest opportunity.

Impact of the strike

The impact of the strike extends beyond Tesla. The Swedish global payment firm Klarna promptly signed a collective agreement, preventing a planned strike at its Stockholm headquarters.

Klarna’s co-founder and CEO, Sebastian Siemiatkowski, highlighted the significance of the Swedish model, stating his belief that the agreement would strengthen it from within. The ongoing labor action at Tesla has sparked speculation about its potential influence on other Swedish companies, with some commentators suggesting it could prompt discussions at Spotify’s Swedish division.

Earlier this year, Spotify withdrew from talks about a collective agreement, asserting that it saw no significant value in such an arrangement for its employees.

Across the border in Norway, where approximately five hundred Tesla employees are organized, Fellesforbundet’s leader, Jorn Eggum, declared their intention to block Swedish Teslas from entering the country.

Eggum emphasized the need to hold Tesla accountable and ensure that the company commits to collective agreements in the European countries where it operates. As of now, Tesla has not provided an immediate response to requests for comment, while Spotify has chosen not to comment on the matter.

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