Swedish auto-workers: 'save jobs and the planet'

Issue 

Globally, the campaign for serious action on climate change has been forced to confront the question of how to relate to the workforce in environmentally destructive industries.

Canadian-based eco-socialist blog Climate and Capitalism, http://climateandcapitalism.com, published an article from Lars Henriksson, a worker at the Volvo Cars final assembly plant in Gothenburg, Sweden, for the September issue of Kvasten ("The Broom"), an independent shop-floor paper made by and for the Volvo plant workers.

In a message posted at Climate and Capitalism, Henriksson wrote: "In June Volvo Cars … announced that they will shed 1200 jobs in Sweden, 600 of these will blue collar workers at the Torslanda plant in Gothenburg due to slow sales.

"In September the company said that they would probably need to shed at least another 900 [jobs]…

"Facing this crisis I decided to try to launch an initiative that could unite the climate and workers movements by raising the idea that the way to save our jobs could be to stop producing climate destructive cars that don't even sell and instead change to sustainable production …"

Henriksson's article is abridged below.

* * *

The cutbacks the company recently came out with, 900 redundancies on top of the earlier announced layoffs, has made morale sink even further in the plant. Few things are so depressing as not being able to do anything in a troublesome situation.

So the question is: is there anything we can do more than hoping for the best?

There are two ways to act: either do nothing and let management keep on with what they have been doing. Keeping our fingers crossed, hoping that it will blow over without hitting oneself.

Thinking about the way the bosses have run the company, and how the global situation looks with global warming and a general economical downturn, this is probably not a good idea.

None of us will get away without being affected — whether we are laid off this time or not.

What can we do? The issues are huge and answers far from self-evident, however we should at least start talking about our future together.

One reasonable thing would be cutting work hours without cutting pay. It's madness that some should work harder and harder while others are forced to idleness.

Instead of paying people unemployment benefits not to work, the money could be used to keep us all at work but with fewer hours. (The high bosses' salaries could easily be lowered though without forcing them to go to the pawn broker …)

This problem can't be fixed in a coffee break. It demands political decisions, but we have to start somewhere. The big advantage is that it's a quick fix once decided.

Working shorter hours doesn't demand any big conversions and would certainly have positive effects, with fewer sick days related both to stress and bodily disorders.

It's not a specially strange demand either. Swedish unions once grew strong fighting for shorter work hours and many unions in Europe have fought for, and won, shorter work hours.

An even bigger issue is whether it's possible to make a living producing today's cars in the long run.

With less and less oil, and ever larger climate problems, it will not be sustainable to make cars in the not too distant future, regardless of how good, cheap or "environmentally friendly" they are.

This is not a question that has any quick and easy answer either.

But if we just sit still and hope for someone else to take care of it, chances are we will all be out of jobs soon.

Changing production might seem like an impossible thing for those of us who work on the lowest levels in the company. But the truth is, we're the only ones that can do it.

From the top bosses, no help can be expected. Their loyalty towards the plant doesn't stretch further than to the next, more well-paid, job offer.

What can give us some hope if us today wonder where it is these days …)

Among other things, it is for such big issues that our union is for.

As we face serious threats, it's the union's duty to act. Not only by begging the government for more support to a [form of] production that is being run over by time.

Instead IF Metall [the union organising auto workers] should start discussions with traffic researchers and others who have better suggestions for future production than making luxury cars for the rich and mighty of the world.

If it's neither sustainable nor profitable to make cars of the present kind, we now have a great opportunity to convert production to something else, products that are useful to society and sustainable in the long run. And provide jobs!

To instead dismantle the industry by throwing workers into unemployment is maybe a reasonable solution for the owners, but not for the employees and definitely not for society.

Instead, the knowledge that exists on all levels of the company could be used for production that doesn't threaten our long term survival.

This will not happen all by itself, but it demands that all of us who, in different ways, are dependent on the auto industry take action.

We must start a discussion about possible solutions with Volvo workers, researchers, climate activists and all who are concerned and affected.

The discussion must be brought out to us, the union membership. If it stays among representatives and full timers, we won't see much action. We should demand that we get an extra hour of lunch and arrange meetings in the shops. (This shouldn't be too hard now that the plant is standing idle for several days.)

Now it's serious. We can't just sit and wait for our death verdict.

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