Is there a future for the auto industry – with or without cars?
Today Climate and Capitalism received an email from Lars Henriksson, a worker at the Volvo Cars final assembly plant in Gothenburg, Sweden:
“In June Volvo Cars, since 1999 a part of Ford Motor Corp., announced that they will shed 1200 jobs in Sweden, 600 of these will blue collar workers at the Torslanda plant in Gothenburg, Sweden, due to slow sales.. In September the company said that they would probably need to shed at least another 900 in Torslanda.
“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 a sustainable production….
“The first text is an article I wrote for the September issue of Kvasten (The Broom), an independent shop-floor leaflet paper made by and for workers at the Volvo Cars final assembly plant in Gothenburg …
“The second is the text of a leaflet I wrote for Climate Action, now being distributed at the Volvo Plant and in the city of Gothenburg.”
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From Kvasten (The Broom):
The cutbacks the company recently came out with, 900 redundancies on top of the earlier announced layoffs has made the feeling sink even further in the plant. Few things are so depressing as not being able to do anything in a troublesom situation. So the question is: is there anything we can do more than hoping for the best?
In principle 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 of the way the bosses has run the company so far, and how the situation in the world looks with bank crashes, global warming and a general economical downturn, this is probably not a good idea. None of us are getting away without being affected – not the ones who will be laid off and not the ones who think they will not this time. What can we do then? The issues are huge and the answers far from self evident but giving up is always the worst answer. We should at least start talking about our future together.
One reasonable thing would be cutting the work hours without cutting the pay. It’s madness that some should work harder and harder while others are forced to idleness. In stead 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…)
In principle there are two ways to tackle the situation: either do nothing and let management continue as before. Crossing your fingers, hoping that the whole thing will blow over without hitting yourself. Knowing how management has run the company so far and how the situation looks like in the world with bank crashes, environmental problems and slump it’s probably no solution at all. None of us will be unaffected – neither those who are being laid off nor those who think that they will keep their jobs this time.
So, what can we do? The questions are huge and the answers are absolutely not self-evident, but giving in is always the worst answer. At least we should start discussing our future together.
One sensible thing would be to shorten the work day without pay cut. It’s madness that some should work ever harder while others are forced into unemployment. Instead of paying unemployment benefits for people not to work, this money could be used to cut the work time without reducing the wages and everyone would benefit. (The high management salaries could easily be cut without forcing them to the pawn broker…)
This can’t be fixed in a coffee brake and would probably demand political decisions but we have to start out somewhere. The big advantage is that it’s a quick fix once you’ve 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 in later days.
An even bigger issue is whether it’s possible to make a living on 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 an not to distant future, regardless of how good, cheap or “environmentally friendly” they are. This is not an 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 that we all will be out of jobs soon. Changing production might seem as an impossible thing for us who work on the lowest levels in the company. But the truth is rather that we’re the only ones that can do it.
From the high bosses no help can be expected. Their loyalty towards the company or the plant doesn’t stretch further than to the next more well paid job offer.
What can give us some hope is that we have an organization, our union. (Even if many if us today wonder where it is these days…) It’s among other things such big issues we have our union for. As we now stand before serious threats to our future it’s the unions duty to act. Not only by begging the government for more support to a production that is being run over by time. Instead IF Metall [/the union organizing Swedish auto workers/] by starting 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.
But not here either can we count on someone else to do the job. The discussion must be brought out to us, the membership. If it stays among representatives and full timers we’ll not see much action.
There are certainly many other suggestions among us who work. But to bring them out the union must start working as a union. For one thing to inform about what’s going on but mostly to listen and start a discussion on what we should do. Demand that we get an extra hour of lunch and arrange meetings in the cantines and in the shops. (Shouldn’t be too hard now that the plant is standing idle several days.) If the Local doesn’t want to do this the different group boards can .[The 10.000 member Volvo Local is divided into several “groups”, each with its own board.] If they refuse we can arrange meetings in the brakes in the different departments and demand that our reps come down.
Now it’s serious. We can’t just sit and wait for our death verdict.
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Leaflet from Klimataktion (Climate Action)
SAVE THE JOBS! SAVE THE PLANET!
Is there a future for the auto industry – with or without cars?
Announcements about job cuts and lay offs have followed one after one another during the autumn. The crisis of Volvo Cars is probably the deepest ever and simultaneously Volvo Trucks is announcing job cuts. The effects have already started to spread and will be a hard blow to all of western Sweden.
Overproduction and crisis are a rule in auto and have been intensified by the financial crisis. But behind the present downturn are also growing troubles with the product itself: oil is running out and it’s becoming more and more obvious that the global climate can’t stand the ever increasing road transport by people and goods. To say that we should build more cars is just not possible.
Faced with these huge problems it’s easy to give in. But instead we could think the other way around: 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, sustainable in the long run. And give jobs!
To instead dismantle the industry by throwing out workers into unemployment is maybe a 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 come to use in a production that doesn’t threat our long term survival.
This will not happen all by itself but it will demand that all of us who in different ways are dependent on the auto industry engage ourselves and act.
To start a discussion about possible solutions to the present crisis we invite to a meeting with volvo workers, researchers, climate activists and all who are concerned and effected-
Meeting: Save the jobs – save the planet!
- Andreas Malm, journalist, writer and board member of Klimataktion. (Climate Action)
- Gunnar Falkemark, professor at University of Gothenburg who among other things has done research on the politics behind the car society.
- Björn Olsson, SIKA – Swedish Institute for Transport and Communications Analysis, project leader for a recent study on a rail bound Personal Rapid Transit system
Meeting leader: Lars Henriksson, Volvo vorker
After the short presentations there will be discussion about what is possible to do to the situation, presently and in the long run.
Wednesday: November 5, Lundby Centrum, Samlingslokal A, Wieselgrensplatsen 10
ABF Göteborg (Gothenburg branch of Workers’ Educational Association of Sweden)