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Sweden’s unions take on Tesla, to Elon Musk’s disapproval

Elon Musk has been under fire over accusations of antisemitism flourishing on X.

Elon Musk has been under fire over accusations of antisemitism flourishing on X. Photo: Getty

Sweden’s workers have taken on Elon Musk’s Tesla with employees across multiple industries banding together, much to the billionaire’s dismay.

In October, some 130 mechanics working at a subsidiary of Tesla in Sweden went on strike, after it would not recognise their labour union.

For weeks, trade union IF Metall has been leading a strike at eight Tesla workplaces across the country and what has followed have been so-called “sympathy measures”.

Axess, a logistics company, Holmgrens Bil, a car retailer and Werksta, a damage repair chain, started observing the sympathy measures earlier in November, meaning Tesla cars should not be handled by any of those companies.

Additionally, several unions are on strike to show support.

According to Expressen, there has been a blockade at Swedish ports, a blockade of mail and parcels and a blockade of construction work related to Tesla, meaning electricians have stopped repairs and painters have stopped working.

Even the Musicians’ Association has banned certain music in Tesla’s cars.

Strike goes beyond Tesla

In a post on X, Musk slammed news that Swedish postal workers were refusing to deliver Tesla licence plates.

“This is insane,” Musk said.

IF Metall said it is determined to secure good wages, pensions and insurance for all members working for Tesla, saying all workers deserve “decent and safe working conditions”, just like everyone else working in Sweden.

IF Metall also said it had been negotiating in Sweden for a “long time”, and the American company had refused to sign a collective agreement – a violation of “basic principles in the Swedish labour market”.

However, many people from IF Metall have said the strike goes well beyond just ensuring Tesla workers in Sweden have good wages, pensions and insurance.

In defence of a labour model

IF Metall’s contract secretary Veli-Pekka Säikkälä said the strike was about “defending Sweden’s model”, after a meeting with Tesla representatives.

Speaking on SVT, union president Marie Nilsson said the most basic thing Sweden has in its labour market is collective agreements that regulate wages, conditions, insurance and pensions.

According to The Guardian, Nilsson stressed that allowing Tesla to go without reaching an agreement would have devastating impacts on the country.

“If we allow companies like Tesla to operate without collective agreement, it will open it up for other international companies and other types of industries,” she said, adding they will go for as long as they needed.

The labour union in Sweden is regulated by collective agreements between employers and trade unions, not by laws.

pictured is Tesla's Service Center in Segeltorp, south of Stockholm

Many workers are striking against Tesla in solidarity. Photo: Getty

Tesla says it rewards workers

According to Expressen, the order to not sign an agreement with IF Metall came from Musk.

Additionally, Telsa is now reportedly sending out letters to Tesla owners amid the strike.

Every day, our employees are encouraged to be creative and collaborate with other teams in order to offer a different, higher customer experience,” the letter said. 

“In return, they are rewarded with fair conditions and a good working environment. However, like many other companies, we have chosen not to enter into a collective agreement. More than 90 per cent of our employees have chosen to remain in their positions.”

Around 90 per cent of all workers in Sweden are covered by collective agreements. In the US, there have been several attempts to unionise Tesla, but none have been successful.

Earlier this month, a US court ruled that Tesla did not violate US labour laws by prohibiting workers at a plant in California from wearing pro-union shirts.

Also this year, Tesla fired more than 30 supporters of a union that was just starting out in the state of New York.

Musk has made his views on unions pretty clear. In 2021, he deleted a tweet he made three years prior, in which he seemingly hinted at repercussions for workers who voted in favour of a union.

“Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted,” the tweet said, according to CNN.

“But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare.”

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