Tesla faces Scandi revolt as Danes join Swedish strike

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Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., during a fireside discussion on artificial intelligence risks with Rishi Sunak, UK prime minister, not pictured, in London, UK, on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. 

Tolga Akmen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Tesla faces a growing revolt in Scandinavia after Danish dockworkers joined a sympathy strike with Swedish mechanics, heaping pressure on the electric vehicle giant to grant collective bargaining rights to employees.

Members of Swedish trade union IF Metall have been at loggerheads with Tesla for six weeks, and have garnered support via a secondary strike action from fellow workers across a range of industries in Sweden, including postal workers, painters, dockworkers and electricians.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk bemoaned the blockage of license plate deliveries by postal workers as “insane” and late last month filed lawsuits against both the Swedish Transport Agency and the postal service.

After Swedish dockworkers blocked the reception of Tesla cars into the country, there had been speculation that the company would seek to deliver cars to Danish ports and transport them by truck across to Sweden.

However, IF Metall requested support from Denmark’s largest trade union, which on Tuesday announced a sympathy strike.

Jan Villadsen, chair of Denmark’s 3F Transport union, said Tuesday that IF Metall and Swedish workers are “fighting an incredibly important battle” and therefore have his union’s full support.

“Just like companies, the trade union movement is global in the fight to protect workers. With the sympathy strike, we are now stepping in to put further pressure on Tesla,” Villadsen said in a statement.

“Of course, we hope that they come to the negotiating table as soon as possible and sign a collective agreement.”

Elon Musk: I disagree with the idea of unions

In what appeared to be a direct attack on Musk, Villadsen added that “even if you are one of the richest in the world, you can’t just make your own rules.”

“We have some labor market agreements in the Nordic region, and you have to comply with them if you want to run a business here,” he said.

“Solidarity is the cornerstone of the trade union movement and extends across national borders. Therefore, we are now taking the tools we have and using them to ensure collective agreements and fair working conditions.”

All members of 3F Transport are covered by the sympathy conflict, meaning that dockworkers and drivers will not receive and transport Tesla cars to Sweden.

Swedish labor relations, shaped by a series of accords reached throughout the 20th century, mean that almost all pay is subject to collective agreements between companies and labor unions, without any government intervention.

Tesla has so far refused to sign up to one of these collective bargaining agreements, leading around 120 mechanics in Sweden to launch a strike action in late October.

The striking workers are not asking for more pay, but simply for Tesla to honor the principle of collective bargaining. The dispute highlights the potential for an ongoing ideological stalemate not just between Tesla and 120 mechanics, but between U.S. corporate power and the deeply entrenched principles underpinning the Scandinavian economic model.

The extension of solidarity strikes to Denmark could signal further problems for Musk amid the risk of similar solidarity action in Norway and Germany, where collective agreements are also a key tenet of labor relations.

IF Metall told CNBC on Tuesday that it has no ongoing talks with Tesla but hopes the U.S. giant will “return to the negotiations table as soon as possible.”

“We are confident that they eventually will realize that collective agreement is beneficial for them as well. We are prepared for a prolonged conflict, but we are hoping for a swift solution,” the union said.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.





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