Union-dominated works councils pitting Ford workers in Germany and Spain against each other for jobs


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The coming holidays will be a time of uncertainty and worry for more than 10,000 Ford workers in Sarrelouis and Valence. Indeed, the management of Ford has called on factories in Germany and Spain to present their proposals for reductions and savings by January 27, 2022. The most efficient site in terms of costs will win the contract for construction of a new model car. The decision must be made by June 30, 2022.

Like all automakers, Ford is in the process of converting its production to electric vehicles. From 2030, Ford plans to produce only electric vehicles in Europe. Since the production of combustion-engine cars is significantly more complex than that of electric-powered vehicles, all auto companies are planning massive job cuts.

Shift change at Ford Saarlouis (Photo: WSWS Media)

The mechanism used in this process in Europe has been in use for decades. The workers of the different sites are pitted against each other by the management of the company and the unions via the works councils. The works councils of the Ford plants in Sarrelouis, in Germany, and in Almussafes (Valencia, in Spain), are currently engaged in regular negotiations with their management to reduce costs and thus outperform the competing site in a call for internal offers. The concessions thus extorted would then have the aim of “securing the site”. But so far, such concessions have only paved the way for factories to close.

More than 50 years ago (1970), the first car, a Ford Escort, rolled off the production line at the Saarlouis factory, where not so long ago more than 7,000 workers worked. In 2019, more than 2,000 jobs in Saarlouis were victims of a restructuring program that saw Ford cut 25,000 jobs worldwide, including 12,000 in Europe and more than 5,000 in Germany.

The Saarlouis works council and the IG Metall union have agreed to cut the night shift in 2019, cutting 1,800 jobs. Another 600 jobs were cut this year, leaving fewer than 5,000 employees who exclusively make the Ford Focus. Production of this model is expected to end in mid-2025.

The Valence plant celebrates its 45th anniversary. Production began there in 1976 with the Ford Fiesta, which did not end until 2012. A dozen different models have been built there over the past decades. In the best years, 9,000 workers produced up to 450,000 vehicles per year. Today, there are just under 6,000 workers on two production lines that build the Mondeo, Galaxy and S-Max, as well as the Kuga and Transit van. Currently, the production of the Mondeo, Galaxy and S-Max only works as a single shift due to declining demand.

As in Sarrelouis and the Ford plant in Cologne, Valence is also affected by short-time work. Daily production at the plant is currently around 1,300 vehicles, and this year just over 160,000 vehicles are expected to be produced in Valencia, 60% less than in 2019. In November, management announced announced the abolition of the night shift from January 2022.

About two years ago, Ford announced investments of 42 million euros to re-equip the assembly lines of hybrid models and build two assembly lines for lithium-ion batteries, which entered service in September 2020. Then , in March this year, Ford announced plans to expand its battery assembly plant in Valencia at a cost of 5.2 million euros. “This factory is very likely to be retained by the American group”, finances the daily Handelsblatt written in September.

The Valencia management and works council have met every week since mid-October to work out further reductions. In December, the current collective agreement expires; the new one should guarantee the commitment for a new electric model. Indeed, Valencia will also soon see the end of production of four of the five models currently in production. Production of the Mondeo will cease in early 2022 and production of the Transit will be discontinued later next year. In 2024, the life cycle of the S-Max and the Galaxy will end, leaving only the Kuga.

Putting pressure on the workforce, the Spanish unions insist: “We must not miss the electrification train. If there was no “deal”, the union said, the Valencia plant would be left behind, while elsewhere many billions of euros were already invested in the switch to production of electric vehicles. They said this was the case, for example, with the Halewood plant in the UK, which was receiving around € 273m to build electrical components for future vehicles, and in the US, where Investments of $ 11.4 billion had been announced for start-up. -up of four new factories.

The president of the Valencia works council, José Luis Parra of the social democratic union UGT, explained to the employees what they had to prepare for: “and” winning new projects and producing new models. The unions will agree. This is what they mean by “fair and balanced” production.

Works councils in Germany do not act differently. They are currently working continuously with management in several “working groups” to reduce costs. According to information from Saarbrücken Zeitung, these groups are to discuss “necessary investments, wage costs and possible government subsidies”.

The wage cost cuts that will be discussed were announced in September by Ford’s general works council chairman Martin Hennig. In a letter to the workers of Saarlouis and Cologne, he wrote that the management “clearly no longer knows any taboos, neither with regard to the regulation of working time, nor with regard to bonuses, nor with regard to allowances. The workforce is supposed to bleed, is supposed to pay and deliver at the same time. “

The president of the Saarlouis works council, Markus Thal, promised that the employees would make further cuts. He had said in the past that “cost cuts”, including job cuts, would secure the site.

“We can do it in Sarrelouis, we can also build electric cars, even with a corresponding rate of profit”, he announced on the day of the action in September. Detroit bosses had set a 6 percent margin for sales. “Yes, we can,” Thal assured them.

A note from the central works council dated December 9 indicated that the management had stressed that “Valence had considerable advantages over our factory, in particular with regard to personnel costs”. This is the reaction of the general works council: “The European management has been informed in writing that we in Germany [!] will join forces with all our colleagues to save the Saarlouis factory. Alone, Saarlouis had no chance in this unequal competition. “It is only together that we will be able to preserve and secure jobs in the long term”, declared the works council.

In other words, the German general works council accepts in practice the very “bidding war” which it criticizes in words. For example, he complains that after submitting his concepts for Sarrelouis, the German works council “did not learn anything about what is being negotiated in Valence” and therefore could not “make improvements if necessary. “.

In this way, workers in factories and in individual countries were and are being pitted against each other. The short-term “success” of some means the defeat of others. Production has already been halted in Belgium, France and Wales, and four factories have been closed in Russia. Most recently, Ford announced that it was ending production in India and Brazil.

As in the past, Ford workers in Sarrelouis have shown this year that they are ready to fight. But they can only defend their jobs in a common struggle with their colleagues in Cologne, Valencia and all other international factories against unions and representatives of works councils, who have pushed through all the attacks of the enterprise against the workforce in recent years with their nationalist division. -and-political rules. They plan to start over.

The International Committee of the Fourth International and its affiliated parties for socialist equality formed the International Workers ‘Alliance of Grassroots Committees in May to coordinate workers’ struggles around the world against corporate attacks. We call on Ford workers in Saarlouis, Valence, Cologne and around the world to come together in independent grassroots committees of unions to prepare joint strikes and demonstrations in all factories. Contact us about it today.

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