“In danger of death, the German manufacturers are rationalizing at all costs”

Soulagement in Rüsselsheim. At the German headquarters of Opel, the unions won their first real showdown with their parent company, Stellantis. The house founded by Adam Opel in 1862 will not be dismantled as they feared. An agreement was reached on Wednesday November 17 between the powerful IG Metall power plant and the Franco-Italian giant. The latter renounces his reorganization.

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Since PSA and Fiat Chrysler officially merged in January, the boss, Carlos Tavares, has been working to rationalize a gigantic industrial tool and to bring synergies into play. He therefore proposed to leave the German factories of Opel to attach them directly to a unit based in Amsterdam. The idea is to transform the company’s factories so that they can produce all the group’s models, so as to adapt to demand as quickly as possible.

But the unions have seen the wolf, hidden behind this rationalization of common sense: the desire to get the German factories out of the co-management system which gives the unions a right of scrutiny over management and employment in the sites. And they have a lot to do at the moment to protect this pillar of the economic system across the Rhine, in the face of the considerable transition that automobile construction is going through from thermal to electric.

Land shareholder

In danger of death, manufacturers are rationalizing all-out. Stellantis is not IG Metall’s only concern. The German automobile emperor, Volkswagen (VW), is also giving it a hard time. Its CEO, Herbert Diess, has privately claimed that there are 30,000 too many people at VW. With a simple reasoning: Tesla, which is setting up a factory in Berlin, less than 200 kilometers from the VW headquarters, can make a car in ten hours, when it takes three times as much at Volkswagen.

The productivity war is on and will cause casualties because it takes less labor to build an electric car. Except to produce more cars, but then you have to export them and therefore be competitive with all the Tesla in the world. Painful dilemma.

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The big difference between Stellantis and Volkswagen is that the Land of Lower Saxony is a VW shareholder and traditionally sits on the side of the unions. Together, they can impose their views on the supervisory board, or at least be in a strong position to negotiate. This system, as envied as it is decried abroad, has so far not prevented Germany from remaining an industrial giant. And political power has constantly supported him. The current transition will be a test of the resilience of this model in the face of the looming storm.

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