Riff-Raff #2  —  riff-raff.se

Preface to »From Cellatex to Moulinex»

In 1999 Lear Corporation closed it’s plant for seating manufacturing for Volvo PV in Bengtsfors, Dalsland. Volvo had owned the plant themselves up to 1992 when it was sold to Lear Seating. The year after the new management forced through a new assembly line for effectivization of the assembling process. The piece work conditions were changed and flex time was withdrawn, along with this short brakes and other pores in the work day were baked togehter to two 15 minutes brakes. On top of this 96 workers were to be laid off. In July the management presented a paper to the local branch of the Metal Workers’ Union (Metall) that said that the union agreed to this reorganization and the lay offs. However, the local union refused signing the paper, and instead the number of lay offs grew to 156. At the same time the workers were ordered to do overtime, something all refused. Instead the management had to recruit white collars from the Trollhättan plant (Lear’s main plant in Sweden) to assemble seats on evenings and weekends. This became untenable, and the management had to re-employ the laid off workers. This time they wanted to withdraw the free working clothes, which made 400 of the 800 workers to write a letter calling Lear a »shit company». One of the managers stressed that the Bengtsfors plant could have been a model plant, but that it wasn’t because of the workers’ attitudes.

In the summer 1997 Lear started discussing an eventual relocation of the seating manifacturing to Thailand, and at the same time they built a sewing plant in Portugal. In the meantime they negotiated with Volvo on the seating for the new Volvo S80 model – and for safety’s sake gave notice on laiyng off 520 workers. However, the seating ended up in Bengtsfors.

In March 1999 the people of Bengtsfors could read in the paper that Lear secretely had taken over a assembly shop at Volvo-Torslanda (in Gothenburg) and that the temp. work agency Manpower were recruiting assembly staff. They also received a warning from the German IG Metall that Lear were recruiting staff in Germany for work in Gothenburg. Later the same day the 860 workers were informed about the situation.

When Lear finally moved out of Bengtsfors about 10 000 people, almost 100 % of the community, rallied. The American managers’ judgement of the Bengtsfors’ workers were that they were a bunch of lazy odd people that prefered go haunting for doing overtime.

Volvo’s harsh demands for rationalization for their subsidiaries have struck thousands of workers the last couple of years in Bengtsfors, Färgelanda and Tanumshede (to name but a few). The numbers of workers at Torslanda have increased, for when it comes to the seating manifacturing it was only the sewing that moved abroad, to Poland, Thailand and Portugal. Against eventual nationalist opinions most of the work opportunities have ended up »at home», in Sweden.

At the new Torslanda plant the starting up phase was chaotic. American managers walked around the shop in headsets harassing the workers. People were fired on spot, others left voluntarily. The turnover were sky high, and sabotage and violence both against managers – for example one of the American managers were knocked down at a bar by a pissed off Lear worker – and work mates were common. The management also had major problems at the Trollhättan plant. For example 20 % of the workers were on sick leave in September 2001, what made the company and the union to agree on a presence bonus of 1 000 SEK (€110) a month with inspiration from the Torslanda plant, a bonus that did’t fullfill what it intended and was withdrawn after a short while.

The year after Lear leaving Bengtsfors, workers at another old industrial community were struck, the steel workers in Degerfors. This time the management wanted to relocate production to England and their major plants. Their motives were large-scale advantages, even if the union claimed nationalism and political motives.

Last year it was time for the tyre workers in Gislaved, Smaland. The owners, the German Continental, got subsidies from the EU and tax subventions to relocate in Portugal. Even this time the closure of a plant struck the major employer in a central town of a country side region, after all not that far from a major city (Gislaved is about 150 km and Bengtsfors about 200 km from Gothenburg). This plant too made relatively greater profits than larger companies like for example Volvo.

Also in the north east of France the workers have been struck by the capitalists’ restructions. The Cellatex textile factory in the French town Givet by the Belgian border with 8 000 inhabitants, for example. Up to the 70s this area was strongly dominated by steel and textile industry. Cellatex was formed in 1903 and had in the 50s 700 employees, in July 2000 they were 153. The last owner was an Austrian company whose motives for buying the company was to drain it from resources. During the whole 90s the different owners had threatened to close it, and by that managed to freeze the wages and reduce overtime pay, etc.

On July the 5th 2000 the company went bankrupt. The response from the workers was rage, and they knew which weapon to use, since the EU had classified Cellatex as an environmental high risk plant with 50 000 litres of sulphuric acid and other explosive chemicals in the plant. The same day the message of bankrupcy arrived the workers occupied the plant and threatened to blow it up if they weren’t guarantied a lot more money than the law permitted. The workers stood alone in their struggle, when it comes to the union and party beaurocracy, however they were fully supported by the local community.

On July the 12th the workers poured 5 000 litres of acid in a brook just outside the plant, running for the Meuse river, and threatened to pour even more if their demands weren’t answered. In the end they got 80 000 franc on top of the legal remunerations (they had demanded 150 000 franc, and were offered 36 000), what since then has become the standard for other workers’ demands in similuar situations. In sum, what is said above is that struggle pays off.

The workers’ responses to layoffs have been fairly modest in Sweden – without moralization – compared to for example the French workers according to the text below. And then, the situation has been similar »on the paper», if we’re allowed to be a bit superficial and sweeping; dominating plants in central towns on the country side, where alternative work possibilities are relatively few, where workers to a great extent have their own houses and cars, where often both family providers work at the same factory, etc. However, there have been some struggle: sabotage, or at least less attention to the quality demands, absenteeism/sick leave, protest rallies engaging whole communities, the Gislaved workers arranged a bus tour together with their union (the Industrial Workers’ Union) to Hannover, Germany, where the bosses were – and met other laid off collegues from Austria – and so on.

But if we are allowed to be a little personal, we are struck by the significant difference between the means of struggle by the Swedish workers and their class mates in France. When neither laws nor union agreements provides any obstacle for factory closusers, there remains but the direct class resistance as a counter weight to the capitalists’ ravages. The high union rate, parlamentary petitions and symbolic protests have proven insufficient and meaningless. Let us hope that the inspiration from other workers reach the workers here, and that coming restructions are met by harder struggle from the workers, struggle that in itself are carrying the seeds for more advanced struggle, in the future a revolutinary struggle challenging the class society and in this process creates an alternative, socialism.

Autumn 2002
Riff-Raff #2  —  riff-raff.se