Initial notes on the first-ever strike at Volkswagen Bratislava, Slovakia

Initial notes on the first-ever strike at Volkswagen Bratislava, Slovakia

On June 20th, 2017, a strike began at the Volkswagen factory near Bratislava, Slovakia. This is the largest and most modern car factory in a country whose annual production of cars per capita is the highest in the world. There had never been a strike at Volkswagen Bratislava before.

There will have to be a proper write-up later on, for now, just a few points:

  • the strike started on June 20 at 6am
  • production has been more or less completely paralyzed all day and also during the night
  • due to the stoppage, the factory has only managed to produce a few dozens of cars of questionable quality
  • apparently there are about 8000 strikers from a workforce of around 12000; it is hard to tell exactly as there are three shifts; more precise number should be available in the next few days (if the strike continues)
  • in some key departments, the turnout is close to 90%
  • the central demand is an increase in wages for all categories of core workers (originally: 16% for all categories; later on, as an attempt at a compromise: immediate promotion of all workers by one category – on paper, this is about the same, but there are some issues with the latter demand)
  • agency workers are not involved (and can't be, legally), but they either have very little work to do or are unable to work at all
  • the highest-category Slovak pay rates for workers are lower than the lowest-category German pay rates for similar work; this in a factory that produces high-end models; this is a major source of anger
  • the workers are assembled outside the factory on a parking lot and rotate based on regular shifts (during the day, there were about 3000 workers present)
  • the mood so far is enthusiastic
  • no clashes, no significant police presence
  • no leftist involvement or agitation, but some establishment politicians have already tried to use the strike by declaring themselves in support of it
  • the strike is union-led (by an independent union that was separated from a major federation affiliated with the German IG Metall) and fully compliant with Slovak collective bargaining laws
  • VW is the third most important employer in the country (after railways and a US Steel-owned factory)
  • the strike could be an important signal for workers in other automotive companies in the region (Hyundai-KIA, Groupe PSA), as well as in other industries

Here's some background to the strike.

News reports on the first day: 1, 2, 3

Some videos of the strike:

Comments

el psy congroo
Jun 21 2017 04:46

Picnics and BBQs. Radical!

jura
Jun 21 2017 07:41

Psy, I don't know if that was meant ironically, but if it was, I think it's pretty radical to camp out in front of the factory and have a good time with friends from work instead of actually going to work. If more people did that I would be much more optimistic about the future.

MT
Jun 21 2017 09:45

The mood in the space in front of the factory gate is great and got more and more relaxed and festival-like during the first day. There were also quite emotional moments, for example when workers were leaving the premises after their (strike) shift finished.

This is indefinite strike and workers seems to be really confident to go on (as oppossed to the usual one day strikes).

The union is streaming live, you can check out here: https://www.facebook.com/odboryvolkswagen/.

Yesterday, there was a poor attempt to break the strike. A lot of the workers go to work by company buses, so the management attempted to use the old gate and get them all inside the factory. From what I understood when talking to the unionists, there were some calls between management and the union and this plan was then dropped. All the buses arrived at the new gate. Also, during the afternoon shift there was a call that there is a bomb in the factory, so the police had to evacuate the factory and search the premises (there was no bomb, of course; in last 4 days there were already 3 bomb threats in Bratislava - at railway station, during an open-air electronic music event and now the VW).

The first negotiation was announced yesterday. It is scheduled to 15:30 (GMT+2) today.

I believe me or jura will write more news later today.

el psy congroo
Jun 21 2017 14:30
jura wrote:
Psy, I don't know if that was meant ironically, but if it was, I think it's pretty radical to camp out in front of the factory and have a good time with friends from work instead of actually going to work. If more people did that I would be much more optimistic about the future.

It was not. I totally agree. This is about as 'revolutionary' as it gets. Very refreshing to see after six months of reflexive demonstrations by that black-clad cult of liberals posing as 'revolutionaries' that has been ending up in the news so often.

This, too, is combativity: the good kind. Wish I could join them. I have beer!!

Ed
Jun 21 2017 15:05

Hey, so I hope you don't mind but I've turned these notes into a news article.

Would still be great to get a follow up piece from either jura or MT (or whoever else) as, in general, I think the struggles of workers in Eastern Europe are vitally important as they're one of the first places where European capital relocates when trying to undermine Western European workers' conditions.

Thanks for writing this up!

jura
Jun 21 2017 19:32

Psy, OK, sorry!

Ed, thanks for doing that!

The negotiations that started at 3:30pm are ongoing. Right now there is a break and they're set to continue from 10:30pm on (CEST).

MT
Jun 21 2017 22:21

I've just returned from the factory gates and the news is that the negotiations are postponed until tomorrow 15:30. Financial experts are to meet then, so the strike goes on. The union chairm-man said that the agreement is 60-65% done.

A few short notes from today:
- The productions is halted. No SUV's and those few smaller cars that were produced until now will most likely require serious checks or will end up as waste.
- It does not seem that the number of strikers or their determination is decreasing.
- Picnic atmosphere is still there with more barbecues, playing football and frisbee, and even fun with a drone etc.smile
- I spoke with the union organizers who claim that Porsche in Leipzig is affected by the strike. Can't confirm that. It is hard to tell what is a rumour or truth.
- VW told the press that soon they will not be able to produce even the smaller models, because they do not have enough engines. Keep in mind that the amount of smaller cars produces during the strike is a joke, it should be below 10% of the whole production, if I remember the facts correctly (1000 cars/day).

I'm tired, so perhaps jura will add more comments.

Spikymike
Jun 22 2017 16:06

A business view of this strike in relation to the Slovak economy and the politics of the European Union:
https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-06-21/a-strike-in-slovakia-exposes-a-european-divide

jura
Jun 22 2017 21:28

Production is still halted although the company is trying to produce "something" (apparently a handful of SUVs and a few dozens of small cars – total daily production is over a thousand cars).

The negotiations restarted today at 3:30pm but broke down at about 19:30. The company refuses to budge. Unions demand a 13.9% increase in two phases in all categories, and a whole lot of other things (more holidays, extra money for travel and lodging expenses etc.).

The spirits at the parking lot are high, although there were a bit fewer people around when I was there (still over a thousand for sure and people have not returned to work).

I've seen some touching scenes of symbolic solidarity from bus drivers, medical workers and colleagues "trapped" at work (some maintenance personnel were legally obliged to come to work, as well as DHL employees and agency workers).

jura
Jun 22 2017 21:37

I forgot to add that the supply chain appears to be paralyzed; warehouses are full of products destined for VW. DHL workers (who take care of logistics for VW and work in the same premises) have nothing to do but still have to come to work. There were rumours that the Czech Škoda factory was forced to stop production because Bratislava supplies it with transmissions. All of this is unconfirmed as of now, though.

Chilli Sauce
Jun 22 2017 21:53

In the video in OP, what's the deal with the busses? Are those just standard public transport busses or something else?

jura
Jun 22 2017 21:59

Good question, Chilli. The red ones are public transport buses which come from Bratislava (the factory is located some 20 km from the city center). These come to the factory a few times a day, usually in time for shifts. The white ones are contracted buses which bring people over from other towns, some as far as 80 km from Bratislava. These only come for shifts (bringing the new shift and carrying away the departing shift).

jura
Jun 23 2017 08:03

Early this morning, the strikers have decided to leave the parking place for the weekend. The strike goes on, it's just that they won't be there. There's a storm right now and people need time off with their families. They will return with the morning shift on Monday.

MT
Jun 23 2017 11:33

One more (unconfirmed) information from yesterday is that a worker lost two fingers in an accident in the factory due to improper training as the company forced unskilled workers to produce SUV's.

Steven.
Jun 24 2017 19:06

Thanks for the write-up and the update guys let us know what happens on Monday! Best of luck and solidarity to the workers!

MT
Jun 24 2017 22:14

All of a sudden, there were negotations on Saturday morning. In the afternoon the union boss said that the deal was close to be signed. Which turned out to be wrong prediction as the negotiations broke down once again.

The union communication after the negotiations and after negotiation breaks is not really well handled, in my opinion, and it gets tiresome to hear the high hopes again and again without any results. I wonder how the workers feel about it.

Further negotiations have not been announced yet.

MT
Jul 5 2017 06:12

Just shortly, the strike has ended at 5.59 AM on Monday (after 6 days). The final agreement contains among other things a different wage rise than the one which was demanded (16% within a year). Collective agreement will last 27 months and wages will be increased in 3 phases (4,7% June 2017, 4,7% January 2018, 4,1% November 2018). Some other things that the union wanted were agreed partially, some not (failure in extending time for breaks, in particular). The list of all agremeents is not public yet.

Satisfaction of the workers varies, but it seems that most are rather fine with the agreements. All the agreements need to be considered in a wider social and economical context, so perhaps jura will find time to write down something more comprehensive.

xxxwxxx
Jul 1 2017 11:18

@jura + MT: can you please drop me a line, I have some questions to the strike. thanks.

el psy congroo
Jul 4 2017 04:28

Interesting, still watching this develop from my side of things. Thanks!

Steven.
Jul 4 2017 22:16

Thanks very much for the update, MT, on balance sounds like a great result. If any of you guys get the chance to write up something more detailed, especially about how the stoppage was organised, relationship between the rank-and-file and the union etc that would be really interesting!

MT
Jul 5 2017 20:54

I haven't followed the union FB, so I am not sure if all the agreements are public by now. I think that we need to have the final list to be able to provide more detailed analysis. And I believe jura has this task on his to-do list;)

As for the organization of the stoppage, the process was quite usual. During the negotiations that lasted several months (including rounds with government arbiter), the MOV union started to collect signatures for a legal strike (I think this started around the time of 10th out of total 11 pre-strike rounds of negotiations). Majority of the workers supported the strike. This was not the first time in VW, but it never evolved from the strike emergency into a real strike before.

And then, there was the strike action:) We know very few about the internal process at the moment. The strike started with the first Tuesday shift (6.00 AM). Workers were welcomed in front of the factory gate and asked to join the strike and fill in papers related to health insurance (it is important due to a specific law). The same happened before the second shift at 2 PM and thirds shift at 10 PM. The first two shifts produce SUV's and smaller models, the night shift only the smaller ones.

The union tried to inform about the developments periodically from a pickup car situated at the larger spot in from of the factory gate where the busses stop. There were also speeches from (lower and higher ranking) union officials about different aspects of the strike or work at the factory pointing out to different contexts like humanity, profit sharing and so on. I think that from the second or third day there was also an open mic. Plus there were speakers from other unions, civic organizations and activists that seem to have some ties with the strikers or consulting agency that the union hired to provide advice on how to organize the striking days (and who knows what else). And when there were no speeches the union tried to entertain the workers by playing music from the soundsystem (from disco to punkrock). The workers spent their time in the lawn in front of the factory gate, talking to colleagues, getting to know workers from other halls, playing, barbecuing etc., etc. The atmosphere was nice, like if you were at a music festival:) You could see people of colour, handicaped, neonazis and the "general" folk in one big space. And when the shift ended, the workers just went home and came back again the next day for their shift. On Friday, the union instructed the workers to stay at home for the weekend due to extreme hot weather which became a health risk. The company was OK with it as well. It seems that both sides knew that the negotiations would not bring any results before the end of the weekend. And on Sunday, the union announced that the strike ends on Monday at 5.59 AM (thus breaking a public promise that the agreements would be put to the workers assembly and the union would wait for their decision before accepting the final agreement).

As for the relationship between the union officials and the rank-and-file, we only know bits. The union operates in the factory for 25 years. The current union chairmain has been in his position for many years and no doubt he has charisma and big support. In fact the MOV union was created after the internal conflict inside the initial union which was (the largest union section in one factory) in OZ KOVO (partner of IG Metall). It is not really clear what really happened but we heard that the chairmain of the KOVO union thought that the chairmain of the KOVO section in VW would try to take his seat. So, the KOVO chairmain decided to destroy the KOVO section in VW and get rid of his competitor, who then, however, won over vast majority of the members and created MOV union (which currently has some 8000 members out of over 12 000 VW workers leaving the OZ KOVO with some 300 members). But who knows the whole and real story. We know too little to be able to tell if the picture I presented about the internal union conflict is really true or complete.

If these answers need further explanation, feel free to ask.