The VW factory in Forest, near Brussels, is facing 4,000 job losses after the company decided to transfer the assembly line to German plants.
Of the 4,000 facing redundancy only 400 will be able to take early retirement, leaving the rest of the employees stranded in an area already crippled by production. Union bosses have estimated a further 6,000 job losses with local suppliers. The job losses will account for 80% of the staff, with most workers believing that VW has deliberately left the plant unviable so that they can justify closing it within a year or two, but avoid at least some of the bad publicity that shutting it down in one fell swoop would cause.
An international strike day has been called for the 2nd of December, with protests in Brussels. Whilst some workers may remember the international response after the closure of Villevoorde, many blame their German counter-parts for the job losses.
The assembly line at Forest is the second most productive VW plant in the world, Angela Merkel, the new German Chancellor, promised to lower unemployment by repatriating German businesses. There has been indirect criticism from the Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt: “I am disappointed to see that what are essentially nationalistic considerations are at the heart of this decision.”
However it is not simply about borders, it is about working conditions. The workers at Forest described how they have been forced to raise production even as staff levels were reduced; they described the coercion used to earn these improvements as blackmail, constantly told that if they increase productivity they will save their jobs. One of the reasons that VW is transferring production is that they have made a deal with the German Union IG Metall, which allows for an increase in working hours without an increase in salary.
Volkswagen, like other European manufacturers has been transferring its production away from unionised workers in Western Europe towards Eastern Europe, where salaries and working conditions are lower.