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'Get Unionized or Get Out!': Scandinavian Labor Elevates Fight With Tesla's Elon Musk

"The mistake Tesla made was challenging the collective agreements that set sector-specific minimum wages in Sweden, a country where 70% of the population is unionized," said one political scientist.

By Julia Conley, Common Dreams

Tesla CEO Elon Musk's tough lesson in labor rights continued in Scandinavia Thursday, as one Danish progressive politician offered some advice to the electric vehicle executive: "Don't mess with Nordic unions."

Musk's refusal to sign a collective bargaining agreement for just 130 mechanics in Sweden has proven to be a significant miscalculation about the power of unions in Nordic countries, as more than a dozen collective bargaining units across Sweden have made Tesla's operations increasingly difficult in the country in solidarity with the mechanics and their demand for a minimum wage.

As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, Musk—the world's richest person—has appeared flat-footed in recent weeks as unionized postal workers, delivery drivers, and electricians have refused to work with Tesla to help pressure the company to sign the mechanics' contract.

France 24 reported last week that "garbage is piling up outside Tesla centers as refuse collectors refuse to pick it up" and cleaning staff are also declining to work in Tesla showrooms.

"I cannot get enough of this story," said Sarah Anderson of the U.S. economic justice think tank Institute for Policy Studies last week.

"The mistake Tesla made was challenging the collective agreements that set sector-specific minimum wages in Sweden, a country where 70% of the population is unionized," political scientist Yohann Aucante told France 24.

Beyond Sweden, powerful unions representing dockworkers in Denmark and transit workers in Norway and Finland have made clear their members won't help Tesla circumvent the Swedish work stoppage that was started in October by the mechanics at the company's service centers.

The unions have pledged in recent weeks to block the transit of Tesla's EVs unless the company could reach an agreement, giving Musk a deadline that expired on Wednesday.

"Swedish workers have [the Transport Workers' Union]'s full support," said Ismo Kokko, president of the Finnish union AKT. "It is a crucial part of the Nordic labor market model that we have collective agreements and unions support each other... The Nordic transport unions stand united in this matter."

Musk has demonstrated little understanding of the display of solidarity that has spread from Sweden to its neighboring countries—calling the postal workers' solidarity strike "insane" and attempting to compel the Swedish postal authority to continue crucial deliveries to Tesla, an effort that was rejected on December 7 by a Swedish court.

Pelle Dragsted, a member of Danish Parliament and a democratic socialist, posted a video on social media telling Musk to accept the lesson he's been given since October: "Get unionized or get out" of Nordic countries.

"In the Nordics, we love our unions, because they make our lives so much better," said Dragsted. "Here in Denmark, our unions have secured a decent living wage for all workers, a workweek of 37 hours, the right to at least five weeks of vacation, paid sick leave, and the right to one year of parental leave... So dear Elon, respect your workers."

In addition to angering unionized workers across Scandinavia, Musk's refusal to abide by the region's strong protections for workers has been trying the patience of powerful investors.

The pension fund PensionDanmark sold more than $70 million in Tesla stock earlier this month, telling Reuters, "In the light of the conflict now spreading to Denmark as well as Tesla's recent very categorical refusal to enter a labor union agreement in any country, we have come to the conclusion that we as investors at present hardly can influence the company."

A coalition of investors that manages $1 trillion in assets—including KLP in Norway, Folksam in Sweden, and PFA in Denmark—also demanded a meeting with Musk to discuss the matter after the new year.

"We as Nordic investors acknowledge the decade-old tradition of collective bargaining, and therefore urge Tesla to reconsider your current approach to unions," said the group.

As Aucante pointed out to France 24, Musk has risked his company's reputation in a region where Teslas are more popular than anywhere else in Europe, suggesting that Tesla will ultimately have to concede to the workers.

"The company has no interest in prolonging a conflict that will severely damage its image," Aucante told the outlet.

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

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