Swedish workers are uniting against Tesla. From tomorrow, cleaners will stop cleaning Tesla showrooms, electricians won’t fix the company’s charging points, and dockworkers will refuse to unload Tesla cargo at all Swedish ports. What started as a strike by Tesla mechanics is spreading, in something Swedish unions describe as an existential battle between Elon Musk’s carmaker and the conventions they say make the country’s labor market fair and efficient.
The standoff in Sweden is the biggest union action the company has faced anywhere in the world. Sweden doesn’t have laws that set working conditions, such as a minimum wage. Instead these rules are dictated by collective agreements, a type of contract that defines the benefits employees are entitled to, such as wages and working hours. For five years, industrial workers’ union IF Metall, which represents Tesla mechanics, has been trying to persuade the company to sign a collective agreement. When Tesla refused, the mechanics decided to strike at the end of October. Then they asked fellow Swedish unions to join them.
“Collective agreements form the backbone of the Swedish labor market model,” says Mikael Pettersson, head of negotiations at the electricians’ union, which plans to join the blockade tomorrow. “Fighting for the Swedish model becomes even more crucial when it involves such a large company as Tesla.” Negotiations are currently at a standstill. IF Metall spokesperson Jesper Pettersson told WIRED that there are no ongoing talks with Tesla as of Wednesday.
Tesla didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
Some unions that joined the blockade are expanding their actions in an effort to be more effective. Since November 7, union members working at four Swedish ports have been refusing to unload Tesla cargo. Tomorrow, the blockade will be extended to all ports in Sweden. “We don’t want to unload any Tesla cars,” says Jimmy Åström, who is president of the dockworkers’ branch of Sweden’s transport union and works at Gävle port. “We are going to allow every other car [to dock], but the Tesla cars, they will stay on the ship.”
He hopes Tesla will understand how important this issue is for workers in the country. “Not just dockworkers but for all workers in Sweden.”
The Swedish Building Maintenance Workers’ Union will also join the Tesla blockade on Friday at 12 pm local time, “simply because the [IF] Metall Workers Trade Union asked us to,” says ombudsman Torbjörn Jonsson, adding that the union has around 50 members who clean Tesla locations. Four showrooms and service centers will be affected—three around Stockholm and one in the city of Umeå. “Their workshops and showrooms will not be cleaned.”
Three days later, on November 20, the Seko union, which represents postal workers, will stop delivering letters, spare parts, and pallets to all of Tesla’s addresses in Sweden. “Tesla is trying to gain competitive advantages by giving the workers worse wages and conditions than they would have with a collective agreement,” said Seko’s union president, Gabriella Lavecchia, in a statement. “It is of course completely unacceptable.”
It’s unclear what impact the strike and blockade are having on Tesla operations in Sweden, which is the company’s fifth-largest market in Europe. Local Swedish media report that new Teslas are being unloaded in Danish ports and driven over the border, a claim WIRED was not able to verify.
The last time Swedish unions faced off against an international company over working conditions was when toy company Toys R Us also refused to negotiate a collective agreement in 1995. After a three-month strike that started with retail employees and spread to boycotts by other unions, the company eventually signed.
Stefan Löfven, the country’s former prime minister, said he’ll refuse to take a taxi if the driver is behind the wheel of a Tesla. “It should be obvious for a company to follow the customs that exist in the countries where it operates, but it looks like Tesla has planned to ignore the Swedish labor market model,” he said on Facebook. “Shame on you Tesla.”