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GM's European Workforce Shows Solidarity

While workers at the Opel factory in the German town of Bochum went on strike for a sixth consecutive day, colleagues from General Motors plants around Europe held rallies and demonstrations in a show of solidarity.

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Opel workers at the Rüsselsheim plant joined Tuesday's protests

Tens of thousands of General Motors workers staged rallies and demonstrations across Europe on Tuesday in a show of protest against the car maker's plans to axe around one-fifth of its workforce. The plants also expressed solidarity with workers at the Bochum factory of GM's German unit Opel who were striking for a sixth consecutive day.

The Opel workers in Bochum, the plant which is expected to take the heaviest losses in GM's proposed down-sizing in Germany, were joined in their protests by employees at other General Motors sites across Europe.

Poland's Solidarity union declared Tuesday a day of solidarity without any stoppages at the Opel factory in Gliwice.

"There are solidarity flags in the factory," an aide to Slawomir Ciebiera, the Solidarity representative in the plant, told reporters. "A banner proclaiming 'Protest Action' has been hung over the administration building."

Gliwice, in the south of Poland, employs 2,000 workers who produce 40,000 Opel Astra II cars a year.

"We are distributing leaflets to the staff to inform them of the situation," Ciebiera said. "We express our solidarity with the German workers and their families."

Polish and Spanish plants protest cuts

"We protest against job cuts and attempts to set workers from different countries and plants against each other," he added. Meetings in support were also due to be held at the Spanish plant in Zaragoza, even if no work stoppages as such were expected there.

Reinhard Kuhlmann, the secretary general of the European Metal Workers Federation, estimated that about 50,000 workers were taking part in the Europe-wide protests.

"About 50,000 GM workers in Europe are participating in the day of protest and if you include family members and residents of the towns where the plants are located, then it may well be that as many as 110,000 will take part," Kuhlmann said.

Production at Opel's factory in Bochum has been at a standstill since Thursday when GM originally unveiled its plans for cut the workforce. But Kuhlmann said that not all of GM's assembly lines in Europe were expected to be hit by the stoppages.

Strikes begin to take effect on production

Opel-Arbeiter demonstrieren, Plakat: Opel bleibt Basta!

Production was down, at least temporarily, on Vectra models at Opel's main factory in Rüsselsheim, near Frankfurt, which employs a workforce of 20,000. Officials there said the stoppage could last for around two hours.

Some 2,500 workers were similarly expected to lay down tools at the factory in Kaiserslautern. Both plants were beginning to feel the effects of six-days of strikes in Bochum where parts for the Vectra model are produced. Workers at factories operated by General Motors in Britain, where 400 jobs are to be cut, were also set to down tools briefly.

A spokesman for GM Europe said that three 20-minute breaks were being planned at the group's factory in Antwerp so that workers could participate in so-called information rallies there.

Works council officials said if the stoppages at Bochum were to continue for the next few days, then production in Antwerp could be affected because Bochum supplied the factory with axles, exhaust pipes, pressed body parts and power trains for Opel's Astra cars. Bochum also supplies parts and components to Ellesmere Port in Britain and Gliwice in Poland.

Government calls for further negotiations

Schröder Regierungserklärung

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

As the labor conflict escalates, politicians called for calm. In Berlin on Monday, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder urged employees to enter into negotiations with management so that work could resume. But both sides appear to be digging their heels in.

A report in the daily Die Welt said that Opel's management was planning to sack without notice the organizers of the protests, which it terms wildcat strikes and are therefore illegal under German labor law. Strikes are only permissible in Germany if they are directly called for by unions following an official strike ballot. The GM Europe spokesman rejected the report.

Trade union warns against revenge sackings

Der stellvertretende IG-Metall Vorsitzenden Jürgen Peters

Jürgen Peters.

Nevertheless, the head of the powerful IG Metall labor union Jürgen Peters warned Opel against sacking the organizers of the protests, because that would only lead to a further escalation of the situation, he told German Deutschlandfunk radio.

"We have to find a solution. People want to know what's going to happen with them," Peters said. The solution must entail no plant closures and above all "security for employees," he added. "We have to talk about how such drastic restructuring can be implemented without forced redundancies."

In the meantime, Opel management in Rüsselsheim said it hoped to reach a "joint solution" with unions to safeguard the group's German manufacturing facilities. Both management and unions were seeking a "joint solution for making the Rüsselsheim and Bochum factories so competitive that they can be retained as car manufacturing plants beyond 2010," Opel said in a statement.

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