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Thousands Demonstrate to Save Jobs at Crisis-Hit Opel

Auto manufacturer Opel is fighting to survive after being plunged into crisis by struggling parent US giant General Motors. Now, workers at the company's plants across Europe are demonstrating to save their jobs.

Opel demonstration in Ruesselsheim, Oct. 2004

Its not the first time Opel workers have taken to the streets; 2004 also saw demonstrations

Between 10,000 to 15,000 demonstrators were expected to attend a midmorning rally at Opel's German headquarters in the western city of Ruesselsheim.

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Social Democrat candidate in September's general elections, was expected to attend the rally along with Bertold Huber, the head of Germany's powerful IG Metall union.

Demonstrations were also planned at the plants in Kaiserslautern and the eastern city of Eisenach.

"We want to expose our demands clearly once again," Rainer Einenkel, the head of the works council at GM's plant in Bochum, western Germany, had told reporters on Tuesday, Feb. 24.

Einenkel said he would attend a meeting of Opel's supervisory board on Friday, Feb. 27, where management would present an "Opel rescue plan" at the meeting at the request of the German government.

Echoing Einenkel's call to protest, the European Metalworkers Federation (EMF) said in a statement Tuesday that it would oppose any forced plant closures or job cuts.

Leaflets handed out at Opel's plant in Ruesselsheim demanded that there should be "no plant closures and no layoffs" and called for workers to protest.

Opel backtracks on job cuts at Eisenach

A new Opel Corsa on the production line at the Eisenach plant

Demand for the Corsa has saved jobs in Eisenach -- for now

The protests come despite Opel's announcement on Wednesday that it had dropped plans to push through redundancies at its plant in Eisenach and would assign additional technical teams at the plant to increase its output of the popular Corsa model.

The company "no longer needs the initial plan for shorter work hours in Eisenach," a statement said.

While auto demand and production overall has slumped dramatically as the global economic crisis slashes consumer spending, cost-conscious customers have been looking at smaller, more-efficient and cheaper models as a result.

Demand for the Corsa has also been boosted by a government incentive scheme that encourages drivers to turn in old cars for new models that pollute less.

European Commission gets tough on bail outs

Meanwhile, any plans for the German government to bail out the stricken car manufacturer were dealt a blow from Brussels when the European Union's executive announced that it would use the force of law to fight countries that give unfair support to their national car industries, be it in the EU or the US.

The General Motors Corp. headquarters in Detroit.

GM wants more aid from the US government to survive

The Financial Times Deutschland reported Tuesday that Berlin may be willing to pump money into Opel, without citing sources.

However, it was reported that Berlin told Opel to come up with a viable business plan if it wants to benefit from state aid. Another option would be the acquisition of a direct stake in the ailing automaker, although the idea is opposed by some within the country's ruling coalition.

EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said that the European Commission would protect GM's European subsidiaries but stressed that any aid to Opel would have to come from restructuring plans.

GM employs 55,000 workers in Europe, primarily in Britain, Germany, Spain and Sweden. The company wants to restructure its European organization as it looks to stem huge losses.

Author: Nick Amies (dpa/afp/rtrs/ftd)

Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn

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