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Tesla Faces Off Against Nordic Labor Solidarity

By Ryan Cooper - The Prospect, November 21, 2023

Electric-vehicle manufacturer Tesla has been involved in an escalating dispute with IF Metall, the trade union representing its mechanics in Sweden. After several years of the union trying to get the company to sign a collective-bargaining agreement, the mechanics went on strike on October 27—and now Tesla is facing a full-blown campaign of sympathy strikes. Dockworkers are refusing to unload Tesla shipments, electricians will not repair Tesla chargers, cleaning companies will not service Tesla buildings, and now as of Monday, the Swedish postal union is refusing to deliver Tesla mail and packages.

As my colleague Harold Meyerson noted last week, these kind of strikes are largely illegal in the United States thanks to the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act (though the exact legal details, as usual in the American context, are hideously complicated). Carry out a sympathy strike in the States and you might be fired, see your union decertified, or even be sued for damages.

In theory, Tesla could just abandon the Swedish market, but it is quite large relative to its size—nearly 45 percent of auto sales there this year have been EVs, and the Tesla Model Y has been the best-selling vehicle by a big margin. So it’s worth examining the Tesla situation for some lessons.

This is far from the first time an arrogant foreign business, convinced that it can impose U.S.-style hyper-exploitative labor relations at will, has tangled with Nordic union power and been unceremoniously crushed. Probably the most famous previous example was when McDonald’s tried to bigfoot the Danish labor movement in the 1980s by refusing to sign any union contracts.

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