FRANKFURT/STOCKHOLM -- General Motors' European employees urged a united front on Friday against threats it might close a plant in Germany or Sweden, but individual unions and officials rushed to secure local jobs.
The two plants in question are Ruesselsheim in Germany, with 6,000 staff, and Trollhaettan in Sweden, with 5,600 workers. The closure of either would be a political hot potato for the governments of both countries.
A GM Europe (GME) spokesman said on Thursday that the company would probably build the next generation of Saab and Opel mid-sized cars in one instead of two plants.
Although he said this wouldn't necessarily lead to the closure of a plant, the news has set alarm bells ringing.
"The European worker representatives won't allow themselves to be played off against each other through social dumping," top employee representative Klaus Volkert said.
He was speaking after GM Europe employee representatives from the Opel, Vauxhall and Saab divisions in Germany, Britain, Belgium, Spain and Sweden demanded in a rare joint statement that GM guarantee to abstain from layoffs in Europe.
Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Industri said the government had set up a special crisis group to make sure Trollhaetten, the only Saab plant left in Sweden, would be saved.
The union representing workers in Trollhaetten also said it would try to convince GM to keep building cars in the depressed western Swedish town, where unemployment of around 9 percent is above the national average of 5.6 percent.
"Now we are trying to put together a paper that we are going to give to GM. The unions and the company are trying to show that we can produce those cars here in Trollhaetten," Christen Nielsen, Metall union deputy head, told Reuters.
He said the unions and managers had told the Trollhaetten staff on Thursday of the choice GM was planning to make.
"In a way they were shocked because it is tough information to get that perhaps in three or four years you don't have your work ... It looks like it could be a closure of the factory if we don't get it (chosen to manufacture the new car)," he added.
Politicians in Opel's home German state of Hesse also intervened, pledging they would support the workers to push through their demands to save the Ruesselsheim plant.
"Together with the employees, the Hesse state government and I will personally advocate securing the (Ruesselsheim) location," Hesse state premier Roland Koch said.
The Europe-wide representatives said GME must devise an strategy to grab back market share through new and innovative products, thus saving jobs and preventing plant closures.
Opel and its German works council are in the midst of wage talks in which management wants to freeze pay through 2009 as a way to boost competitiveness in tough markets.
Adam Jonas, Morgan Stanley analyst in London, said the threats to the plants were a key part of the wage negotiations.
"Ruesselsheim is not going to close ... If the plant is at 70 percent utilization, that's bad, but I don't see how they could do that. It sounds like negotiating talk to me," he said.