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Opel workers begin warning strikes

Kai Ryssdal and Stephen Beard Nov 5, 2009
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Opel workers begin warning strikes

Kai Ryssdal and Stephen Beard Nov 5, 2009
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: In Germany today thousands workers at General Motors’ European division Opel walked off the job. They say it’s the first in a series of what they’re calling warning strikes. Labor’s trying to pressure GM not to cut jobs. A couple of days ago this wasn’t GM’s problem. Things were all wrapped up to sell Opel and Vauxhall in the UK to a Russian and Canadian consortium. The GM board backed out of the deal on Tuesday. Hence, the strikes. Dave Legget runs an industry Web site called Just – auto.com. Welcome to the program.

DAVE LEGGET: Good to be here.

Ryssdal: These Opel workers in Germany and across Europe, why are they so angry?

LEGGET: They’re angry because the deal that they thought was going to protect a lot of their jobs was nixed right at the last minute, earlier this week. When GM’s board decided that it would rather retain its core European operations — Opel, Vauxhall — than sell them to a consortium led by Canadian parts manufacturer Magna.

Ryssdal: Just to be clear, there probably would have been some layoffs had the deal gone through, too, right? Just fewer than if GM is holding on to the company.

LEGGET: That’s right, yeah. Everybody knows there’s going to have to be restructuring in the European auto industry, across the board. But certainly, Opel, Vauxhall was looking at significant restructuring whoever was going to be in charge.

Ryssdal: Germany politicians are kinda peeved too. Chancellor Angela Merkel got President Obama on the phone yesterday over this one, didn’t she?

LEGGET: Well, she’s particularly angry I think because so much politically was riding on it for her. They just had a general election in Germany and in the run up she made it very clear that she helped to kinda broker this deal, which would mean fewer job losses or perceived fewer job losses and plant closures in Germany. So she kinda of put a lot of political stake into this deal and then to have the rug pulled from under the deal right at the last minute I think was quite a shock to her and indeed to other politicians in Germany.

Ryssdal: You mentioned other politicians. I read Vladimir Putin, the prime minister of Russian, said today that GM was arrogant about this. And obviously, it’s never good to make people angry. But how damaging is it do you think to General Motors to be perceived this way in some major markets?

LEGGET: Well, I’d be reluctant, hesitant to say it’s very damaging to be honest. Of course, there’s a lot of kind of puff in the news at the moment, and Putin in Russia has made these statements. But in reality he knows, as well as other politicians know, that when there are big multi-international corporations you don’t really want to upset them too much. You want the investment to come to your country. General Motors was investing heavily in Russia, and it still sees Russia as a good long-term bet, which is one of the reasons why it’s actually decided to hold on to Opel too. It now keeps control of what’s it’s doing in Russia, it has the bedrock of Chevrolet, which is a global brand, which is growing very, very rapidly in Russia. The Russians don’t really want to upset future investment.

Ryssdal: Finally, what about European car customers? Is this all transparent to them, pretty much?

LEGGET: No, not at all. I think European car customers are as confused about what’s been going on as anybody else. This is a saga that’s been running for six months. Essentially it’s been in the news, it’ll be in the news for a few more days yet but when push comes to shove, because they’ll be looking at how much is that car, how good is it, can I afford it, all the kinds of things that they normally take into account when they buy a car, so I wouldn’t attach too much importance to this in terms of how the average consumer feels.

Ryssdal: Dave Legget. He runs an auto industry Web site called Just-Auto.com. We reached him in London. Mr. Legget, thanks so much for your time.

LEGGET: Thank you.

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