The General Motors Case: A European Solution or No Solution

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Berlin (2010)


The objective of this paper is to discuss the opportunities for and limitations on sustainable production and employment security at the European GM sites after the failed attempt to sell the European business of General Motors-Opel/Vauxhall to the Canadian-Austrian-Russian consortium Magna/Sberbank at the end of 2009.
It is conjectured that the trust that had been built up between GM management and the European employee representation as well as between management and employee representatives at each European site was severely disrupted by negotiations on production locations following the negotiations on the Memorandum of Understanding between the European employee representatives and management. Current empirical findings about the European Works Council of GM (PRIES et. al. 2010) indicate that the everyday experience of cooperative treatment is a vital condition for reducing practical uncertainty about action and enhancing successful international cooperation between the representatives of various European GM sites. Moreover, it is noted that due to the failure of the negotiations and the resulting loss of confidence for many workers, the traditional European experience of trade union strength increasingly shifted towards opposition. One obstacle to the development of European cooperation is that workers at the various European locations of General Motors have not experienced much growth, job security and income security for their production locations as a result of GM’s expansion in Europe, but rather have been confronted with severe intra-company competition between the locations, declining collective-agreement standards and job losses in the last two decades.

Since the establishment of cooperative industrial relations throughout Europe is a long-term task for the coming decades, in the near future the primary focus should be on the defence and development of national participation rights (such as the extension of the VW Law to cover the entire automotive industry since it has received so much public aid, and the proposed model of employee equity at Opel). Empirical findings suggest that on the basis of a strong national bargaining position, it is possible to achieve minimum standards in transnational social and participation policies through international cooperation.

The adoption of the “Charter of Labour Relations” by the world leader Volkswagen at the end of October 2009, guaranteeing specific minimum standards in working and employment conditions for 360,000 employees worldwide, can only be understood on the basis of Volkswagen's distinctive participation culture. At a secondary level, in the case of General Motors in Europe an International Network (PRIES 2010) linking national stakeholders in industrial relations, European works councils, mission-related trade union networks (such as the GM-Delta Group) and Global Unions with support from non-governmental organisations creates the structural conditions for sustainable, reliable communication on a necessary social compromise that always has a double basis, namely on the national and local level as well as on the international and group-related level.

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