The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

General Motors in Strasbourg, France:
A massive strike for a 100 euro increase

Jan 22, 2007

The following article comes from the January 12 issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), published by the French revolutionary group of the same name.

On January 11, the overwhelming majority of 700 production workers at the General Motors plant in Strasbourg, France went out on strike. Workers struck after management proposed to count as personal time off the days that the plant was shut down, thus forcing workers to use up personal days. Also management proposed to reduce their sick pay. And the proposals on wages were very skimpy – less than a one% increase.

The strike was initiated by the CGT union (General Confederation of Workers). On Wednesday, January 10th, the union held a meeting during break time. The hundred workers who attended decided to meet again the next day at the time when salary negotiations were taking place. Since nothing was coming out of these negotiations, the workers let the delegates know they should leave the meetings. The workers had already stopped work!

With the delegates, workers went into the workshops to call out other workers to join their strike. In the foundry, some workers responded, "As soon as we finish this production cycle, we will stop." In the end, they had brought out some 240 workers, almost everyone in production on the morning shift. At a general meeting, they voted for two demands: an increase in pay of 100 euros a month (about $130) for everyone, and the payment for the days they are on strike. The demand of a 100 euro a month increase came from a poll taken by the CGT before the wage negotiations began. When the afternoon shift was greeted by the day shift, the overwhelming majority joined the strike.

A number of the foremen and lower level managers showed no hostility toward the strikers, some indicating they thought the directors of the plant had gone too far. A number of technicians from the GM research center refused to replace the striking assembly workers.

The following Monday, there were even more strikers, since some office workers and foremen joined the strike. The plant management then went through every section of the plant from maintenance, to tooling, to measurement and the technical bureau, trying to force these employees to replace the strikers on the assembly lines. A large number simply refused, saying they were in solidarity with the strikers. Then on Tuesday, January 16th, they went out on strike themselves, saying that they would not be used as strike breakers.

On the assembly lines, there was practically no one working except for a few foremen or supervisors, including the head of production" who tried to get out some production. Very little production came out as a result!

The former plant manager was told by GM headquarters to stay in Strasbourg on Monday to head the negotiations. First management pulled back on the issue of the personal days and reducing sick pay. Next they proposed a 35 euro increase, then a 50 euro increase, then a 75 euro increase. Each time the strikers said "No!" They want 100 euros and the payment for the days on strike.

On Tuesday, another meeting took place, this time with the new plant director, a Canadian who had been head of a facility in Poland, and who barely speaks French. As he gave his speech in English, he blurted out, "If you continue your strike and cars ordered by the customers cannot be delivered, you are going to get what you ask for," threatening to shut them down like a GM plant in the United States. But when this statement was translated for the workers, it produced a large outburst of laughter and an encouragement to continue the strike. So nothing came out of this meeting and the strike continues – until the workers get 100 euros!