Thousands of workers protest GM's plans to cut 12,000 jobs in Europe

Tuesday, October 19th 2004, 12:17 pm
By: News On 6

BOCHUM, Germany (AP) _ Thousands of employees at General Motors Corp.'s European factories demonstrated Tuesday against the automaker's plan to slash 12,000 jobs across the continent, while a shortage of parts from a striking German plant forced two others to stop production.

Several thousand people gathered in a downtown square in the west German city of Bochum with union flags and banners proclaiming, ``We are fighting bad management.''

Bochum's workers fear their aging Adam Opel AG plant will be the worst hit and have stayed off the job since parent company GM announced its plans Oct. 14. They say they won't return to work unless they get assurances that no one will be fired.

The walkout showed its first signs of squeezing GM's business elsewhere in Europe.

Opel spokesman Ulrich Weber said production at the company's main plant in Ruesselsheim was halted Tuesday for lack of parts usually supplied from Bochum.

Production at a plant in Antwerp was also expected to halt Tuesday at a plant in Antwerp, Belgium, Opel Belgium spokesman Marco von Riel told Deutsche Welle television.

Thousands of workers also gathered for a march in Ruesselsheim, and organizers called for a two-hour work stoppage at Saab's manufacturing plant in Trollhaettan, Sweden.

``The roof is burning at Opel, and General Motors is trying to put out the fire with gasoline,'' union official Udo Loewenbrueck told demonstrators in Ruesselsheim.

Unions called for Tuesday's ``day of action'' after GM announced that it expects to get rid of 12,000 jobs in Europe by the end of 2006 _ most in Germany _ to cut $620 million in costs annually at its money-losing Opel, Vauxhall and Saab operations.

GM says it must reduce overhead costs to cope with sluggish consumer demand and increased competition from Japanese and other European carmakers.

The company has struggled to fix problems in Europe for years, and Opel's current management concedes that its predecessors let quality problems get out of hand in the late 1990s.

Opel launched a turnaround plan in 2001. But even as market share and product reputation improved, weak demand and pressure from European and Asian competitors forced GM into offering discounts that have eaten away earnings.

Earlier Tuesday, Opel said it had agreed in preliminary talks with employee delegates to try to ensure the survival of its main plants in Germany _ including Bochum _ beyond 2010, while finding ``socially acceptable'' ways of cutting back their work force.

The two sides planned to press ahead ``swiftly'' with talks, Opel said.