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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 October, 2004, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
Thousands protest at GM job cuts
A protest in Brochum against GM's proposed job cuts
Bochum residents rallied alongside the strikers
Tens of thousands of General Motors employees in Europe on Tuesday took part in protests at the auto company's plans to cut 12,000 jobs.

Workers at the Opel unit in Bochum in Germany walked out for a sixth day, while protests also took place at other GM plants in Europe.

Workers at GM plants in Britain - where 400 jobs are to be cut - were also expected to suspend operations briefly.

GM has started negotiating with unions over the job cuts.

GM 'determined'

Unions have demanded no plant closures and no redundancies.

But GM Europe, having failed to make a profit in the last four years, wants to cut costs at the division by as much as 500m euros ($623.8m; 347m).

Protestors in Bochum in Germany
GM is determined to press ahead with the cuts
The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said that GM was determined to press ahead with the cost saving measures, despite the threat of widening strike action.

Opel plant in Ruesselsheim, Germany, has stopped production due to a parts shortage and to workers participating in the Europe-wide protests, an Opel spokeswoman said.

Some 2,500 workers laid down tools at the factory in Kaiserslautern.

GM said 20-minute breaks were being organised at a factory in Antwerp so workers could attend "information rallies".

We want to send a message of support to our European colleagues, particularly those in Germany who face most of the job cuts
Claire Ainsley, TGWU, in the UK

Poland's Solidarity union declared a day of solidarity without any stoppages at the Opel factory in Poland.

Meanwhile, at least 10,000 people were expected to attend a rally in protest at the job cuts in Bochum.

UK support

Vauxhall supporters in the UK also lent their support, but cannot walk out or strike without a ballot.

"We wouldn't be able to walk out in the way our European colleagues are doing but mass meetings are taking place," Claire Ainsley of the Transport and General Workers' Union told BBC News Online.

"We want to send a message of support to our European colleagues, particularly those in Germany, who face most of the job cuts."

Vauxhall workers have been told there will probably be more than 400 jobs cut in the UK - 340 at the Ellsemere Port plant in Merseyside and 94 at the van factory in Luton.

The secretary general of the European Metal Workers Federation, Reinhard Kuhlmann, estimated that altogether about 50,000 workers were taking part in the Europe-wide protests.

'Competitiveness issue'

Although the firm has not yet said which of its 11 European plants will be affected, GM's German sites appear most vulnerable because of high labour costs.

GM Europe
Brands: Saab, Vauxhall, Opel
Sales: 1.8m vehicles (2003)
Employees: 63,000
Factories: 11 (Germany, Sweden, UK)
Finances: $161m loss H1 2004

Germany has the second-highest labour costs in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

And of the German facilities, staff at Bochum, which makes Astra and Zafira models, look the most at risk after GM recently said the plant had a "competitiveness issue".

Opel works council chairman Klaus Franz said at the weekend that he hoped to convince GM that it could bail out Opel without resorting to layoffs.

Mr Franz also warned that any ongoing stoppage at Bochum could affect GM's other European facilities, because of the plant's production of some key parts for other GM vehicles.

GM Europe lost $161m in the first half of 2004, up from $68m one year earlier, according to the latest figures.

"A company that has been losing money for so long needs to do something," Marla Mckay, sales manager at Berlin-based Opel Hetzer, told BBC World Business Report.

"There are so many companies that are having to let go of employees in Germany. It really fits into a trend."

GM Europe currently employs 64,000 people in total, making the Opel, Vauxhall and Saab brands.

Marla Mckay, sales manager at Opel Hetzer, in Berlin
"A company that has been losing money for so long needs to do something."

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21 Jul 04  |  Business

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