Page last updated at 15:01 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Opel U-turn sparks German strikes

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Union leader Klaus Franz says workers are "angry and frustrated"

Opel workers in Germany are attending a mass rally outside US parent company General Motors' (GM) headquarters.

Thousands of the 25,000 workers from Opel's four factories are gathered in Ruesselsheim to protest at GM's refusal to sell its European operations.

GM's U-turn came just days before the agreed sale of a majority stake in Opel and Vauxhall to car parts maker Magna and Russian bank Sberbank.

Under that agreement, Opel workers were promised no factories would be closed.

'Starting over'

The IG Metall union now fears GM will close plants in Germany and cut more jobs than Magna would have.

"Our trust [in GM] is now zero, and that is the heart of the problem," Klaus Franz, the head of Opel's employee council, told thousands of workers, to applause.

They're not interested in the fate of individuals
Michael Kleinmann, Opel worker

And he called on GM to come up with a workable plan for the carmaker.

"We are starting over again from zero," he said.

GM has said it plans to cut some 10,000 jobs as part of a restructuring of its European operations, though it has not yet said anything about where the cuts will come and it has not commented on whether or not factories will be closed down.

However, GM has said that its plan is similar, though not identical, to the one hammered out with Magna and Sberbank.

'Defending workers'

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin criticised GM's decision to pull the plug on the Magna-Sberbank deal, but said his government would still support the US carmaker's projects in Russia.

"The last-minute withdrawal from the completion of this deal does not harm our interests, but to put it mildly, it reflects our American partners' peculiar way of dealing with their counterparts," he said.

"This is a lesson, and we will need to take this approach to dealing with partners into account in the future."

German workers were less sanguine.

"They led us all around by our noses," said Michael Kleinmann, a worker at the Opel plant in Ruesselsheim. "They're not interested in the fate of individuals."

Opel workers protest outside the Ruesselsheim factory
Workers say faith in GM is at "zero"

However, workers in the UK and Poland have welcomed GM's decision.

"The future is still uncertain, but our fear is smaller," said Miroslaw Rzezniczek, a Solidarity union official at the Gliwice plant in Poland.

In Spain, Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian said the government would not make concessions to GM beyond a deal it had with Magna to accept 900 job cuts at Opel's Zaragoza plant.

"We are not willing to budge even an inch," he said.

John Featherstone, a Unite union official at Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port plant in the UK, said: "I am pleased we will be dealing with GM because we know them and we understand their culture - and they know us."



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