Page last updated at 02:33 GMT, Friday, 6 November 2009

Is Opel facing a fatal blow?

Plaque at the statue of Adam Opel, Russelsheim, Germany
Adam Opel founded his company 140 year ago - but its future is in doubt

By Steven Rosenberg
BBC News, Berlin correspondent

In the central square of Russelsheim there is a statue of Adam Opel: the founder of a company which 140 years ago made sewing machines, then bicycles and, eventually, cars.

Thousands of Opel workers downed tools and marched to this square on Thursday.

They came to accuse General Motors of trying to destroy their company and of threatening their jobs.

To the sound of beating drums, one protestor carried a coffin through the crowd.

He was dressed like an undertaker, in black coat and top hat.

The message: that by refusing to sell Opel, General Motors had dealt Opel a fatal blow.

There was plenty of anti-GM feeling in the banners held high. "GM - Go Away!" read one. "Hands off Opel!" said another.

At the front, up on stage, speakers accused GM of bad management and of betrayal.

Workers wear notices saying 'freedom for the slaves of GM'
Workers wore notices saying 'freedom for the slaves of GM'

Many of the workers here fear GM is now planning to close two of the four Opel plants in Germany.

It is certainly planning to ask European governments for state aid, to help restructure Opel and Vauxhall.

But after the collapse of the Magna deal, Germany is in no mood to pay.

"They have to take into consideration that they have American money to invest in Europe," Roland Koch told the BBC.

He is premier of the state of Hesse, where Opel's Russelsheim plant is situated.

"They should not ask governments in Europe or a government in Germany to pay money after a process where they denied everything we negotiated about in the last month."

Around the statue of Adam Opel, the workers whistled and chanted their opposition to General Motors. I spoke to a test driver called Kai Taeger who has worked for Opel for 17 years.

"GM has made big mistakes in the last 10 years," Mr Taeger said.

"They took a lot of money out of our firm. We hoped for a new start with Magna. Now we have nothing."

For GM, deciding to hold on to Opel and Vauxhall was the easy part. The big challenge now will be to rebuild trust with the German workforce.

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