Leaving Lockdown, Entering Recession: Strike in Spain Shows Workers’ Fears

BARCELONA, Spain – The reopening of Nissan’s main assembly plant in Spain this week meant a moment of celebration for an industry that is a pillar of the Spanish economy.

This proved to be very short-lived. The car factory was forced to close on Wednesday – two days after the restart – due to a strike by labor unions demanding that the Japanese company commit to maintain its presence in Spain.

In a country that has been under lockdown since mid-March, this strike is the most visible labor struggle in Spain. Despite social-away regulations, officials allowed up to 10 workers at a time to picket outside a Nissan plant on the outskirts of Barcelona.

Labor unions in Europe have recently expressed concern about the safety of employees who are returning to work. But the Nissan strike highlights what may be the next major concern of organized labor: protecting jobs in the post-epidemic economy.

Coronavirus has brought about a recession that is expected to be by far the worst in the European Union, one that will most likely push companies to close struggling factories. In recent years. About a fifth of the personnel capacity is not being used worldwide.

Nissan’s strike can be seen as “an example of what is to come”, said Anna Guinness, director of the Institute of Labor Studies of Assed, a Spanish university.

He said he expected more labor struggles, particularly as some companies sought to convert temporary furloughs and pay cuts into permanent cuts, “before they are able to see the coronovirus effect on their businesses.”

Nissan has about 4,000 employees in Spain, of which about three-quarters work in the Barcelona area, mostly at its Joanna Franca assembly plant, which makes NV200 vans and pickups. Labor unions, trying to pressure the company to protect jobs, decided to strike at a small Nissan facility in Montecada outside Barcelona, ​​which supplies doors and hoods to the Zona Franca plant.

Workers at the small shop went on strike on Monday, creating a bottleneck in Nissan’s supply chain that halted the Zona Franca assembly line after an early morning shift on Wednesday.

Avoiding widespread running, the unions ensured that Nissan would cease production on its own, rather than having most workers go on strike and leave their wages.

Javier Hernández, head representative of the UGT or General Workers Union at the Joanna Franca factory, said he had never seen a strike that way, targeting a link in the supply chain rather than the main plant. He argued that it was an innovative way of adopting a lockout that has deterred workers from mass street demonstrations.

“I think unique situations like this coronovirus require an unusual response,” he said.
Like other industries, automakers around the world have been crushed by lockdowns, which have shut down factories as well as auto dealerships. The Spanish Automobile and Truck Manufacturers Association, better known as ANFAC, called on the government to provide immediate relief to the car industry, which accounts for 10 percent of Spain’s economy. Without such help, “the automotive sector in Spain is in grave danger,” Jose Vicente de los Mojos, president of the association, Said in a statement.

The ANFAC said it was expecting vehicle sales this year to reduce this level following the 2008 financial crisis, forcing Spain to negotiate a European banking bailout.

After that bailout, the automotive sector was an important part of the export-led economic recovery in Spain. Car factories benefited from falling labor costs compared to Germany and other European production centers, which helped persuade Ford and some other car manufacturers to make new investments in Spain.

However, Nissan was not among them. Instead, the Japanese company has steadily reduced its footprint in Spain as it plunged into a management crisis, which included its chairman Carlos Ghosn’s 2018 release. From 200,000 a decade ago, Nissan’s annual production in Spain dropped to around 50,000 vehicles.

Nissan would not comment on “rumors and speculation about the future of the plants”. The company, which incurred a quarterly loss of 26 billion yen or about $ 244 million in February, is set to unveil a new global operating plan on May 28.

Local lawmakers have recently promised to fight for the jobs of autorocars. But Xavier Edield, a representative of the Association of Companions Oberus, argued that Spanish authorities had limited influence over foreign car manufacturers.

“We have a very large industry that is controlled by outsiders,” Mr Adelaide said. “Executives in Tokyo will be more responsive to pleas coming from within Japan than from here.”

Ford, Mercedes-Benz, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Renault (which has alliances with Nissan) and Volkswagen also have factories in Spain, some of which have performed strongly. Volkswagen recently reopened its main Spanish plant outside Barcelona, ​​which makes vehicles under its subsidiary brand SEAT, and increased production there last year Highest level in two decades.

This is a delicate time for Spanish labor unions, which have gradually lost membership. Their collective bargaining position was also reduced after the financial crisis under the 2012 law, giving companies more leverage over firefighters. Professor of Labor Law Ms. Ginnes said her research showed Spanish unions were now the weakest in Europe.

As he stood on the picket line, Mr. Adigale, a union official, said he was ready to fight for a Nissan job that he held for 20 years. He wore the slogan “Never Forget” and a T-shirt with a picture of a cassette tape, a VHS video cartridge and a floppy disk.

He said that the uncertainty of the job coming out of the lockdown “makes me feel indifferent”. “We’ve definitely worked in better times.”

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