• Basic Aspects of the Car Industry

  • By Gianni Rinaldini | 09 Nov 10 | Posted under: Ecology
  • In the history of all industrialised countries, the car industry represents both the good and bad aspects of the changes occurring in the move from old to new industrial realities. It was through the victories and defeats of this sector’s industrial disputes that the trade-union movement passed through the decisive stages that contributed to its history and organisation.

    The extent of the present crisis reflects the crisis of a whole mode of society and consumption and represents for us in Europe an enormous challenge in terms of the reconstruction of this industry and how it functions. The following are some of its basic aspects.

    • The car industry has not reached its full capacity. On the contrary, on a world scale, production is at the height of its expansion – witness the presence of new plants in Latin America and Asia. I am not only referring to the assembly plants but to the whole productive cycle from design to sales. This is why I do not think that arguments about the industry’s worldwide overcapacity are credible.
    • There is a specific problem in Europe, and more generally in the old industrialised countries, where the market is no longer based on growth of demand but on replacing existing units. In the last few years this has been sustained by state incentives to scrap existing units. The fact that this is now called “eco-scrapping” in no way changes the basic issue.
    • Overcapacity is a European problem, which varies with the situation in the individual European countries. With regard to the import/export trade balance, some countries have a strong positive balance and some a very negative one, with repercussions on the subcontracting sector. 
    • Each country is working to defend its own industry, and the multinationals are everywhere using open blackmail of their workers’ unions to secure wage cuts and a worsening of working conditions. 

    In this context, it would not be true to say that European trade-unions have a common stand and practice. On the contrary, behind the communiqués of solidarity and the high-flown statements, there are important differences, a degree of competition to defend destabilised jobs, which give the employers the best conditions. We are divided and fragmented. This is the sad situation.

    There is no miracle cure for getting out of this situation. This would, moreover, open up a complex discussion about European trade unionism. Keeping with the car industry, it seems self-evident that this situation, aside from its unacceptable social costs, is leading to the decline, pure and simple, of Europe’s role in the face of the multinationals.

    It is no accident that the union representative on the FIAT Board maintains that each multinational has to be a “war machine” because the market is globalised.

    The future of the automobile will be played out on the field of transformation – a transformation with regard to the environment that urgently requires a more global conception of the “sustainable mobility” of goods and people.

    This is the real challenge of the future. We cannot delegate this issue to the initiatives of the multinationals, to their trade wars – in other words to the logic of an ultraliberal marketplace. We need a strong social and political initiative to affirm the role of politics, of public governance for Europe with regard to this process. This demands allocating considerable means for research and innovation.

    Today, this kind of approach is completely absent. However, it is vital for building a common trade-union position and practice in the different countries, to try and stop the obvious decline tied to our mode of union action, to our being dragged towards a “market”-orientated trade-unionism.


    * From the seminar of the ESF, Istanbul 2010 “Analysis of the Crisis in the Car Industry: What Kind of Social and Environmental Reconversion Do We Need?”


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