National Sections of the L5I:

Statement from the SOP on the Skoda strike

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Current strike after the break down of negotiations at Skoda VW Mlada Boleslav will have without any doubts great impact on all workers’ struggles for higher wages and better working conditions in coming years. Trade unions at Skoda were one of the few who were in the past years able to successfully fight for decent conditions, with the last strike two years ago. Good economic results of the company, surge of profits and sold cars, have signalled to the Skoda workers that it is their credit as producers and that it should be reflected also in their pay - not only in the wallets of shareholders who hardy lift their hands.

After several rounds of negotiations the trade union leadership rejected proposal for increase of wage scale of 10%, which would mean total wage increase of 13%. The reason was an inflation clause, where trade unions demanded to even up the inflation when it rises above 1% whereas the company was willing to agree on only 3%. After the rejection the personnel manager and former minister for social democracy Jahn returned to an older offer of wage scale increase of 7.5% and 3% the next year. From the viewpoint of the employees is the rejection more than justified, Skoda in the first quarter of 2007 sold 15.5% more cars than in the same period of 2006 and March 2007 saw the most successful sales in the history of the company. However this rising trend is more than a year old.

This is why is today an overwhelming majority of 27 thousands employees on strike. There are no demonstrations or picket lines but the work at manufacturing lines was replaced with discussions. Only with a strike today the company will loose some 2 million euros. However this is minimal compared with wage increase of several percent. The average workers’ wage is allegedly in Skoda 22 thousand Czech crowns (785 euro), ie. 10% above national wage average (not average workers’ wage).

Management of the company can hardly use usual tactics how to defy demands for higher wages and claim, that it is not in an economical position to do so - results are known well. It is thus trying to weaken any solidarity with Skoda workers using the fact that they have already higher wages than vast majority of the rest. However this is not entirely true, despite the wages are generally higher at Skoda, many of the workers are paid much less than reported 22,000 CZK.

Importance and consequences of the strike is realised not only by the management of the company but by the whole ruling class. It expresses its concerns not only through various financial analysts but as well through the president Vaclav Klaus. He has warned against wage increase and said that a deal of the company with trade unions “will have a signal effect for the whole Czech economy”. Raiffeisenbank analysts A. Michl said that “irrational pressure from the trade unions would start in Czech Republic a wage inflation and result in increase of interest rates and stall the economic growth. Daniel Münich from economical institute CERGE warned that “it might become a precedent that would start an avalanche. Trade union leaderships in other companies will not want to look humble in comparison with Skoda trade unions and the result can be mutual exaggeration of demands.“

President Klaus knows why to be afraid, he already once felt as a prime minister the power of trade unions - exactly the trade union resistance against his austerity packages led to fall of his government. At the same time he represents the capitalist class whose bank accounts would be seriously threatened with actions for higher wages. And exactly such actions could be ignited with success of trade unionists in Skoda. On the other hand a defeat could mean further decay of trade union activity. That is why the fight of Skoda workers must win the widest possible support from the whole working class - and it is possible to win it through delegations to other factories, persuasion of the inhabitants of Mlada Boleslav etc.

The experience commands us to come with one more demand - the negotiations must be open and public. In the past company managements often tried to corrupt trade union leadership and this must be prevented.

The company management knows exactly what is at stake - and might try to do it. They already haven’t hesitated to use intimidation - higher wages will lead to displacement of production to countries with cheaper labour, they say. It is necessary not to surrender to such pressures, on the contrary it is time to organise the struggle across the whole multinational corporations, link up with workers in other VW factories, be it in Germany, Slovakia, Poland or Brazil.

Victory to the Skoda workers!