November 4, 2009 / 12:57 AM / in 8 years

German Opel workers bitter after GM shock

PARIS, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Bitterness, anger and disbelief mixed with betrayal and even resignation are just some of the emotions boiling within Germany following Tuesday’s shocking news that General Motors [GM.UL] will scrap its sale of Opel.

After months of protracted negotiations with a consortium led by Canadian auto parts maker Magna MGa.TO that finally led to GM approving a sale on Sept. 10 backed heavily by unions, the carmaker’s board of directors reversed course and voted now simply to restructure Opel “in earnest” itself.

GM confirmed the decision made by its 13-member board after a meeting of directors on Tuesday in Detroit, saying that improving business conditions and the strategic importance of Opel to its operations had prompted the move.[ID:nN03518816]

Opel’s labour leaders have agreed to contribute 265 million euros ($388 million) in annual savings as part of a much-needed restructuring plan, but made that contingent on a sale to Magna. [ID:nWEA8383]

“Unfortunately my suspicion seems to been confirmed that the decision to sell Opel to Magna was connected with the elections later that month in Germany,” Opel’s senior labour leader in Bochum, Rainer Einenkel, told Reuters.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and key allies in her conservative party lobbied heavily in Magna’s favour ahead of the parliamentary elections on Sept. 27, thinly veiling a threat that no German aid would flow should any other decision be taken.

Another Opel worker representative cursed when hearing the news and called GM’s reversal a “challenge to fight,” only to then add that there was a feeling among colleagues “the most favourable moment was already behind us and the danger grew with each day that passed” that the sale to Magna could collapse.

Those working at European plants on GM’s endangered list like the Belgian site in Antwerp have long sniffed conspiracy ever since it first signed a letter of intent back at the end of May, suggesting Detroit was just using Magna to get an emergency taxpayer loan for Opel.

Although shocked by GM’s decision, a union source conceded that somehow GM and Opel will have sit down and work out a restructuring plan that labour believes could cost alone in Germany the closures of plants in Bochum, Eisenach and even Kaiserslautern.

“We cannot boycott the company,” said the person, who was not in a position to comment publicly at this time.

When Fritz Henderson was running GM’s European operations, his plans to cut thousands of jobs at Opel spawned a wildcat strike several years ago in Bochum, but Einenkel said work would continue there on Wednesday.

“Zafiras will continue to be built in Bochum tomorrow because that’s how the people can show what they do best,” he said late on Tuesday.

The roughly 5,200 people in Bochum are accustomed to fear after GM’s repeated threats over the years to close the plant, where Zafira compact vans are assembled.

“All we have left is the Zafira. Take that away and its tantamount to a closure,” Einenkel said. (Reporting by Christiaan Hetzner; editing by Carol Bishopric)

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