GM’s Opel Decision Stokes Anger in Germany

Publisher’s Note: It is my pleasure once again to publish a guest essay from a reader, Bill Dawson. A U.S. citizen, Bill has lived in Austria since 2000. He blogs regularly about German History rather than contemporary politics, but he has his finger on the pulse of the German-language media and offers an interesting perspective from across the pond.


A story which involves a U.S. company but is just barely on the news radar in the United States is by far the biggest story in Germany today, November 5, 2009.

The Germans have gone wild with anger after hearing the news that General Motors has decided to keep Opel, a European subsidiary, rather than sell it as previously planned. The original idea was that GM would sell Opel to Canadian firm Magna International and Russia’s Sberbank. The Germans — and by that I mean the government and the gigantic trade union IG Metall — apparently had much more faith that the Magna/Sberba combo would better protect Germany’s Opel jobs. The Detroit News article (linked above) suggests otherwise by indicating that GM’s plan to cut 20% of the Opel workforce is similar to what Magna had planned. Honestly, the details of the respective plans do not interest me, so I’ve not dug deep and tried to compare them.

What does always interest me is the predictable reactions that many Germans have when businesses in the United States affect people (read: “workers”) in Germany. Journalists, politicians and labor leaders dust off their cowboy boot cliches and whine about the heartlessness of capitalism.

Capitalism has apparently learned nothing,” asserts angry IG Metall chief Berthold Huber (my emphasis, link is to German content). That statement appears in an interview; neither Huber nor the interviewer thought it necessary to explain what exactly was meant. If GM makes a decision based on its own interests, then this shows that “Capitalism has apparently learned nothing.” I guess from Huber’s perspective this means that Capitalism has failed to learn that if it does not protect jobs at all costs then… what? I can only assume he means that the lesson of the current worldwide financial crisis is that jobs must be protected at all costs, even if they don’t make economic sense to the companies who provide those jobs. And Capitalism has failed to learn that lesson. Right.

“This behavior of General Motors shows the ugly face of Turbo-Capitalism,” laments the Minister President (head of the government) of the German state North Rhine Westphalia (German link, my emphasis). He is a member of the Christian Democrats, the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, which is traditionally considered center-right and is often accused by the Left of being too pro-business.

Smoking Colts” (German link) is the title Thomas Wels chose for his very short opinion piece on the website of the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung. “The Americans have bargained just like they always do: up to the last minute, and with a Colt on the table.” (My emphasis.) The disappointed Wels accuses GM of acting “purely in self-interest”.

Hatred for the Grave-Diggers of Detroit” (German link) is how the Sueddeutsche Zeitung titled their article about the anti-GM demonstrations that occurred today (11/5/2009) in the town of Ruesselsheim. Though the link is to a German article, you might enjoy clicking on it and then scrolling down until you see the slideshow consisting of six photos of the demonstration. Click that first photo and I’ll take you through the photos with some translation where necessary. Hopefully they haven’t changed up the photos by the time you read this.

  1. The yellow shirt simply says, “We are Opel”. Note that all labor demonstrations in Germany are dominated by the red flags that always make me think of Leninism.
  2. This photo needs no commentary!
  3. The sign on the lady’s hat reads “Freedom for the slaves of GM.”
  4. The finger sign reads “Keep your hands off our Opel!” (The German is literally “finger away” rather than “hands off.”)
  5. I wasn’t joking when I mentioned cowboy boots earlier. I think the message here is clear: the cowboy boot of American capitalism is crushing Opel.
  6. The sign that is flipping off GM says “Get out!”
  7. Uninteresting.
  8. The sign on the upper left reads “Don’t let Opel die” and on the upper right “Yes we Can — better without GM.”

Now all of you have been thinking throughout this whole article, “Are they nuts? GM is not ‘capitalism.’ It’s socialism!” All German commentators whom I’ve come across so far are conveniently ignoring this fact. A few have mentioned that the U.S. government under world darling President Barack Obama owns the largest chunk of GM, but, funnily enough, they haven’t elaborated on that: it doesn’t fit the message.

Cross-posted from American Power.

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