Online publication

The Need for Transformation – Current Challenges for the International Automotive Sector

Voices from Unions, Workers, Climate Movement, Industry

Dec 16th, 2021

About the book

In this study, the obstacles and potential associated with a transformation of the automotive industry and the development of an ecological mobility industry are discussed in dozens of interviews with trade unionists, climate activists and representatives of the automotive industry from Brazil, Serbia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Spain, France and Italy. There is a particular focus on positioning in the international value chain, the impact of foreign direct investment, the structure of the local labour market and the bargaining power of local trade unions.

The study also examines how local actors assess the potential for building an ecological mobility industry.

Since the outbreak of the COVID‑19 pandemic, the global automotive industry has had to contend with a decline in employment, with 150,000 jobs lost in the European Union (EU) by February 2021. Nissan, Renault, Daimler, Continental, Bosch, ZF and many other manufacturers have had to lay off staff and cut jobs, and it is not only the carmakers themselves that have been affected: the vital supplier industry has been hit too. In Brazil, 50 percent of automotive production capacity has been idle during the pandemic, and Ford has ceased production in the country entirely.

On the other hand, share owners benefited from dividends and asset growth. Global car production has been characterised by overcapacity and recurring sales crises for years, and only the increasing demand for vehicles on the Chinese market and various measures to create purchase incentives have been able to shore up demand in recent years. The billions in support from some governments during the COVID-19 pandemic were, of course, a welcome boon for the automotive industry.

When it comes to a left Green New Deal, therefore, the focus must be more on developing alternatives: e-mobility needs to be discussed in a broader context, including above all the production of electrically-powered rail vehicles and public transport vehicles. Local and long-distance public transport must be comprehensive and affordable, guaranteeing the "right to mobility" all over the world. The mobility transition is a key conflict and a central "starter project" of a global left Green New Deal.

The development of alternative production could create hundreds of thousands of jobs worldwide. Not only that but the massive expansion of rail and public transport has the potential to generate local jobs that would not be threatened by industrial relocation. The stark contrast between labour and capital was highlighted once again during the pandemic, as many companies in the automotive industry took advantage of the situation to put pressure on workers, downgrade working and employment conditions, cut wages, lay off staff and move production to cheaper locations.

A conversion of the automotive industry into an ecologically-oriented mobility industry can only succeed if it is underpinned by extensive social participation: public involvement would have to be combined with a greater say for workers, trade unions, environmental associations and the wider population, for example in the form of regional councils. It is also important to build on workers' knowledge and expertise, and the pride they have in themselves as producers and in their product and its usefulness.

A "just transition" is needed for the automotive industry in order to be able to cope with the upcoming challenges of structural change through e-mobility and the development of an ecological mobility industry. We need a green revolution in the industry while also protecting workers.

About the authors

France

Samuel Klebaner is an assistant professor in economics at the University Sorbonne Paris Nord (Paris Region), affiliated to the CEPN – CNRS UMR 7234. He completed a PhD in economics at the University of Bordeaux (GREThA – UMR CNRS 5113) in 2018. His research deals with the automotive industry in France and the industrial policy in France and Europe. He is part of the GERPISA’s steering committee, an international research network on the automotive industry, and won the Young Author’s Prize from this association in 2017. He used to work at the FTM-CGT as a consultant in economics.

Italy

Matteo Gaddi, (born in Mantua in 1975) is a member of the Scientific Committee of the Claudio Sabattini Foundation and a trade union official at Cgil in Reggio Emilia. He cooperates in particular with the metalworkers’ union Fiom-Cgil. He carries out research and training activities on the themes of work organisation, new technologies and economic and industrial policies. Most of his work is dedicated to providing analysis and training to support trade unionists and shop stewards in collective bargaining activities. Among his recent publications is “Industry  4.0: freer or more exploited?” (2019).

Spain

Marc Andreu Acebal is the Director of the Centre for Trade Union Studies and Research (CERES) of CCOO (Spain’s largest trade union) in Catalonia. He is also co-editor of the magazine Treball and a contributor to the newspaper El País, the digital newspaper Crític and the magazines L’Avenç, Sàpiens and Barcelona Metròpolis. He graduated from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) in 1996 with a degree in Journalism and obtained a doctorate in Contemporary History from the University of Barcelona (UB) in 2014.

Salvador Clarós Ferret is the Sectoral Policy Coordinator at the Sectoral Policy and Sustainability Secretariat of CCOO in Catalonia and author of the book Can Ricart i el patrimoni industrial de Barcelona (Edicions de la Universitat de Barcelona, 2016). He has also published several articles on urban transformation and industrial redevelopment in Barcelona on the UB portal Geo Crítica (Biblio 3W).

Czech Republic / Slovakia

Patrik Gažo is a doctoral student at the Department of Environmental Studies at Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic, dealing with society’s socio-ecological transformation in terms of industrial work, the just transition of production, and (auto)mobility. He focuses on contradictions and relationships between the interests of the working class and nature and how it relates to efforts to address the environmental and climate crisis.

Monika Martišková is a researcher at the Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI) in Bratislava, Slovakia, and a PhD candidate in the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development of Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. Her research interests lie in working conditions and industrial relations in the automotive sector in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries.

Thomas S. J. Smith is a geographer working at the Department of Environmental Studies at Masaryk University. He is a member of the Community Economies Research Network (CERN) and his overarching research interests relate to social transformation, sustainability transitions and post-growth economics.

Serbia

Tanja Vukša graduated in Sociology from the University of Belgrade’s Faculty of Philosophy and has a Master’s degree from her studies at the Department of Culture and Gender Theory at that university’s Faculty of Political Sciences. She, too, is a member of the Center for Politics of Emancipation. Her theoretical interests lie in economic theories and analysis and, in particular, feminist critique of political economy.

Darko Vesić studied at the Department of Sociology at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade. He is a member of the Center for Politics of Emancipation and is self-taught in the Marxist critique of the political economy. His fields of interest include economic analysis and environmental policies.

Brazil

Renato Boareto is an expert in urban environment management and a specialist in public administration. He holds a Master’s degree in Social Sciences, looking at State, Government and Public Policies. He has been working on urban mobility-policies for over 27 years and was Urban Mobility Director at the Brazilian Federal Government’s Ministry of Cities from 2003 to 2008. He now works as a consultant and professor.

David Shiling Tsai has been with the Institute for Energy and Environment (IEMA) since 2007, contributing to its expertise and public policies in the fields of air pollution, climate change, transport and energy. He has a background in chemical engineering and geography, obtaining degrees in both these subjects from the University of São Paulo (USP).

André Luis Ferreira is a mechanical engineer who graduated with a Master’s degree in Energy Systems Planning from the University of Campinas (Unicamp). A former member of various technical boards of the São Paulo state environment agency CETESB, he also previously worked as a consultant for the Hewlett Foundation. He is currently President-Director of IEMA and teaches the Environmental Management course at the University of São Paulo’s Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture (ESALQ/USP).

This part of the study has been financed and facilitated by the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, Regional Office Brazil and Cono Sur, São Paulo.

Contact

Manuela Kropp, Project Manager at Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Brussels
manuela.kropp@rosalux.org