Light Wave


Rattled by Swedish strikes, Tesla now faces union pressure in Berlin

By Jake Beardslee · November 24, 2023

In brief…

  • Tesla mechanics in Sweden went on strike after company refused to recognize union
  • Strike spread with other workers like dockworkers and electricians joining
  • CEO Elon Musk blasted the ongoing strikes, but unions remain strong in Sweden
  • Labor unrest may spread to Tesla's German factory with powerful union presence
Tesla faces ongoing strikes by Swedish unions and growing pressure from German unions seeking pay parity and collective bargaining rights at the Berlin gigafactory.  Steve Jurvetson/Wikimedia

A standoff between Tesla and Swedish labor unions has now stretched into its fourth week, drawing the ire of CEO Elon Musk. On Thursday, Musk reacted to the news on X, saying “This is insane” in reference to Swedish postal workers refusing to deliver Tesla license plates in solidarity with striking mechanics.

The dispute originated last month when around 130 Tesla mechanics went on strike after their employer, a Tesla subsidiary in Sweden, said it would not recognize their labor union, according to Expressen. The strike soon spread, with dockworkers blocking Tesla car deliveries at ports and electricians stopping maintenance work. “This is about good wages, good pensions and good insurance for all our members who work at Tesla,” said IF Metall, the Swedish metalworkers’ union organizing the strikes.

Tesla has fought unionization attempts among its workers in the past. Musk has vocally opposed unions, and Tesla has been accused by the National Labor Relations Board of illegal anti-union tactics like interrogating pro-union workers. But Sweden has a highly unionized workforce, with around 90% of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements.

The ongoing strikes in Sweden may spur similar action by German workers at Tesla’s Berlin-area factory. IG Metall, a prominent German union, has pressured Tesla to implement a collective bargaining agreement for its 11,000 employees there. The union says Tesla pays less than its German auto rivals. Over 1,000 Tesla workers in Germany joined IG Metall last month during a protest.

Tesla aims to double production capacity at the Berlin plant to 1 million electric vehicles per year. If expanded as planned, the factory would overtake Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg plant as Europe’s largest. But first, Tesla must reckon with strengthening labor unions seeking better wages and working conditions. Musk slammed the unions’ actions in Sweden as “insane,” but the strikes now threaten to spread to Germany as well.