In recent weeks, Elon Musk’s car company has been locked in a labor dispute with the unions of Sweden. Now, as the dispute drags on, Tesla seems to have won a small victory amidst the broader fight: license plates.
Yes, you heard that right. To explain, Sweden’s postal workers recently stopped delivering license plates to Tesla, making it impossible for the car company to supply them to vehicle owners and, as a result, making it quite difficult for the company to fulfill orders in the country. The workers at the post office, PostNord, were doing this as an act of solidarity with a group of Swedish workers who went on strike in October after Tesla refused to sign a collective bargaining agreement. The workers in question, a group of mechanics, are members of the prominent Swedish union IF Metall.
Organized labor plays a pivotal role in the Swedish economy and, as a result, unions have a lot of power. That power seems to spring, partially, from the fact that workers have the ability to come together to defend each other. Indeed, after the Tesla strike began, as many as eight other Swedish unions joined the strike to demonstrate solidarity. Dockworkers responsible for unloading Teslas from ships and electricians tasked with repairing the cars have reportedly stopped servicing the vehicles. As a result, the license plate embargo, when it occurred, seems to have threatened to derail Tesla’s business in the country.
Musk, who is probably fairly unaccustomed to seeing so much worker solidarity—and who has a pretty established track record of verbally bashing organized labor—trotted out a predictable response to the Swedish postal service’s unconventional tactics last week: “This is insane,” the billionaire tweeted, using his other platform, X (formerly Twitter). Not long afterward, Tesla moved to pursue legal action against the country over the license plate drama.
On Monday, Tesla sued the Swedish government. In its suit, the car company argued that the postal workers’ refusal to supply the plates “constitutes an unlawful discriminatory attack directed at Tesla.” Only hours after Tesla filed the lawsuit, a Swedish court ruled that the Swedish Transport Agency and PostNor were obligated to deliver license plates to Tesla car owners.
The court’s decision is definitely a blow to the striking workers, though it’d be fair to say that the labor dispute is far from finished. Unions in Sweden seem intent on sticking up for the striking workers until they can reach a fair agreement with Tesla. On its website, IF Metall says that its fight with the car company is about the broader economic power of workers in its country. “This is about good wages, good pensions and good insurance for all our members who work at Tesla,” the union says. “We have been negotiating with Tesla for a long time. They have refused to sign a collective (bargaining) agreement and violate basic principles in the Swedish labor market.”