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Employees of Audi work at an assembly line in Ingolstadt, southern Germany, in a file photo from February, 2012. About 3.6 million workers in Germany’s auto industry received a large pay raise in May. (Lukas Barth/Associated Press)
Employees of Audi work at an assembly line in Ingolstadt, southern Germany, in a file photo from February, 2012. About 3.6 million workers in Germany’s auto industry received a large pay raise in May. (Lukas Barth/Associated Press)

Euro zone: In search of a driver Add to ...

Xavier Pujol agrees. He is chief executive of Ficosa, a car-parts manufacturer based in Barcelona, with 8,500 employees and €973-million in revenues in 2011. Spain’s competitiveness has already risen, he says. “Our clients in Germany and France and elsewhere are taking this improvement in productivity into consideration.”

In the growth area of electronic systems, Mr. Ficosa felt strong enough to start a joint-venture with Sanyo, the Japanese electronics company, and Seat, the Spanish car brand owned by Germany’s Volkswagen, to make batteries for electric cars. “More recently, we got a contract with Volkswagen to supply the battery management system for its planned electric vehicle, the e-Up,” he says.

With the Spanish economy shrinking, and reforms still being implemented, he is under no illusion about the tough path ahead. But his company’s renewed export successes offer a ray of hope - one ultimately based not on the wage rise Mr. Geistert received but on the 6.5 per cent increase his union failed to win.

Ultimately, says Mr Schmieding, the car workers’ 4.3 per cent offered everyone something - consumption and competitiveness. “It was a pay deal which was a bit too high when measured against productivity growth. But it was not too high to endanger the competitiveness of Germany’s companies - which is good news for Germany, and also for countries like Italy and Spain.”

That the unions like to keep an eye on the macroeconomic environment as much as their members’ wallets is well known on German shop floors. Mr. Geistert wonders whether this made IG Metall - Germany’s powerful car workers’ union - “a bit too quiet” during the financial crisis when it came to pressing workers’ demands.

“But, looking back, it was the right thing to do,” he concedes. “Can you imagine if we’d triggered a strike wave in or after 2009? We could have made the crisis worse - and longer.”

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