Conti employees surround the Frankfurt stock exchange

Because the listed auto supplier Continental wants to cut 13,000 jobs, the workers intensify their protest. In Frankfurt they formed a human chain around the stock exchange. Politicians appeal to the company.

Rittmeister: In front of the stock exchange building in Frankfurt, Conti employees protest against job cuts and climb the bull sculpture, which symbolizes rising prices

Michael Erhardt can’t believe it yet. “There was even one from the FDP,” says the managing director of the Frankfurt IG Metall. In fact: not only several hundred employees of the automotive supplier company Continental came to Frankfurt city center on Wednesday to protest against the planned job cuts, first in front of the main guard and then at the stock exchange. Representatives of almost all parties can also be seen among the demonstrators. The group wants to cut 13,000 jobs in Germany alone, almost every fourth job.

The organizers later speak of a total of 1400 participants, the police estimate that there are more than 400. In any case, there are enough to form a long human chain around the entire historic stock exchange building and another around the stock exchange. For this purpose, employees from the plant in Aachen, which is to be closed, have come in several buses.

“Are you still good Christians?”

The protesters accuse the company of thinking more of its shareholders than of its employees. The Schaeffler family of entrepreneurs is the largest single shareholder. “Job cuts are neither innovative nor dynamic,” says the IG Metall federal executive board, Hans-Jürgen Urban, to the group management. Other suppliers, who also suffered from the corona crisis and industry transformation, would be much less brutal with their employees.

The trade unions IG Metall and IG BCE have intensified their protest in the past few days in order to increase the pressure on the Group’s supervisory board, which is supposed to formally approve the management’s savings plans at the end of September. In the Hessian locations in Karben, Babenhausen, Schwalbach and Frankfurt, a total of around 4,000 jobs are to be cut. Hardly anyone expects the supervisory board to take back the “deforestation”, as many in Frankfurt call the plans. The hope is, however, that the downsizing will be slowed down and mitigated. Trade unionists in Frankfurt argue that Conti could increasingly use instruments such as short-time working and reduced working hours to absorb the consequences of the crisis.

“The board should ask itself: Are you still good Christians?” Calls out the Frankfurt CDU member of the Bundestag Matthias Zimmer to the protesters. He read in the Hessian constitution. Article 38 states that the economy has to serve the welfare of the whole people. “It doesn’t say that the economy serves profit,” emphasizes Zimmer.

Dividend despite losses

According to him, the left-wing politician Janine Wissler argues in a very similar way. “This is not about numbers and balance sheets, but about people and their lives.” Politicians should not allow the corona crisis to be abused and jobs to be relocated to low-wage countries – especially since the group continues to distribute dividends to its shareholders.

In fact, in July the company decided to pay a dividend of EUR 3.00 per share for the 2019 financial year, a third less than in the previous year. The group argues that the downsizing is necessary to remain competitive. By 2023, the costs are to be reduced by a billion a year. The tightening of the austerity course is necessary due to the decline in car demand as a result of the corona crisis. In the first half of the year, the company recorded a loss of almost 450 million euros. In the first half of 2019, the bottom line was a profit of more than one billion euros.

With a view to the announced job cuts, the Hessian state government has asked the company to hold open and transparent discussions about the future of the locations. “The planned job cuts and the announced plant closings by Continental will hit Hessen,” said Prime Minister Volker Bouffier (CDU) and his deputy, Economics Minister Tarek Al-Wazir (Greens) on Wednesday. The employees at the four Hessian locations in Karben, Babenhausen, Schwalbach and Frankfurt-Rödelheim are insecure. Changes at Continental could only succeed together with the employees and the unions. “We will approach Continental again to make the importance of the company for Hessen clear once again,” declared the two politicians.

SPD politicians from Frankfurt and Darmstadt declared their solidarity with the employees in a support resolution. Support the unions IG Metall and IG BCE as well as the works councils in calling for job cuts and closures at Continental to be avoided. The affected locations in Hesse and Germany would have to remain and should not be made available under the pretext of the Corona crisis.