Tesla sued the Swedish Transport Agency on Monday, accusing the government office of discriminating against the electric carmaker and gumming up the firm’s ability to provide its customers with new cars. How did the automaker run afoul of the Swedish Transport Agency? Well, first the firm ran afoul of its workers—and then the government agency joined in the conflict, in accordance with a specific labor tradition that’s popular in the Nordic states.
Tesla’s Sweden-based workers have been on strike for five weeks in an effort to win collective bargaining rights. The strike, organized by the union IF Metall, has sparked what are known as sympathy strikes across multiple Swedish industries (and one in Norway). In a sympathy strike, other unions in related or adjacent industries act in solidarity with their fellow laborers, lending their organizing heft to the cause.
One such sympathy strike was launched by the Transport Agency, which is refusing to deliver license plates to new Tesla owners. Naturally, the firm takes a dim view of this: “This confiscation of license plates constitutes a discriminatory attack without any support in law directed at Tesla,” its lawsuit alleged.
There’s one problem: Sympathy strikes are legal in Sweden, so Tesla’s lawsuit doesn’t have much standing there. A district court ruled that Tesla can pick up the plates itself from the manufacturer and then privately distribute them to new Tesla owners while the lawsuit plays out. The Transport Agency has seven days to agree to these terms or be fined one million kroner ($96,000).
“We at the Swedish transport agency now need to analyze the announcement and assess what consequences this has for us and what measures might need to be taken to implement the decision,” Anna Berggrund, director of the Transport Agency’s vehicle information department, told The Guardian. “It is currently too early to say exactly what that would mean.”
Meanwhile, Tesla’s Swedish workforce has been the beneficiary of other sympathy strikes on their behalf, including Swedish dockworkers refusing to unload Tesla shipments, electricians declining to repair charging stations, and cleaning companies withholding their labor, leaving Tesla’s facilities to fend for themselves in terms of cleaning. And the workers’ Norwegian neighbors have gotten into the act as well: Norway’s largest private sector union has said it will block the delivery of Swedish Teslas.
Last week, the Swedish postal union said it will no longer deliver Tesla’s mail, a move that carmaker Elon Musk called “insane.” Tesla’s Swedish subsidiary, TM Sweden, is now suing the postal union over the group’s decision.
“We note that Tesla has chosen to take the long route, starting legal proceedings,” a senior IF Metall official, Veli-Pekka Säikkälä, told The Guardian. “There is a simple and quick way to solve this situation, and that is to sign a collective agreement. As soon as Tesla does that, the conflict ends.”