As Tesla Inc. builds its first European car factory, in a patch of forest outside Berlin, Elon Musk has been on a relentless charm offensive. He’s pledged to create thousands of jobs; he tweets in surprisingly good German; and at a September event he donned a heavy cord vest and wide-brimmed black felt hat like those traditionally worn by local craftspeople.
The message has been warmly received, with politicians fast-tracking approvals for the factory and locals clamoring for jobs in a region that struggles to attract investment. On Nov. 30, the Tesla chief executive officer swooped into the German capital for the third time in as many months to accept an award for his entrepreneurial achievements from the publisher of the influential Bild tabloid.
But there’s one corner of the German economy where the lovefest feels more like a standoff: the 2.3 million-member IG Metall labor union. The group is on a collision course with the billionaire that threatens to either undermine Musk’s ambitions or diminish the power of an organization that’s long had an outsize role in the country’s auto industry with its demands for better wages and shifts in strategy, backed up by the very real threat of strikes.
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