Elon Musk isn’t having an easy time at the moment. On Monday, the European Commission opened proceedings against the online platform X (formerly Twitter), which Musk bought, for spreading misinformation, hatred and incitement. His electric car company Tesla has to install new software on two million cars in the USA because of possible risks associated with the autopilot function. And as if that wasn’t enough, the richest man in the world has been at loggerheads with unions in Northern Europe for weeks.

It started very small: On October 27th, around 130 employees in ten workshops and service stations of Musk’s electric car brand in Sweden stopped work. The IF Metall union had called for a strike to enforce fair and safe working conditions as well as collective agreements with appropriate wages, pensions and insurance for its members. IF Metall has been negotiating with Tesla for some time, but so far without success.

“The company has refused to sign a collective agreement and is therefore violating the basic principles of the Swedish labor market,” the employee representatives said, justifying their strike. They see no other solution than a labor dispute. In Sweden, around 90 percent of employees are employed under collective agreements. Musk rejects unionization of his approximately 127,000 employees worldwide.

The small Tesla strike quickly sparked a wave of solidarity. Several other unions, companies and workers in Sweden also stopped work or boycotted Tesla.

For example, electricians in Sweden decided not to carry out any work on Tesla charging stations or Tesla workshops. Painters and varnishers refused to work on Tesla cars. Tesla suppliers stopped deliveries and cleaners refused to clean at Tesla. Even the Swedish garbage collection company announced that it would no longer collect Tesla’s garbage.

Workers at four ports in the Scandinavian country also joined the strike in early November, blocking the loading and unloading of Tesla vehicles. “There will be a complete stop for Tesla cars in all Swedish ports,” said Tommy Wreeth, head of the transport union. Since Tesla does not have a production facility in Sweden, the vehicles have to be imported through the ports.

The postal service is also taking a stand against Musk: Letters and packages from the companies PostNord and CityMail were no longer delivered to or picked up from Tesla workshops in the country, the union for employees in the service and communications sector said at the end of November. License plates for new Teslas were therefore not delivered.

“Crazy,” the Tesla boss called the workers’ uprising. In his own short message service However, according to Swedish media reports, the impact of the postal strike is small. Instead, Tesla has the license plates delivered by courier.

Nevertheless, anyone who takes on Elon Musk will be challenged. The US car manufacturer filed two lawsuits against the Swedish state at the end of November. They are directed against Postnord and the Swedish Transport Authority, which sends Tesla the license plates for new cars by post.

The carmaker requested that the Swedish authority be required to ensure that the license plates are delivered to Tesla. Tesla also demanded a fine of one million Swedish crowns, the equivalent of 87,000 euros, if the traffic authority did not enforce this. In another lawsuit, the company asked a court to oblige Postnord to hand over the license plates. Postnord is owned by the Swedish and Danish states.

In a first step, a district court decided that the traffic authority is obliged to hand over the license plates if Tesla collects them itself. A first partial success for Tesla and Musk.

But it shouldn’t stay that way. An appeals court overturned the verdict. This means that the license plates are not allowed to be picked up by Tesla for the time being; a final decision is still pending, the newspaper “Dagens Nyheter” reported.

Tesla also had bad luck with the lawsuit against Postnord. The judge decided on December 7 to dismiss the lawsuit. This means that Postnord is not obliged to hand over the license plates until a final ruling has been made. Tesla appealed that decision, but it was rejected last Thursday.

The anti-Tesla strike has now spread to the neighboring countries of Denmark, Finland and Norway. This is probably bad news for Musk, after all, Northern Europe is an important market. Last year, Norway was the fourth largest market for new car sales and Sweden was the fifth largest.

At the beginning of December, the Finnish union AKT announced that it would no longer ship Teslas to Sweden from December 20th.

In Denmark, the 3F union announced similar actions last Wednesday. Danish port workers and truck drivers then stopped loading Tesla cars for transport to Sweden.

“If you want to be here, you are very welcome, but you have to stick to the rules,” said Jan Villadsen from 3F Transport, addressing Tesla and its boss. In Denmark, collective bargaining coverage is also very high at 80 percent.

The union boss expects the conflict with the Nordic unions to continue until an agreement is reached with Tesla. But he was confident: “I’ve been in this business for more than 25 years and have never seen a strike that didn’t end with an agreement. All strikes end with an agreement.”

Pressure also grew from other quarters: the Danish fund PensionDanmark said in an email to the Reuters news agency that it had sold shares in the group worth around 64 million euros due to Tesla’s stance. The billion-dollar Norwegian sovereign wealth fund is also committed to employees. “We expect the companies we invest in to respect fundamental human rights, including workers’ rights,” fund manager Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM) told Reuters on December 8. The $1.5 trillion fund is the largest equity investor in the world.

However, NBIM declined to comment on whether Tesla’s stance will impact the fund’s investment decisions.

It remains to be seen how successful the unions will ultimately be with their actions. IF boss Marie Nilsson said in the first days of the strike that it had not yet had the desired effect. The trade newspaper “Dagens Arbete” reported that Tesla, for example, was circumventing strike measures.

In the USA and Germany, too, the unions have so far been unable to prevail against the tough stance of company boss Elon Musk.

In Germany, unions have put pressure on Tesla to implement a similar agreement for the 11,000 employees in Grünheide near Berlin. Although wages have been increased, the German IG Metall criticized that they are still around 20 percent below the collective agreements.

If the Swedish IF Metall loses, it would be a bitter defeat. The conflict was hyped up too much. But if the union wins, it would send a message with a signal effect: As David, you can bring the Goliath Tesla to his knees.

Bent Greve, professor and labor market researcher at the University of Roskilde in Denmark, estimates in the Berlingske newspaper that the strike will last for a while. There are two possible scenarios: Either the strikers give in because of the loss of wages – or Tesla does. The car manufacturer has an interest in avoiding such conflicts in order not to be overtaken by other car manufacturers on the Swedish market. “It’s not nice when a company that’s aiming for a large market share gets negative publicity,” says Greve. In his opinion, Tesla will wait and see whether the strike has an impact on sales figures.

In any case, people in Sweden are determined to carry on. IF boss Nilsson told Reuters that the Tesla mechanics’ strike would last as long as necessary. Both parties are now moving towards each other again: Tesla and the union have resumed talks, as “Dagens Nyheter” reports.

Sources: news agencies AFP, DPA and Reuters, IF Metall, Göta Hovrätt, “Dagens Nyheter”, “Aftonbladet”, “Berlingske”, “Dagens Arbete”, “Dagens Industri”, “Politen”, SVT, Yle, “Wirtschaftswoche”, Statista