Anger at Nokia swells in Germany; top politicians join fray over plant closure
Calls for boycott of Nokia phones
There appears to be no letup in sentiments against the Finnish-based mobile telephone company Nokia in Germany, after it announced last week that it would close down an assembly plant in the city of Bochum.
On Tuesday a demonstration is planned in Bochum to protest the decision to close the mobile phone factory and transfer the production to Romania. In addition to the 2,300 people working at the plant, the jobs of about 2,000 others working for companies which supply the plant with goods and services could also be on the line.
Organisers expect a turnout of 20,000 people at the demonstration.
Chancellor Angela Merkel sharply criticised the company through her spokesperson on Friday.
On Saturday Social Democratic Party leader Kurt Beck said in a newspaper interview that he would join a boycott of Nokia products.
Mobile phone stores have reported a decrease in interest among customers for Nokia phones.
"Until now, people have always asked about Nokia first", says Steffen Meier, who sells mobile telephones at E-Plus.
Also calling for a boycott of Nokia mobile phones is the Finnish section of Attac, an organisation opposed to increased economic globalisation.
According to the statement, the decision to close the Bochum factory shows the inhumanity of capitalism.
Finnish Attac chairman Mikko Sauli does not urge people to exchange a usable Nokia phone for another model.
"We do not call for such conspicuous consumption, but if one is buying a new phone, it is worth thinking about what to choose", Sauli says.
Similar news of mass redundancies have become commonplace in Bochum and other parts of the Ruhr region. In 2004 the financially strapped car manufacturer Opel cut the jobs of 3,000 people. This led to massive resistance from employees, trade unions, and the whole political field, but there was also a certain amount of understanding.
"Opel was operating at a loss, whereas Nokia is a profitable company, here in Bochum as well. That is the decisive difference", said Bochum Mayor Ottelie Scholz on Friday to Helsingin Sanomat.
A number of influential figures have been critical of the way that Nokia simply announced the shutdown, leaving no room for discussions - something that is seen as alien to present German culture.
While Nokia's public image has suffered considerably in Germany, the City of Bochum is also afraid of image problems.
Bochum and the whole industrial area of the Ruhr Valley suffered badly from structural change which led to the downsizing of the mining and steel industry in the 1990s.
Unemployment in the region is among the highest in all of western Germany - 12-15 per cent, but the area is gradually recovering loss of the mining industry.
The loss of Nokia is a serious blow to the city of less than 400,000 inhabitants. Nokia has been the city's most important source of tax revenue, and its second-most important employer.
In addition to bitter feelings, Nokia is leaving plenty of signs of the public subsidies that it has enjoyed in the past couple of decades.
The most visible of these is the Nokia Bahn railway line from Bochum to Gelsenkirchen, which was built, partly with taxpapers' money, for efficient commuting for Nokia factory workers.
An unofficial renaming competition has begun in Bochum for both the rail line itself, and the "Bochum Nokia" station.
So far, the Germans' anger has focused on the company Nokia, and not Finland as a whole.
However, the Finnish Embassy in Berlin reports receiving dozens of "hate messages" from angry Germans.
In the view of passers-by on the streets of Nokia, the answer was clear: Nokia was to blame.
"I love Finland. They make wonderful music there", says mobile phone saleswoman Sabina Rataj, adding that Nightwish is her favourite band.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Anti-Nokia opinions gathering momentum in Germany (18.1.2008)
German politicians angered by Nokia factory closure (17.1.2008)
Nokia shutting down plant in Germany, moving manufacture to Romania (16.1.2008)