Elon Musk orders office staff to return to work on site or face layoff
On Wednesday, Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, issued an ultimatum to office workers at electric car maker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX to return to the office or be fired.
Writing in his typically rude and arrogant manner, Musk said, “Everyone at Tesla is required to spend at least 40 hours in the office per week,” in an email titled “To be very clear.” He continued, “Also, the office should be where your real colleagues are, not some remote pseudo-office. If you do not show up, we will assume that you have resigned.
In a post on Twitter, Musk said of those who objected to working in the office: “They should pretend to work somewhere else.” Previously, the Tesla founder and CEO had written to management personnel demanding that they be at “a main Tesla office, not a remote branch office unrelated to work duties.”
Tesla has approximately 100,000 full-time employees worldwide, with production plants in the United States, Germany and China, as well as stores and service centers in a dozen countries in Europe, Asia and the United States. North America. SpaceX employs around 12,000 people.
In his recent tweets, Musk said nothing about enforcing COVID-19 safety measures for staff forced to return to work in person.
The ultimatum comes as the number of COVID-19 cases in California, the site of Tesla’s giant Fremont EV assembly plant, is on the rise again, similar to the nationwide. Musk has consistently downplayed the severity of the pandemic, telling SpaceX employees in March 2020 that they were more likely to die in a car accident than from COVID-19. In April 2020, he denounced the COVID-19 restrictions as “fascist” in a crude rant during a conference call to discuss the company’s earnings report.
In May 2020, Musk defied a public health order from Alameda County, California to reopen the Fremont Assembly plant. Tesla fired several workers for protesting the unsafe return to work, and county officials quickly capitulated to the multi-billionaire, dropping all enforcement proceedings. Hundreds of factory workers were subsequently infected with COVID-19 and an unknown number died.
Literally cashing in on death, Musk and other billionaires have seen their fortunes soar to new all-time highs during the pandemic. Musk added $121 billion to his net worth in 2021 alone. He is currently the richest man in the world with around $250 billion in net worth, about 10 times his pre-pandemic wealth.
The founder and CEO of Tesla is emblematic of the parasitism of the financial aristocracy,”the rebirth of the lumpenproletariat on the heights of bourgeois society,” in the words of Karl Marx. While Tesla still produces less than a million vehicles a year, its market valuation exceeds that of Toyota, General, Motors, Stellantis and all the other major automakers combined, based almost solely on stock market investor speculation.
Musk’s ultimatum to Tesla and SpaceX workers has led to speculation that he will apply a similar policy to Twitter employees after its takeover of the social media company is complete. Many Twitter employees are currently allowed to work from home permanently, as are employees of Facebook and many other tech companies.
Most automakers allow remote work for at least some office workers and technicians. Return-to-work policies vary from company to company, with most facing significant resistance from workers. In addition to the danger of COVID-19, in-person work means further erosion of workers’ incomes given soaring fuel and transportation costs. Some have predicted that Tesla could lose 10-20% of its current office workforce due to Musk’s ultimatum.
In recent weeks, Musk had pitted American workers against workers in China unfavorably, tweeting that while Chinese workers were “burning the 3 a.m. oil,” American workers, and by implication those at Tesla, were “trying to ‘avoid going to work at all’.
Tesla had maintained operations in Shanghai during recent COVID-19 shutdowns by essentially locking workers inside factories, while imposing 12-hour, 6-day shifts. Until recently, many Tesla workers in China literally slept on the floor inside production facilities.
Musk said nothing about China’s Zero COVID policy, which has saved millions of lives during the pandemic.
Musk’s demand for an end to working from home is consistent with Biden administration policies, backed to the hilt by corporate unions, to declare an end to the pandemic and force the full reopening of the economy, including schools, factories and other workplaces. This deadly policy of “living with the virus” ensures a continued toll of mass deaths and chronic illnesses from Long COVID.
In March of this year, Musk, an opponent of unionization, snidely invited the United Auto Workers to try to organize Tesla factories in the United States. Despite the workers’ miserable wages and working conditions, the billionaire was well aware of the deep distrust felt by workers towards the UAW and all the official unions, which imposed real wage cuts and participated in the employers’ cover-up of the COVID -19 infections and deaths.
For its part, the UAW essentially offered Tesla a sweetheart deal in exchange for the right to deduct union dues from workers’ paychecks.
In Germany, where Tesla recently opened its Gigafactory in Berlin, the IG Metall union made a rash promise to “support” any employee who opposes Musk’s request to return to work. IG Metall has helped enforce the murderous back-to-work policy of Germany and capitalist governments across Europe, which has led to more than a million unnecessary deaths, while the union helps automakers impose layoffs and plant closures.
The request to return to the office follows reports in March that Musk himself had contracted COVID-19 for the second time. He promoted vaccine skepticism, but later reported that he and his family members had been vaccinated.
All workers, whether clerical or production, “essential” or not, deserve to be protected from COVID-19. It means rejecting the deadly, unscientific policy of “living with COVID” and fighting for a policy of global elimination and eradication. The recent success of China’s Zero COVID policy to halt the spread of Omicron demonstrates that this is entirely possible and would save countless millions of lives.
While Musk’s statements produce nervous embarrassment in some quarters of the ruling class, it is only because he bluntly expresses the rapacity of the ruling class, which, through its dogged pursuit of profit at the expense of social interests, leads humanity from disaster to even greater disaster.