'No to layoffs': French car workers march for jobs
About 7,000 car workers in eastern France joined the nationwide day of protest against the government’s economic policies.MONTBELIARD – Waving banners and chanting "No to layoffs", French car workers marched Thursday to demand protection against job losses in one of the sectors hardest-hit by the downturn.
Joining a nationwide day of protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy's handling of the economic crisis, car workers in eastern France said they felt under siege as more factories shut down.
"People are getting angrier and angrier," said David Modeste, 33, who works at Peugeot's flagship Sochaux factory, on the edge of Montbeliard.
"The car sector is facing the brunt of the crisis, the whole supply chain is hit – our suppliers are announcing layoffs one after the other.
"Politicians need to realise that it's all very well to bail out the banks, to bail out our bosses – they need to help the workers get through this crisis too."
France's right-wing government has offered EUR 3 billion in loans to shore up carmakers PSA Peugeot Citroen and Renault and billions more to their many suppliers to help them weather the storm.
One in 10 workers in France is employed by the car industry and Sarkozy has made clear he will not allow carmakers to fail as consumer demand for cars collapses.
With its 12,000 workers, the Sochaux plant is France's biggest factory and has long been the region's economic lifeblood.
But a series of recent production stoppages at the plant have badly hurt suppliers and fueled uncertainty about the coming months as industry experts forecast a continued drop in car sales.
Christelle Constant, an unemployed mother of two, carried a placard that read "Let's Revolt" as she marched with her husband Joel, a temporary worker at the Sochaux plant whose contract has not been renewed.
"In Guadeloupe, they got what they wanted," she said, referring to a six-week strike on the French Caribbean island that ended after Paris offered wage increases and other benefits.
"Strikes and protests, this is all we have left."
Frederic Gaudron, 28 who works for a local consultant firm in the automobile sector, marched with a large puppet showing Sarkozy as a hangman.
"There has been no work since January. This is catastrophic."
Police and union organisers said about 7,000 people took part in the march in Montbeliard, a few hundred more than in the previous protest in January.
Protesters directed some of their anger at firms that have relocated production to central Europe where workers do not enjoy the same wages and benefits as their French counterparts.
"We are competing against low-cost countries," said Christian Klein, 33, a worker at a local plant for Faurecia car parts.
Klein said Faurecia managers have told workers not to report to the factory for two weeks in March due to the fall in demand and they will lose on average EUR 300 from the work stoppage.
Amid much gloom, workers from the Key Plastics supplier said they were celebrating a victory after a three-week strike against plans to shut down the plant ended this week.
"We have saved 50 of the 110 jobs," said Fabienne Cabario. "This means that we can achieve something if we work together."
The protest came amid a stream of bad news for the car industry in other parts of France over the past days.
German tyre maker Continental announced last week the closure of a factory at Clairoix outside Paris that employs 1,120 people while its US counterpart Goodyear said it was preparing to slash 1,000 jobs in a factory in Amiens, northern France.
AFP / Expatica