French unions cry 'betrayal' at Hollande for steel company deal
If anyone cares to understand why France is in such a fix, this little labor fable will illustrate the point nicely:
French trade unions accused President Francois Hollande of betrayal on Saturday after his government backed away from a threat to nationalize ArcelorMittal's Florange steelworks.
The Socialist government said on Friday it had won promises from ArcelorMittal to avoid forced redundancies and inject 180 million euros to develop the Florange plant, meaning it would no longer have to take over the site.
Hollande came to office promising to create jobs and keep open the two furnaces at the site in northern France which ArcelorMittal says are not viable in a European steel sector suffering over-capacity.
ArcelorMittal confirmed the details of the deal on Saturday, saying it would negotiate a voluntary redundancy deal with unions.
Workers are angry the furnaces will remain idled rather than reopened and expressed doubt over ArcelorMittal's promise to offer alternative posts or early retirement packages for the 630 workers affected.
"We're on a war footing," Edouard Martin, head of union CFDT's Florange chapter, told the commercial i<Tele network.
"We've seen Mr. (Lakshmi) Mittal's pledges in the past and what has become of them - nothing - so we're not going to let anything pass without a fight."
Martin said the union had been a "nightmare" for former president Nicolas Sarkozy in the past over his jobs record, which analysts say was a factor in his election defeat in May, and could soon become one for Hollande.
ArcelorMittal rejects accusations it has broken promises in a country where it employs 20,000 over several sites.
The group incurred union wrath in 2009 when it shuttered the nearby Gandrange steelworks and laid off about 500 workers. Sarkozy had pledged to keep that site open.
France's prime minister defended the Florange deal.
"The prime minister will keep a close watch to ensure that promises made yesterday by the group are kept," Jean-Marc Ayrault said in a statement.
"They are unconditional, and the government will use all legal means at its disposal in the event they are not respected."
If it's possible to feel pity for a giant industrial corporation, I feel it for Mittal. Not only do they have a powerful union to contend with, they also have the full power of the French government behind the union. They aren't going to win -- or even get a fair shake so they might was well give in and hope for the best.
Thus ends the lesson as to why France will not outlast this crisis.