Laid-off Workers Threaten to Blow up French Plant

Staff set fire to pieces of plastic and rolls of carpet at the factory, sending billowing black smoke into the sky as police deployed outside the plant's gates.

Workers at a French car accessories plant north of Paris threatened on April 2 to blow up their factory unless they were given better layoff compensation. Employees at the Sodimatex plant placed petrol bombs near a large gas tank and were threatening to set them on fire.

"The plant is going to go up in smoke, if that's what they want," said one worker.

Sodimatex, which produces car carpets, announced last April that it planned to shut down its plant in Crepy-en-Valois and began talks on compensation. But months of negotiations hit an impasse and workers on April 1 decided to occupy the plant after police used tear gas to disperse a protest they were holding near the factory. About 40 workers spent the night at the plant, sleeping on the factory's just-produced carpets.

Workers are demanding compensation of 21,000 euros (US$28,000) each, much more than the 15,000 euros on offer from the owners. Union activists contend they are seeking the same package as Sodimatex employees from another plant who were given 21,000 euros each when their factory was shut down in 2006.

Managers sat down with union leaders and labor mediators at the town hall in Crepy-en-Valois in a bid to defuse tensions at the plant, where 92 jobs will be shed. "The workers have high expectations about this meeting. There has to be a concrete result or else anything could happen. They are very determined," said Eric Lemoine, a union activist.

"Even if we tell them not to do it, some of them might not listen," said another union leader, Gerard Decleir.

Staff set fire to pieces of plastic and rolls of carpet at the factory, sending billowing black smoke into the sky as police deployed outside the plant's gates.

Industry Minister Christian Estrosi condemned the workers' action as "unacceptable" and called on them to settle the row with management through talks.

France has its highest unemployment rate in a decade, at 10%, with the car industry among the hardest-hit by the global slowdown.

The sector employs 10% of the total French workforce.

Last year, French workers hit by a wave of layoffs carried out a series of "bossnappings" to press demands for better redundancy packages, but the radical action has subsided over past months. President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke out against the detentions, saying they were illegal, and vowed to take action.

In his appeal to the workers, the industry minister said "only dialogue can lead to results for the workers facing a painful situation with the closure of their plant. Violence and threats will only lead to a dead-end."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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