French Airbus Workers March On Toulouse

Thousands march in effort to get Airbus to retreat on cutbacks.

Thousands of French Airbus workers, blowing whistles, exploding firecrackers and flying banners, marched on Toulouse on March 6 to force shareholders to retreat over cutbacks. In the best traditions of French street protest, twelve to fifteen thousand people marched through the city where Airbus is based as part of mass protest at four French production sites against restructuring.

Protest marches were also held in Saint-Nazaire on the southwest Atlantic coast by staff at two local factories, and in the town of Albert in northern France near an Airbus factory at Meaulte.

The government said that as a shareholder it would support any capital increase by parent company EADS. It hoped that there would be a capital increase but stressed that the group had "abundant financial resources up to 2010," although it would need 10.0-11.0 billion euros (US$ 13.5 billion) from 2011.

But French union officials warned of wider strikes and protests across Europe, including German workers, in 10 days' time to force EADS and French and German politicians to retreat over measures to save 5.0 billion euros (US6.6 billion) by 2010.

French trade unions have announced a test of strength with the government and the main shareholders in the European Aeronautic Defence and Space company over the plan to slash 10,000 jobs in Europe, of which 4,300 would go in France and 3,700 in Germany. Under the plan, some factories would be sold or become subcontracting units, and some work would be redistributed to Germany, a proposal which has led one French union to threaten to halt production of Airbus aircraft.

And there was still shock at the speed with which Airbus had fallen from great heights to the depths of crisis over delays with its star A380 superjumbo program and even deeper strains between France and Germany over cross-border power and organization.

There were signs that the protests, involving large numbers of highly qualified technicians and engineers, were having an impact in France six weeks before the election.Leading candidates in the campaigning have signalled that the state should help Airbus. And Finance Minister Thierry Breton said that although EADS had plenty of cash for about four years, he hoped it would raise new funds and the government would participate. Meanwhile in Germany, the opposition French Socialist candidate in the election Segolene Royal was expected to put her ideas for a moratorium on the plan to German Chancellor Angela Merkel at talks in Berlin.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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