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Ford Faces Outrage in France over Factory Closure

Oct. 15, 2018
Officials are upset at Ford's desire to shut the plant near Bordeaux, rather than sell it to a French buyer.

Ford came under fire from the French government on Oct. 15 over its plans to close a factory producing gearboxes in southwest France that employs 850 people.

After a meeting between union representatives and French officials, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire sounded furious at the U.S. group's desire to shut the plant near Bordeaux, rather than sell it to a French buyer.

"If they think they can just shut up shop and that the state and local authorities won't react, then they're making a mistake," Le Maire said. "We're going to fight and we won't be taken advantage of."

"Ford's position cannot be defended and what can't be defended needs to be combatted," he added.

Ford announced in February that it would stop investing in its Blanquefort plant, which has produced gearboxes since 1972, and the issue has been raised by the French and U.S. governments.

It declined to comment on Le Maire's remarks.

The factory has become another battleground between French trade unions and American multinationals that are often portrayed in France as heartless job-slashing capitalists. 

Plans by  Whirlpool to close a factory in the northern town of Amiens became a controversy during last year's presidential election campaign, which was won by centrist Emmanuel Macron.

One of Macron's far-left rivals, Philippe Poutou, is a mechanic at Ford's Blanquefort plant who became a minor celebrity during the election with his angry denunciations of multinationals and a pledge to outlaw redundancies.

Other past factory closures by American companies such as Goodyear and Caterpillar, part of a wider trend of industrial decline in France, have also led to bitterness and public campaigns.

Bordeaux's mayor, former prime minister Alain Juppe, quit the meeting early with Ford's employee representatives on Oct. 15 and angrily denounced the company afterward as "leading us on".

Juppe and Le Maire's anger has focused on Ford's reluctance to favor an offer for the site from Punch Powerglide, a manufacturer based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, which would come with pledges of more state aid.

But the proposal could also require Ford to commit funds for updating the plant.

"I spoke to the chairman of Ford last Friday by phone and the chairman told me that between a purchase of the site by Punch and the closure of the site, Ford preferred closing the factory," Le Maire said.

"I completely disagree with this choice," he added.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2018

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