Losing jobs to Poland, French workers see futile vote

Unemployment in Amiens, a cathedral city of around 200,000, stands at 11.9 percent, two points higher than the national average.

Losing jobs to Poland, French workers see futile vote

World Bulletin / News Desk

Two months before France's presidential elections, workers for Whirlpool in the northern French city of Amiens are torn between anger and resignation as the US appliances giant prepares to move their jobs to Poland.

The move to Lodz, set for June 2018, will affect some 290 workers and is the latest in a string of manufacturing closures to hit the city famous for its Gothic cathedral.

Caroline Bizet and many of her colleagues at Whirlpool, a domestic appliances brand, could not hide their contempt for politicians in a campaign season marred by corruption scandals.

"All the jobs are being outsourced. People are being laid off, there are suicides, there are divorces, everything," said Bizet, 49, who has worked for Whirlpool for 17 years.

Her contempt for politicians was clear.

"They're in their gilded armchairs and they couldn't care less about us," she said at the end of her shift at the factory some three kilometres (two miles) from the city centre where clothes dryers are made.

She was referring to the expenses scandals that have embroiled both far-right leader Marine Le Pen and one of her main rivals in the presidential race, conservative Francois Fillon.

Picketers distributed leaflets outside the factory, which was bedecked with protest banners.

"When you talk about de-industrialisation of our country it has special resonance here," said Brigitte Foure, the city's centrist mayor, voicing her "bitterness" over the exodus to eastern EU states with cheaper labour such as Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

Unemployment in Amiens, a cathedral city of around 200,000, stands at 11.9 percent, two points higher than the national average.

In 2014, the Goodyear tyre company outsourced more than 1,100 jobs, and Whirlpool moved its washing machine production to Slovakia in 2003.

Another 60 jobs of a Whirlpool sub-contractor, Prima, are also at risk next year, as well as those of some temporary workers.

Guillaume Bonnard, a 33-year-old foreman with Prima, told AFP: "The problem is that as long as everyone is not at the same level in Europe it can never work."

 

- Frexit? -

 

Mohamed El Mokretar, a union leader at Prima, thinks a "Frexit" is the only solution, saying simply: "We have to leave the European Union."

Francois Ruffin, a leftist who was behind last year's youth protests against labour reforms across France known as Nuits Debout (Up All Night), is among a handful of politicians who have ventured to Amiens to confront the gloom. 

Ruffin, who is running for parliament in June, campaigned in the city aboard a multi-coloured truck with loudspeakers blaring revolutionary songs. 

The director of a hit documentary "Merci Patron" (Thanks, Boss) in which the little guys take on France's richest man, Ruffin says protectionism is the only solution.

"I don't want the (far-right) National Front (FN) to have a monopoly on this political weapon, or for them to be the only ones to dare to talk about tariffs and import quotas," he told AFP as he handed out his manifesto.

Recently the FN's local representative Eric Richermoz paid one of his frequent visits to the Whirlpool factory, showing workers a video on his cellphone of Le Pen promising a 35-percent surtax on the products of companies that outsource jobs.

Le Pen, who says she will hold a referendum on France leaving the EU if elected, is tipped to win the first round of France's presidential election on April 23 but lose in a run-off vote on May 7.

She is drawing strength from anti-EU forces such as those that led to the Brexit vote in Britain and the sort of nationalist fervour that helped Donald Trump to victory in the United States.

"The British are putting in place measures very similar to those advocated by Marine Le Pen," Richermoz said.

Outside the Whirlpool factory, Christophe Colombo, who has worked 27 of his 45 years at the firm, is fed up of politicians.

"If you vote on the left or on the right, what good does it do?"

 

Güncelleme Tarihi: 03 Mart 2017, 08:30
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