New Tactic For Unions On Strike: Threaten To Blow Up Factory

July 16, 2009
Buncefield Fuel Depot explosion, by Flickr user r12a

Buncefield Fuel Depot explosion, by Flickr user r12a

The French are different. Just look at their cars, which have included single-spoke steering wheels, turn indicators that don't self-cancel (to keep the driver on his toes?), and pneumatic suspensions that let them sink to the ground with a sigh when parked.

Now a few members of GCT, the French auto workers union, have come up with a new and novel technique to keep their jobs--or at least to get a better buyout. They're threatening to blow up their workplace if they don't.

French partsmaker New Fabris declared bankruptcy in April and closed altogether in mid-June, meaning its employees will receive unemployment payments but no severance money.

Last week, several dozen of its 360 workers occupied the company's parts plant outside Chatellerault, in the southwest of France. The factory is thought to contain about $5 million of parts and machinery.

The strikers want 30,000 Euros (roughly $42,000) each from New Fabris clients Renault and PSA Peugeot-Citroen to walk away from the threat. Both companies say it is not their responsibility to take care of their suppliers' workers.

Worried that the carmakers will repossess equipment in the plant after the summer holidays, they have set a deadline of July 31. Extra firefighters have been sent to the scene, where some machinery has already been torched in the courtyard of the plant.

Guy Eyermann, an official with GCT, told France Info radio on Sunday that cannisters of gas have been placed throughout the factory and wired to detonators. "If Renault and PSA refuse to give us that money, it could blow up before the end of the month."

Last month, workers at Raquet, another French parts company, took three executives hostage to protest layoffs; they were released after government officials agreed to talks. Hostages have been taken during several labor disputes in France, in fact.

Still, protests in France haven't seen the level of violence that flared when 900 workers at bankrupt South Korean automaker Ssanyong took over a building. That dispute sent 70 people to the hospital.

In the US, on the other hand, the United Auto Workers union was barred from striking under the terms of last autumn's loans to General Motors and Chrysler, which subsequently declared bankruptcy.

[Associated Press, (requires subscription), Reuters]; photo of Buncefield Fuel Depot explosion by Flickr user r12a]

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