French workers protest against the closing of a PSA Peugeot Citroen plant just outside Paris, with union leaders calling the move a declaration of “war.”
Reuters highlights the differences between the responses of American and French workers to the recent closing of automobile manufacturing plants in the two countries as well as the differences between the provisions made for the workers affected by the closings.
When U.S. carmakers slashed production capacity in exchange for government rescue four years ago, workers faced up to change. Though unions bargained hard for existing employees, they agreed to factory closures and cuts in wages and benefits for new hires. Thousands of workers accepted redundancy payouts and moved on, without a huge outcry.
In Europe it’s different. In July, after workers at French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen learned of company plans to close a plant in the suburbs of Paris, union leader Jean-Pierre Mercier went on the attack. Within hours he was calling for a “shock campaign” to force PSA Chief Executive Philippe Varin to keep the plant open.
“We have the power to make Peugeot back down, to preserve our jobs,” Mercier, head of the hard-line CGT union at the factory targeted for closure, told a crowd gathered by its gates. “We are a political bomb, a social bomb, and we intend to detonate.” . . .
Compared with carmakers’ restructuring in the United States, Peugeot’s plan is relatively modest and its deal for workers generous. The firm says all workers will be offered new jobs of some sort. Half will be transferred to its factory in Poissy, another Paris suburb. The rest will be kept on-site if Peugeot can lure a new industrial employer to Aulnay, or transferred to other factories. Those who choose to leave will receive 1,000 euros for every year they have worked at Peugeot, and help towards job-training.
“Restructuring in Chicago and Detroit was a totally different issue,” said Karl Ostler, a director at FTI Consulting specializing in industrial restructuring. “Labor laws in Europe, especially France, are far stricter and unions are far stronger.”