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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Mobilisation pour la recherche pharmaceutique

by Yves Housson

Rallies in France for Pharmaceutical Research

Translated Sunday 27 September 2009, by Alison Billington and reviewed by Bill Scoble

Chemistry. Sanofi-Aventis, which has just amassed 4.4 billion euro in profits, wants to do away with 1,200 research posts. First reprisal from the unions yesterday.

Talks are becoming heated between Sanofi-Aventis workers and management. On June 30th, the group caused an uproar by announcing a huge plan to re-organise its research and development activities, a plan which accompanied the loss of 850 researchers plus 450 administrative jobs. Furthermore, four Sanofi-Aventis sites might be closed: three in the Parisian area, Bagneux, Rueil-Malmaison and Evry, which would be transferred to the Chilly-Mazarin site, and a fourth site at Labege (in the haute Garonne region), whose workers would be re-grouped on the Toulouse site. The group is planning to sell a fifth site at Porchville (Yvelines), which numbers 200 people. In total, the number-one pharmaceutical firm in Europe is likely to cut about 1,200 jobs in its research and development units, no less than a fifth of its 6,500-strong staff and 10% of the overall French pharmaceutical research potential. A carnage justified or rather dictated by a radical and deliberate change of course. For the owners of Sanofi-Aventis, competitiveness demands the externalisation of research and the multiplication of partnerships with public facilities - to the detriment of internal research and development.

Let’s seek out ways to be more efficient, but not by slashing jobs in the first place, Thierry Bodin’s (CGT) [1], speaker for the interunion committee (CFDT [2], CGT, CGC [3], CFTC
, FO [5]
, SUD [6]), replied in substance. When Thierry Bodin called the workforce to a first rally on September 8, the call was heard by many. At a time when management was beginning to start up the information-consultation process for its project in the group’s comité central d’entreprise [7], more than a 1000 paid workers stopped work and took part in the rallies at Chilly-Mazarin, Toulouse and Strasbourg. For their part they are absolutely certain that in spite of the group leaders’ denials, these massive job losses are a response to the declared goal of saving 2 billion euros between now and 2013.

Now, even if it is anxious about the future, since a huge part of its collection of medecines must become generic between now and 2013, Sanofi-Aventis displays sound finanancial health for the time being, with 4.4 billion euros profit in the first quarter of 2009 (an increase of 22.3%). And the demand for vaccines against influenza A already bodes well for the future.

So there is no chance that union organisations will put the cart before the horse. While saying "we are aware of the major stakes as regards the future of research and development," they demanded at the CCE meeting of 8 September that "the group’s strategy be the subject of an in-depth discussion" as a precondition to all discussion on the "accompanying measures". Since they were not heard, they promised to step up their action in the following term. They will keep an eye on more than just management. In fact, what is at stake in the procedings exceeds the authority of the group itself. At the time when the need for pharmaceutical research is clear as day, in particular when we face the worsening of infectious diseases, can public powers allow an important part of France’s potential in this field to be sacrificed? "And so," confides Thierry Bodin, "the unions intend to demand MPs’ intervention and to call on the government."

[1Confédération générale de travail (Confederation of Labour) is the main French trade union

[2CFDT: Confédération française democratique de travail, or the French Democratic Confederation of Labour, is a French trade union.

[3CGC: Confédération générale des cadres, or French Confederation of Management, is a French trade union.

[4CFTC : Confédération française de travailleurs chrétiens, or the French Confederation of Christian Workers, is a French trade union.

[5FO : Force ouvrière, or Workers’ Force, is a French trade union.

[6SUD: Solidaires, unitaires et démocratiques, or United, Unitary an Democratic, is a French trade union.

[7a statutory elected body where workers’ representatives can be informed of the firm’s strategy and results, check the legality of processes (notably in the case of a planned closure) and which can manage the benefits to which they are collectively entitled by law.

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