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Editorial

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le grand absent

by Jean-Paul Piérot

Workers’ Rights Notably Absent From the French Government’s Plan For the Car Industry

Translated Tuesday 31 July 2012, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Henry Crapo

We would love to share the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm when he declares that the plan made public at the Elysée palace yesterday was “an extremely important act that results from the government’s determined commitment to guaranteeing the recovery of the car industry,” and added that “the urgent issues must be addressed, namely the planned redundancy schemes.” At about the same time and not far from the palace, near the Champs Elysées, PSA (Peugeot-Citroën)’s workers were demonstrating their anger and their fierce determination not to surrender on the Aulnay battlefield but also on the Rennes site [1], and to refuse the cuts in Research and development jobs. PSA’s current plan is the most drastic redundancy scheme in the car industry in many years.

Now this precisely is where the shoe pinches, to say the least: given the modest means his plan mobilizes, Arnaud Montebourg [2]’s plan is at first sight unconvincing relatively to its effective capacity to address both the urgent social issue and the daunting challenge of the industry’s recovery. Granted that various tempo must be allowed for in view of middle and long-term measures and of the necessity to stop the haemorrhage immediately, it appears that the latter dimension has simply been overlooked. Must the loss of 8,000 jobs (and behind the figures loom the fatal threats against men and women’s destinies, and the more insecure position of families) be simply accepted as part of the profits and losses in the group’s projects even while plans are made for the development of the clean and low-energy car?

That would truly be inacceptable. PSA workers make no mistake about that : their denunciation targets the immensely rich Peugeot family and Philippe Varin who want to sacrifice workers’ jobs to pay for their own strategic choices. They have scored a point by obtaining the legal permission to designate an expert, which will give them an additional respite in order to step up their battling forces. But should the State steer clear of the debate that pits the management against the trade unions? Marie-George Buffet, National Assembly deputy for the department of Seine Saint Denis – home of the Aulnay site – strongly disagrees on this point; she invites the Leftist parliamentary majority to pass a law immediately in order to empower workers’ delegates.

Notably absent from the government’s plan is indeed the chapter on workers’ rights. How ever can the “sites” be truly “perpetuated” as the plan proposes unless wokers are really given a say? On this point, the outcome of the conflict over the Aulnay site will give a useful indication concerning the government’s determination and capacity effectively to carry out its commitments. The bonus/loaded premium support mechanism for the production of less polluting cars, either hybrid or electric, will have positive effects on the French production only if French car-makers invest more massively in research, training and jobs; and if they don’t, the planned governmental subsidies will only boost Nissan’s and Toyota’s balance sheets as these two have already forged well ahead with the new technologies.

Arnaud Montebourg’s plan thus leaves a number of questions open, to which truly Leftist answers must be brought. The Right, who had granted several billion euro in unconditional aid, is now clamouring for more “competitiveness”, and with Luc Chatel, for “greater flexibility in the labour code” in order to lower production costs (by cutting wages and jobs), but says nothing about dividends. It is crystal clear that the debate over the recovery of the car industry cannot be limited to the bonus/loaded premium scheme.

[1The group recently made public a plan to close down the Aulnay plant and shed thousands of workers on other sites also.

[2He is the minister for industrial recovery.


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