ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Florange, un accord de dupes (analyse)
by Cécile Rousseau
Translated Saturday 15 December 2012, by Derek Hansonand reviewed by
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is to receive the trade unions representing the Florange workers on the evening of Dec. 5 to set out the points of the agreement between the government and ArcelorMittal.
According to excerpts of the agreement published on Dec. 4, one of the blast furnaces will not be fired up again, and real investment will be severely limited.
A fool’s game between ArcelorMittal and the Prime Minister. That is how one might describe the excerpts from the document that were published by Le Monde newspaper and which will deepen, even more, the worries of the trade unions as to the future of the Florange steelworks.
Mittal is promising to invest 180 million euros over five years. The document says that these investments will be realized “unconditionally.” The only problem is that most of the promised funding will go to maintenance, as the trade unions had already suspected. “Strategic investment only amounts to 53 million euros from the total amount.”
The Prime Minister was promising that the two blast furnaces would be saved. And yet, this is not what comes from a reading of the excerpts: “The installations for pouring steel will be mothballed in their present state and in a way that allows for the installation of an Ulcos industrial demonstration unit on one of the blast furnaces.” Hence, the P3 blast furnace will be stopped permanently and the P6 blast furnace will not immediately be fired up again. ArcelorMittal simply commits itself to “not pulling down these blast furnaces in the coming six years!”
The government is insisting on the realization of the Ulcos project to capture carbon dioxide, which is partly financed by the European Commission. In the leaked document, Mittal states that this remains “important,” but also says that “the present state of research results does not allow direct passage to an industrial demonstration unit at Florange.” So, that’s not for tomorrow.
To attempt to calm things down
ArcelorMittal has also committed itself to not having recourse to a planned redundancy scheme and to reclassifying the 629 steelworkers. According to the document, they will be reclassified “on a voluntary basis,” with “a mechanism to manage the end of their careers and internal mobility at the plant.” Yesterday, the announcement that some activities would be transferred from the ArcelorMittal plant in Basse-Indre to the Florange plant – an announcement that was confirmed by the Prime Minister – added to the workers’ distress.
There is not a lot of confidence in Lakshmi Mittal, the chairman of ArcelorMittal. Nobody has forgotten that in 2008 he promised Nicolas Sarkozy that he would invest 330 million euros in the Gadrange plant (nine kilometers south of Florange); a promise that he never kept.
No trust in Mittal
Aurélie Filippetti, the minister of Culture and a deputy representing the Moselle department, where Florange and Gadrange are located, said on Dec. 4 “that there’s no trust in Mittal. I’ve been on the side of the ArcelorMittal workers for the past four years and we see that that industrialist’s word is worthless.” To try and calm things down, the leader of the Socialist deputies in the National Assembly, Bruno Le Roux, stated that there will be a “monitoring committee” in the National Assembly to “check that the commitments that have been made will be kept.”
For Jean Mangin, a CGT trade union official, all that is unacceptable. “Nothing justifies such a cowardly political decision. We’ve been waiting to find out the details of the agreement, notably on early retirement, which might concern nearly one worker in five. In any case, we’re against it! This agreement is the exact opposite of our alternatives, which are nationalization, state investment in the company’s capital, or expropriation! If they only invest in steel-shaping, we know that the whole Florange plant is going to disappear in the long term. Ayrault has decided to doom the steel industry.”
The trade unions will meet at the Prime Minister’s palace at 6 p.m. on Dec. 5 to get everything clear as regards this dubious agreement.