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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: ArcelorMittal : FO et la CGT quittent les négociations

by Cécile Rousseau

ArcelorMittal: CGT and FO Trade Unions Leave Negotiating Table

Translated Thursday 27 December 2012, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Derek Hanson

The two trade unions slammed the door at the meeting with management on Dec. 13 to demonstrate their opposition to the Mittal-French government agreement, which does not provide for reactivating the Florange blast furnaces.

The atmosphere was tense at the meeting of the ArcelorMittal central works council meeting in Paris. The trade unions were waiting for details on the Nov. 30 agreement between the steel corporation and the French government, which is supposed to save the Florange steelworks. But the CGT and FO trade unions slammed the door after a half-hour of discussions.

Outside, Norbert Cima, the Force Ouvrière representative at the central works council, rejected “the legitimacy of this agreement. Why weren’t we consulted on the matter?” he asked. “We haven’t received a copy of the official document, we don’t even know what’s been signed.”

Boycotting the work of the commission

A few minutes later, Philippe Verbeke, the main CGT trade union delegate, left the room. “We can’t accept an agreement that doesn’t provide for activating the Florange blast furnaces and which reduces activity at the Basse-Indre plant. Earlier in the week of Dec. 9, the CGT and FO had already boycotted the work of the monitoring commission which is supposed to see that the agreement is implemented correctly.

As for Jean-Marc Vécrin, the CFDT trade union representative at the central works council, upon his arrival at the Dec. 13 meeting he stated that he wanted “clear explanations. We’re going to question management and insist on the packaging activity in Basse-Indre, in Florange, and in the whole ArcelorMittal Atlantic Lorraine zone.”

But the trade unions were not presented at the meeting with a more precise document than the one presented in the week of Dec. 2. That document provides for an investment of 180 million euros over five years and avoidance of a planned redundancy scheme at Florange. Shortly afterwards, the announcement that metal-cleaning and laminating activities would be transferred from the Basse-Indre plant in western France to the Florange plant in eastern France, so as to reinforce the cold metal-working activity there, had sown confusion.

In the week of Dec. 2 the workers were also stupefied to learn that ArcelorMittal was withdrawing from the Ulcos 1 project, killing hope that the Florange blast furnaces would be re-activated. To try and calm things down, the steel corporation had then put forward participation in a hypothetical Ulcos 2 project, which would not begin before 2018.

The CGT read a text to the central works committee meeting saying that the agreement “answers neither to the interests of the Florange workers nor to those of the Basse-Indre workers, nor those of the workers of the whole steel corporation.” And the agreement “is not at all in phase with the Faure report ordered by the French government last summer, and which said the Florange plant in its entirety is viable, trustworthy and profitable.

For Philippe Verbeke of the CGT: “The government was not capable of taking a real political decision. We demand that it come back to the table, because the reality is that the destruction of factories and plants is going to continue at Mittal in the coming years.”

Resistance is being organized. Since Dec. 10, the Basse-Indre plant has been barricaded. On Dec. 13, work stoppages occurred at various ArcelorMittal plants. Philippe Verbeke is calling on “all the workers to mobilize to prevent the government from running us full speed into a brick wall.”

Lakshmi Mittal stirs up anger

Despite the labor tempest, Lakshmi Mittal, the chairman of the steel corporation, stirred up anger in the Dec. 13 edition of Le Figaro newspaper when he described the nationalization project, at one time favored by Arnaud Montebourg, “as a leap backwards” and wished to “work with the trade unions so that each finds a solution.” As we go to press, the central works council meeting is continuing with only the CFDT and CFE-CGC trade unions still at the negotiating table.

The bosses’ fear

Laurence Parisot, the head of the main association of bosses in France, insists that “it is obvious that, had the government ill-advisedly taken the decision to nationalize ArcelorMittal or a part of ArcelorMittal, it would’ve been a catastrophe for our country in several ways.” For Parisot, “the view that foreign investors would have taken of us would have been wholly critical and incredulous; they would have thought that it was a leap backwards.” According to Parisot, nationalization would moreover have been costly to the public finances: “The French government hasn’t got any more money, and in addition it’s incapable of managing private companies. It hasn’t got the know-how, that isn’t its mission, that isn’t its calling.”

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