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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les syndicats d’Alstom font la grève du vote

by Clotilde Mathieu

The Unions at Alstom Refuse to Vote

Translated Saturday 20 January 2018, by Henry Crapo

Those elected by the workers to the committee for the group have refrained from voting on the fusion of Alstom with Siemens. According to one expert opinion, the latter company would be the sole winner in the project promoted by Bercy and the Elysée.

Pressure continues by management for a forced march toward fusion with Siemens

photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP

On Thursday, 18 January, the unions at Alstom spoke with a single united voice. Called upon to make their decision concerning the forced marriage between the French railway constructor and its competitor Siemens, the representatives of the workers decided to delay their vote. This was initially an attempt to gain access to further information concerning the social guarantees, as well as the strategic and industrial aspects of the deal. As the CGT explains, Siemens categorically refuses "to communicate the key pieces of the proposed deal". The office of experts Secafi et Info-Institut, called upon by the European group and by the central committee of the enterprise, whose report was presented at the meeting on Thursday, confirmed that, since October, "important information demanded in order to anticipate the social impacts of the plan has not been available." The refusal had its origin in the German company.

In the face of this united front formed by the unions, the management suspended the meeting, with a promise to the unions that they would have answers to their questions by 31 January. Pressures continue on the unions to accept this forced march toward fusion. Why such a rush, in a question so complex? "Management’s objective is to obtain as rapidly as possible the favorable opinion of those involved, in order to make a favorable impression on the European "anti-trust" authorities," assures the CGT. Claude Mandart, union delegate of the central committee CFE-CGC, explains that even though the opinion of the European group is merely "consultative", "without this opinion the process (the fusion with Siemens) can not proceed". Furthermore, the managements of the two groups can not advance to the next stage - that is, to the presentation of the project to the anti-trust committees of the European Commission.

A project “clearly more strategic and useful for Siemens than for Alstom”

While the greatest possible vagueness reigns concerning employment and sites in France and in Europe, the expertise by Secafi/Info-Institut, of which l’Humanité has obtained a copy, shows that the project has one guaranteed winner: Siemens. The project is “clearly more strategic and useful for Siemens than for Alstom”, note the experts. And they list three main reasons. “For the trains themselves, Siemens acquires what they are presently lacking: the capacity for development outside Europe, and in particular, in Asia (...). As for signalization, Siemens crushes the market, kills off its main competitor, acquires rare and valuable competent management, makes a considerable advance, becomes the supplier of reference.” And the cherry on the cake: the operation is at “no cost to their treasury”, the authors say in closing, adding that there will be thus no constraint concerning a return on investment for their share-holders. The risk would have been great for the German company if other agreements had been made between Alstom and Bombardier.

What is more, the French leader is in fine shape. The report further reveals that it has never been “so solid, operationally and financially, or with respect to its future prospects.” With an order book “never before seen so full”, the equivalent of seven years of full production, and an “absence of debt”, Alstom is “even more solid financially than Siemens”, explain the experts. Thus, they conclude, the project “does not appear to be urgent”. “In summary, we fail to appreciate the menace of strategic interests, for Alstom, that have led to this project.”

The reason for the project is, no doubt, to be found in the Palais de l’Elysée. It is, in substance, what appears in the report, according to which it is "most certainly a strategic anticipation, probably initiated by the French and German governments. An information mission, in addition to a parliamentary commission of inquiry, have seen the light of day, following this new state scandal; their conclusions will not be known before next May. This will be a bit late, since “the Elysée is maneuvering to accelerate the process of fusion,” denounces the communist deputy Fabien Roussel, a member of the inquiry commission. He makes it clear that the time thus saved “can permit opening new doors to mobilisations, to the demand for replies, to inform the wage-earners and the local elected representatives.”

The Fusion Does Not Scare Asia

The expert opinion of Secafi et d’Info-Institut that ``the fusion Alstom-Siemens may accelerate the competition between China and the European Community, which will force the new group to reduce its prices.’’ But, by being assured 14% of sales of rolling stock, the Chinese competitor CRRC "will continue to have a portion of the market considerably larger than Siemens-Alstom". And to conclude that "contrary to the communications issued concerning the project, this fusion of activities appears not to be, or appears little to be, a defensive reaction to the development of the CRRC.

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