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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: General Motors laisse des salariés sur le bas-côté

by Mehdi Fikri

General Motors Dumps its Workers by the Side of the Road.

Translated Monday 17 March 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

The automobile industry. The U.S. auto maker has announced the downsizing of nearly all of its European plants. In Strasburg, 256 jobs are threatened.

The world’s biggest auto maker is axing jobs on a planetary scale. On February 12, the U.S. auto maker General Motors (GM) announced the opening of a “voluntary separation window” which could concern 74,000 of its workers around the world. On February 28, at a meeting of the European works council in Frankfurt, management announced an overall figure of 5400 job losses in Europe, Jean-Marc Ruhland, a CFDT trade union delegate, announced on Monday March 10.

Fear of “dodgy dealings”

The downsizing “will take place at practically all the [European] plants” (in Germany, Great Britain, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, France...) Ruhland emphasized. That is to say, it will hit nearly 10% of GM’s workers in Europe. The hardest-hit factories will be the ones in “Antwerp (Belgium) with 1300 job losses, Bochum (Germany) with 930 and Saragossa (Spain) with 900. In France, at the Strasburg plant, some 256 jobs out of 1400 are to be shed. At the Strasburg plant, which makes gearboxes, “they explained to the workers that it is a question of turning out as much, and even more, with fewer staff,” Robert Roland of the CGT trade union explained.

GM Europe’s profits have increased and the GM factory in Strasburg has been profitable for years. But the plant is in direct competition with another GM plant in Mexico, where labor costs less,” Jean-Marc Ruhland of the CFDT trade union explained. As a result, even though the GM spokesman has stated that “nothing has been decided yet,” the trade unions fear dodgy dealing “like in the U.S. in 2006.” In a previous downsizing plan, GM USA pushed out workers belonging to the US trade union UAW, who enjoyed better wages and benefits. In France, this cost-cutting logic may well take the form “of layoffs, followed by the hiring of young workers at a much lower starting salary,” Jean-Marc Ruhland pointed out. To head off such a development, the European works council has drafted a charter to limit this kind of practice, but GM management has yet to sign the charter...

GM argues losses of 38.7 billion euros in 2007, as against 2 billion in 2006. But these figures are above all the result of an accounting trick: to adjust for the value of its tax credits, GM included an enormous reserve for the third quarter in its statement. Moreover, the results are more than satisfactory for the shareholders, with an 8-cent profit on each share in the fourth quarter, as against an average 55-cent loss on the stock market. Finally, the CEO, Rick Wagoner, after having “tightened his belt” a little over the preceding years, has granted himself a 33% pay raise and an annual bonus of 3.52 million dollars, thus renewing with the pay level he enjoyed in 2006. That’s proof that, for some, hard times are already a thing of the past.

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