• France's news in English

The shuttered French 'ghost factory' where staff still turn up for work

AFP · 16 Apr 2012, 15:30

Published: 16 Apr 2012 15:30 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Every morning the employees of the Sodimedical hospital supplies company in the small town of Plancy L'Abbaye in eastern France show up for work in their shuttered factory.


They haven't been paid in six months, since Sodimedical's German parent company Lohmann & Rauscher moved their jobs to cheaper factories abroad.

Yet still they go to work every day, a symbol of the brutal de-industrialisation that hit France in the last 30 years and has become a key issue ahead of the first round of the country's presidential vote on Sunday.

All the candidates have vowed to return French industry to its former glory, with right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy promising tax cuts to help factories survive and Socialist Francois Hollande offering state investment.

In the meantime the workers at Sodimedical, abandoned and increasingly in despair, struggle to pay their bills with no solution in sight.

"It's outrageous," said their spokeswoman, 33-year-old Angelique Debruyne. "There is no consistency between what is being said in the campaign speeches – that we must produce in France – and the reality on the ground."

That reality hit home for the 47 women and five men who worked at Sodimedical in April 2010, when Lohmann & Rauscher announced it was closing the factory's doors to relocate operations to China and the Czech Republic.

"That night when I went home and told the children, I was lost," said one of the employees, 42-year-old Nadine Kapusta.

"I have no degree, no other training, there is nowhere else to go and I have bills to pay," she said.

For 15 years and more, employees followed the same routine – cutting, folding and assembling textiles for hospitals, at the plant in Plancy-L'Abbaye, a town of 1,000 in the Aube region 160 kilometres (100 miles) east of Paris.

Charts still hanging on the wall in the factory show productivity was rising and the workers were confident, buying bungalows on credit.

But a few years ago things started to change. A group of Chinese businessmen visited the factory and took pictures. Managers noted that a factory had been set up in China to make the same products.

Finally, in April 2010, the axe fell.

Employees were told the factory was moving and they could keep their jobs only by relocating to China on a salary of 120 euros ($156) a month or to the Czech Republic for 400 euros per month.

They balked.

"It was a shock. We could understand if a factory closes because it is in difficulty – but not if it's to boost profits on the backs of employees," said Veronique Aubert, 38.

The employees had little hope of finding other work. They were on average 45 years old, with no degrees and highly specialised skills of little use elsewhere.

Once a powerhouse of the French textile industry, the Aube region has seen the number of employees in the sector fall from 24,000 in the 1980s to only 4,000 today.

Story continues below…

The employees launched a campaign to save their jobs, hiring a lawyer and filing more than 30 legal cases against Lohmann & Rauscher, which declared Sodimedical bankrupt.

Each time the courts has ruled in their favour, but nothing could be done. Production ceased and the employees sit in the ghost factory every day, knitting, talking and growing increasingly worried.

Help has poured in from the community, with private donations made to help support the workers and the local priest fundraising. But the employees say their bills are piling up and there seems no hope of a turnaround.

Local mayor James Lionnet worries that his once-prosperous town is slowly dying with each factory that closes.

"This means less investment in the area, less work for bricklayers or floor tilers, losses for businesses," he said. "And if people have no jobs, they will leave."


Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Revealed: The ten most stolen cars in France
A Smart car in Paris. Photo: JR_Paris/Flickr

Thieves in France are getting a taste for luxury cars, it seems.

Analysis - France migrant crisis
Migrant crisis won't end with Calais 'Jungle' closure
All Photos: AFP

The Jungle camp may be being cleared but this won't be the end of the migrant crisis in France.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie 'to sell their French chateau'
All photos: AFP

Want to live where Brangelina got married?

How Paris is rapidly becoming Europe's 'City of Innovation'
Photo: AFP

If you want to start a company then Paris is the place to do it, it seems.

'Jungle' clearance: Migrants begin to leave Calais camp
All photos: AFP

The "Jungle" clearance is underway.

France's 'Jungle' children arrive in UK
Authorities will start to clear the ‘Jungle’ migrant camp on Monday. Photo: Denis Charlet / AFP file picture

The first group of children from the French "Jungle" migrant camp with no connection to Britain have arrived in the country, the Home Office said Sunday, ahead of the camp's planned demolition.

French FM calls for end to Aleppo 'massacre'
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault says the international community cannot ‘come to a negotiation under the bombs’. Photo: Dominick Reuter / AFP file picture

France's foreign minister urged the international community to "do everything" to end the "massacre" in the Syrian city of Aleppo on Sunday after fighting resumed following a 72-hour truce declared by Damascus ally Russia.

Parisians cheer on protesting French police
French police officers on Saturday demonstrated for the fifth night in a row to protest mounting attacks on officers. Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP

Angry French police have taken to the streets for five nights in a row -- and Parisians have started to cheer them on, reviving scenes last seen following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015.

Scarlett Johansson turns popcorn girl in Paris
US actress Scarlett Johansson greets customers at the Yummy Pop gourmet popcorn shop in the Marais district of Paris. Photo: Benjamin Cremel / AFP

Hollywood superstar Scarlett Johansson swapped the red carpet for a turn behind the counter at her new popcorn shop in Paris on Saturday.

US couple donates huge art collection to Paris
Marlene (centre) and Spencer (right) are donating their collection ‘for the benefit of art lovers’. Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP

A Texan couple who discovered their love for art during a trip to Paris in the 1970s are to donate the multi-million dollar collection they have amassed since to the French capital.

How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
jobs available