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UNEMPLOYMENT

Workers mourn ‘broken promises’ of Hollande

Workers at the stricken Arcelor-Mitall plant in Florange on Wednesday unveiled a gravestone to French President François Hollande's "broken promises," and accused him of "treason".

Workers mourn 'broken promises' of Hollande
A symbolic gravestone for "the promises of change" of French President François Hollande, displayed by workers at the stricken Florange plant on April 24th. Photo: LCI/Screengrab

As gas lines to blast furnaces at a small-town plant are gradually cut off on Wednesday, it marks not just the end of an era, but for many workers, a "broken promise" by French President François Hollande.

The ArcelorMittal-owned Florange plant, in the heart of the northeastern Lorraine region, has become a symbol for the dismantlement of France's industrial sector, from which 750,000 jobs have disappeared over the past decade.

Despite a feisty protectionist stance by France's minister for industrial renewal, and his own campaign pledges to preserve jobs at plants like Florange, Hollande finally buckled under the costs of reviving it, agreeing to mothball the loss-making furnaces through a deal that would prevent lay-offs.

As of Wednesday, the gas joining the four furnaces will be turned off in a process that will take 48 hours, and 206 of the 629 staff working on them will retire. The remaining workers will be repositioned. In all, the site currently employs around 2,500 workers.

"That means it won't be possible to restart the blast furnaces anymore, unless investments are made in new facilities," CGT union spokesman Francois Lopera said.

When the neighbouring Gandrange furnaces were closed in 2009, unions placed a monument to symbolize the broken promises made by the conservative former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Now, the FO union has laid a new gravestone, this time "in honour of Francois Hollande's broken promises," French media reported on Wednesday.

The marble table reads "Treason: Here lie the promises of change of F. Hollande, made to workers and their families on 24-02-12."

In the runup to the Florange deal, French authorities briefly threatened to nationalize the site, but backed away from those plans and instead left the fate of the furnaces tied to a decision on an EU carbon capture project.

Under the November agreement struck with ArcelorMittal, the world's top steelmaker committed to invest at least €180 million in the plant, allowing for part of it to continue making finished steel products for another five years.

It also said it would look into the EU-funded "green steel" ULCOS project.

But once the papers were signed, ArcelorMittal said it was pulling out of the ULCOS project due to technical difficulties.

On Monday, it announced plans to plug €32 million into a France-based research project on how to reduce emissions in steelmaking, the applications of that research will only be known in six years from now  12 months after the entire Florange plant  has been closed.

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STRIKES

French customs officers strike over job cuts

Customs officers across France will walk out on Thursday in protest at job cuts that unions say will “weaken the customs network”.

French customs officers strike over job cuts

The national strike on Thursday, March 10th is expected to lead to delays at ports, airports and on the Eurostar.

The strike, which will include a rally outside the National Assembly building in Paris, was called by the CFDT-Douane and has the support of other unions. 

A work-to-rule protest over pay and conditions by customs officers in 2019, under the shadow of Brexit, led to delays and disruption at airports, as well as ports including Calais and Dunkirk, and on Eurostar trains.

Unions are calling on the government to axe plans to switch responsibility for import duty collection to the Direction Générale des Finances Publiques by 2024, at the cost of 700 customs’ officer jobs – and, according to strikers, tens of billions of euros to State coffers.

“We are asking for the reforms to be stopped, mainly that of the transfer of taxation, which is disorganising the network with the elimination of nearly a thousand jobs,” CFDT-Douane’s secretary general David-Olivier Caron said.

The planned job cuts come after years of restructuring and streamlining that has seen thousands of positions disappear, the unions say, when customs fraud and smuggling is rising because of a lack of resources.

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