“Honestly I don't care, it'll make more work for us… So long as I have a job,” says one worker who only identified himself as Tomasz, at Whirlpool's sprawling plant in Lodz, central Poland.
French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen upstaged centrist frontrunner Emmanuel Macron this week by making a surprise visit to the tumble-dryer factory under threat in his hometown of Amiens where nearly 300 workers are facing joblessness if Whirlpool partially outsources production to Poland.
Many of those workers booed Macron and cheered Le Pen, who has vowed to renegotiate France's EU membership — which now guarantees free circulation of goods and labour within the bloc — and then put it to the test in a “Frexit” referendum similar to the vote in the UK that triggered Brexit.
Le Pen was cheered when she visited the Amiens factory Wednesday. Photo: STR/AFP
Macron has accused Warsaw of so-called “social dumping”, or using lower labour costs to draw foreign investors, and has vowed if elected he to push for sanctions against Poland over alleged rule of law violations by its right-wing government.
“One cannot have a country that is exploiting the fiscal and social gaps in the European Union and which is also infringing all the EU's principles,” he charged.
Accusing Macron of “pure populism”, Warsaw said his comments were “unwelcome”.
In Lodz, an industrial hub of 700,000 people long known as the “Polish Manchester”, Franciszek, a moustachioed and smiling 60-year-old worker dressed in a fluorescent overalls, says production line closures and job losses are nothing new there.
The Whirlpool site once hosted a huge textile mill which was bought and transformed into a electrical appliances plant by Italy's Indesit.
US manufacturer Whirlpool then snapped it up in 2014 for 750 million euros ($817 million).
“You must adapt, you just have no choice,” Franciszek says as he walks along an old sidewalk in the middle of a muddy car park, facing the entrance to the factory where workers say that the old Indesit equipment has already been dismantled to make way for the new production line for Whirlpool tumble-dryers.
“I'm worried about myself and my work, and after all we know how it works; it's a multinational, it wants to outsource to produce at the lowest price,” another employee Marcin told AFP as he left the plant during the afternoon shift change.
Contacted by AFP, Whirlpool declined to comment on its development plans for the Lodz plant or grant access to the site.
Lodz regional Solidarity trade union chief Waldemar Krenz remembers the devastation caused by the mass closure of the city's textile mills after the 1989 collapse of communism in Poland.
“The textile industry relocated to China and thousands of people found themselves unemployed,” he told AFP.
He added that today “politicians and presidential candidates don't care that in Poland we earn about four times less for almost double the work” compared with many EU countries.
Workers, including ever increasing numbers of non-EU Ukrainians, earn around 500 euros ($545) a month.
Krenz spurned politicians who he sees “clinging onto a one-off conflict because they have no solution to propose for the entire EU” in terms of protecting workers from outsourcing.
“We don't need sermons or reprimands, and it's just taking the easy way out to pit unions and employees from here and there against each other.”
Witold Orlowski, chief economic advisor at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in Poland, says there is a “lot of misunderstandings” in campaign rhetoric focused on the effects of globalisation.
“Poland and Central Europe do not use social dumping as is sometimes being said.
“The job conditions here are aligned with EU standards so there is no dumping, but Poles or Czechs accept lower wages than in France.”
Orlowski also argues that “in the majority of cases the jobs that came to Central Europe kept jobs in Europe that would have otherwise gone to China or elsewhere in Asia.”
“Companies are either shifting jobs to countries where human labour costs less or replacing humans with robot labour. That's the reality.”