The 366 about-to-be-redundant employees at the New Fabris plant in Chatelleraunt, south west of Paris have said that either they get 30,000 Euros severance pay apiece, or err, they will blow the car parts factory to smithereens.
Nor is this threat mere Gallic hot air. The employees have already burned a number of machines in front of their workplace and have rigged dozens of gas canisters as bombs around the plant. If their demands are not met by July 31st, they say, it’s boom time. ‘We’re not going to simply be discarded like worthless objects,’ one of the staff told French television, adding that they were prepared to ‘go all the way.’
What makes the situation all the more volatile – and many would argue, typically French – is that New Fabris is in no state to accede to the workers’ demands. It was ordered into liquidation months ago; its owners don’t have the cash. Although they have indicated that long standing staff will get 10,000 to 15,000 Euros while shorter serving employees will get 3,000 Euros.
But the workers are adamant that this won’t do. In a stunning twist of militant logic they say that if the business can’t pay, then its two biggest customers, Renault and PSA should cough up instead. The ever so slightly less crazy reasoning that gets them to this conclusion is that these companies have received billions in state aid and some of it should go to those who need it most – i.e. them.
The total cost of paying the New Fabris workforce what they are asking is just shy of 11m Euros – and it should come as little surprise that neither Renault nor PSA feels the urge to dig quite that deep, not least because New Fabris’s assets are worth rather closer to 2.5m Euros.
Nonetheless, this is one to watch. Nicolas Sarkozy may be a conservative, but the French remain deeply suspicious of business in general and, if the past is anything to go on, public opinion may well side with the strikers. As they say, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter – and in the sphere of industrial relations, this is doubly true when that man is a Frenchman.
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