The auto part factory GM & S Industry, located in La Souterraine, has 283 employees (their average age is 49 years old) and is the second-largest private employer in the Creuse district, located in central France. In 11 days, the factory, which has been under judicial administration since December, could close permanently if a buyer is not found. On Thursday, the workers occupied the site, destroyed materials, damaged a press and, according to the CGT (French General Confederation of Unions), there are cans of gasoline and gas cylinders under the building, ready to explode.
CGT spokesman Vincent Labrousse explains: “We are sorry it has gotten to this point, but the threat today is a pure and simple liquidation. If that is the case, the factory will not be returned intact. We refuse to be cheated.”
Workers are turning their claims to the two French car manufacturers, PSA and Renault. These customers of GM & S reduced their orders and replaced the company for cheaper vendors elsewhere. This has brought the company to the verge of bankruptcy.
On April 19, there was a demonstration on the Champs-Elysées, in front of the windows of PSA and Renault. The production sites of both brands were blocked in protest. The workers are demanding that PSA and Renault make a commitment to maintain a volume of orders sufficient to allow the plant to survive. The workers also presented their claim to the new president, Emmanuel Macron, who will officially take office on Sunday.
The dramatic episode of La Souterraine, with this threat to blow up the plant, is a new example of the desperation caused by deindustrialization.
Can anything be done to reverse this decline? It’s the same question the Whirlpool workers asked of Macron in Amiens. The production of this site will be transferred to Poland. They posed the question in a dramatic face to face before the elections, after Marine Le Pen had dropped by the factory unannounced, promising easy solutions, closure of borders and import taxes. Faced with the threat of the Loi Travail 2.0, which approval could be expedited this summer, a new petition was launched Thursday. The first petition had collected 1.5 million signatures and it was the starting point of many demonstrations against the El Khomri law.
But it seems something will give, at least in theory. After 20 years of deafness, the European Commission seems as though it’s beginning to understand that globalization will increasingly be rejected by those citizens affected by relocation and the loss of jobs, unless a fairer redistribution of the profits is achieved. That is the message of a new report on globalization presented in Brussels.
“The benefits of globalization must be shared more fairly,” said the Commissioner Jyrki Katanien, an ordo-liberal. The realization came to Brussels following a confrontation with China about steel. The document states: “If we do not take active measures, globalization is likely to exacerbate the effect of technological developments and the recent economic crisis and help expand inequalities even further and exacerbate social polarization.”
However, the Commission stresses against the simplifications of the populists. Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “Protectionism does not protect. … However, isolationism isolates and those who remain isolated, lag behind.”
The Commission clearly recognizes that globalization has not been to the benefit of all: “Over the past decade, the real incomes of middle class families in the E.U. and in other advanced economies have stagnated globally, even when the overall economy progressed.” Thousands of jobs were lost, job insecurity has become generalized, while today 27 percent of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of 1 percent of E.U. citizens.
In 2006, the Commission launched a European Globalization Adjustment Fund to mitigate the asymmetry of the effects. The ridiculous figure of only €150 million has been allocated to cope with the devastating effects of production relocation and plant closings.