Two hundred workers from ArcelorMittal’s Florange steel plant in France’s Lorraine region had planned a mass picnic Thursday morning in front of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign HQ in Paris’ 15th arrondissement. But they were welcomed with tear gas by 200 police officers, who immediately removed them.
‘The people’s candidate welcomed the people with tear gas,’ a worker joked, referring to Sarkozy’s latest campaign initiative to make people forget he was ‘president of the rich’.
‘I’m busy,’ said Sarkozy at about 11.30, who made a swift exit from the headquarters to avoid meeting the workers.
‘The metalworkers are not representative,’ said the President, who accused the CGT trade union central in particular of playing ‘politics’.
The unions, on witnessing Sarko’s warm reception for the steelworkers, decided to decline the meeting that the President had proposed next Monday at the Elysee Palace. ‘We did not come for a confrontation, but for dialogue,’ said Edouard Martin of the CFDT.
ArcelorMittal’s Florenge steelworks, now controlled by an Indian multinational, has been inoperative since February 20. In 2007, a newly elected Sarkozy came to Lorraine and promised to rescue another plant, Gandrange.
On the eve of his marriage to Carla Bruni, Sarkozy also had the bad taste to tell workers that he wanted to come to Gandrange for the honeymoon. Gandrange then closed (with some of the workers taking jobs at Florange).
But now Florange faces closure too. In the campaign for the Presidential elections to be held 22 April and 6 May 2012, Sarko has once again played the saviour. He’s already ‘saved’ the Lejaby factory, which has been bought by billionaire LVMH owner Bernard Arnaud with production switched from underwear to luxury leather goods.
But Florange is proving a much harder case and is becoming a major irritatant for the presidential candidate. The ‘temporary’ stop to the two blast furnaces is threatening the whole steel industry in Lorraine.
A number of artists – actors and singers – are rallying behind the workers of Florenge, who have understood that their only chance is to tap into the election campaign, because after they will be forgotten.
On 22 March, the Florange steelworkers will be organizing a day of action dedicated to the future of the factory and the steel industry in France.
The company posted a net profit of $2.3 billion last year.