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Adieu Aulnay, Big Fat Lies and Peugeot-Citroen’s Future

IN THE RADICAL PRESS / L’HUMANITE

When it was opened in 1973, the Peugeot Citroen (PSA) Aulnay factory had a promising future. The Peugeot family, who wanted to make the plant a beacon of modernity, having already obtained an advantageous labour deal on hiring the new workforce, decided to assemble its legendary DS there. With its futuristic face and swivelling headlights, the model was full of technological innovations and made ​ car manufacturers’ reputation for over twenty years.

Forty years later, PSA has gone into reverse gear in research and development, undermining its own inventive roots, even as ecological challenges have never been more important to the automobile. The Aulnay production line has been still for months. PSA closes the gates of its huge factory in Seine-Saint -Denis, leaving behind an industrial desert in the heart of a region where jobs are already lacking.

The end of the road of this historic car factory adds to the long list of other closures that are always presented as inevitable in order to convince everyone to accept a social period marked by “less and less.” Fewer jobs , less industry, less welfare and social solidarity. The forces of neoliberalism are organizing, in a concerted manner, a sharp downward spiral. The cost of labour is targeted. The employers and the Right are determined to unravel social protections, those that linked to employment contract such as pensions, health and unemployment benefits. PSA is an active participant in this attack. Had CEO Philippe Varin, even as he confirmed the closure of the Aulnay site, not talked of a “massive” plan to reduce the cost of labour in France?

Like Renault before, the car group has just negotiated a ‘competitive’ labour contract, baptised the “New Social Contract“. There is nothing social in it. Wage freezes, limiting seniority bonuses, lower overtime pay, more developed mobility schemes, and flexibility of labour, many “efforts” required of employees in exchange for the sole promise not to close the factory within three years!

And when judging the value of that promise one needs to consider that repeated previous pledges by the senior management have been found to be outright lies. In 2011, the CGT got hold of a secret document confirming the closure of Aulnay. Management denied it vehemently. PSA lied. In announcing the closure in 2012, CEO Philippe Varin promised that no employees would find themselves at the ‘job centre.” A investigation  L’Humanite has published shows that this is, again, a lie.

Is PSA struggling? Yes. But is this the fault of the employees? Why should they be the only ones to pay? The automotive group is working on new alliances and this could lead it to buy a stake in the Chinese manufacturer Dongfeng. The correct question is not about the fact of this, but its purpose. By 2015, we are told, millions of cars will come out of PSA Chinese factories. Is this bad? No, if it is to supply the Asian market. Yes, if the goal is to move production to countries with low production costs and then import the vehicles into France or Europe. The satisfaction of needs or profit? Before deciding to rescue PSA by buying an equity stake, will the French government ask this question?

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope

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