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Crisis in French Government over Steel Plant Closures at Florange.

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France’s steel producers are on the brink. Opposition to a deal over the Loraine Steel Plant, at Florange, threatens to undermine the unity of the French Socialist-led Government.

The Minister leading the negotiations over the future of Florange, Arnaud Montebourg, is a leading figure of  the Parti Socialiste (PS) left wing. he advocates “la démondialisation” (anti-globaliser) and re-industrialisation.  He has  expressed the view that the company that ran the furnaces, – Steelmaker Mittal, which acquired France’s Arcelor in 2006, is no longer wanted in the country – after years of broken promises . This feeling is widely shared by the firm’s workers.

In charge of the Industry Ministry as ‘ministre du Redressement productif’, Arnaud Montebourg , threatened to ‘temporally’ nationalise the site. When this was dropped this weekend he was on the point of resigning.

There has been a persistent campaign to denigrate  Montebourg.

This began from Manuel Valls, of the right-wing of the PS (and admirer of Tony Blair) and now Interior Minister. From the Employers’ association, the MEEDF, Laurence Parisot, has criticised his “muscular” and “interventionist” policies. The EU’s Commerce Commissioner, Karel de Gucht, has attacked his ‘protectionism’.

In some ways this is reminiscent of the opposition Tony Benn faced when he was Secretary of State for Industry in 1974.

There are both similarities and important differences. Benn was described as a supporter of Eastern European style socialism. He was not linked, at the time, to the main demands of the trade unions. Benn ended up marginalised in the Cabinet.

Jean-Marc Ayrault’s government’s take on the Steel crisis faces resistance from grass-roots workers. They have no faith in the agreement, and are intensely suspicious of Lakshmi Mittal. Attempts by the reformist CFDT union federation have been sided-stepped by the present plan, to their great anger and accusations of “betrayal”. The radical left-led CGT federation’s opposition remains a stumbling block for the government. They do not believe that Florange has been ‘saved’.

Crucially there is a political voice to express their demands. The Front de Gauche is not part of the Socialist government. It is free to criticise its decisions. Already the leader of the French Communist Party (PCF) Pierre Laurent, says that they “Le PCF comprend la colère des salariés et élus locaux devant cette démission de la puissance publique” – they  understand the anger of the employees and local political figures at this failure to use the public authoritires’ powers – to resolve the situation. 

At the moment Montebourg remains at his post.

The reverberations from the Florange could create a deep political crisis. President’s Hollande’s ‘social democratic’ turn, that is adopting ‘market realism’,  looks threatened by union discontent. 

ArcelorMittal, France end feud on steel plant

Arcelor­Mittal and the French government have struck a deal under which nationalisation of the Lakshmi Mittal-owned Florange Steel Plant has been ruled out in lieu of the company’s commitment to make fresh investment of 180 million euros and not to lay off any worker.

Also, the company will not shut down two blast furnaces at the Florange facility which will retain about 650 workers whose jobs were under threat.

The world’s largest steelmaker, owned by the India-born tycoon, has 2,700 employees at the entire plant situated in the North-Eastern part of the country.

The deal was announced by French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Friday when the deadline for ArcelorMittal to find buyers for the two blast furnaces expired

More, in French:

“Florence était un dossier politiquement explosif. A tel point que l’avenir des derniers hauts fourneaux de Lorraine a failli faire éclater le gouvernement 

De sources concordantes, Arnaud Montebourg a menacé François Hollande de démissionner, lors de leur entretien de samedi matin à l’Elysée. La veille au soir, le ministre du Redressement productif avait été sèchement désavoué par le Premier ministre, Jean-Marc Ayrault, sur son projet de «nationalisation temporaire» de Florange.

See le Monde and Libération

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