Tuesday, September 8, 2009

French Workers Sentenced over Redundancy Protests

Lisbeth Latham

On September 1, French courts sentenced six workers to suspended sentences of between three and six months as a consequence of union protests in April against Continental’s decision to close its tyre plant in Clairox. More than 1,100 workers had been employed at the plant and the closure announcement sparked protests by workers. The six workers, along with a seventh who was acquitted, had all played a leading role in workers resistance to the closure, and had been charged with “destruction of property to influence the state” over the damage to occupied local government offices.

The charges emerged from a protest on April 21, where 200 Continental workers stormed the sub-prefecture office of Compiegne. It is estimated that some €50, 000 in damage was caused during the protest which was part of a four month campaign against the plant closure, which had included 30 different protest actions. The campaign was successful in securing payouts of €50, 000 per worker.

At a court hearing on July 17, General Confederation of Workers (CGT) delegate Xavier Mathieu, who received the longest sentence, had admitted the action was a “slippage” but that it “was not premeditated”.

The sentences have drawn widespread condemnation from across the French Labour movement and the far-left. Following the sentencing, an impromptu protest was held in the town centre by 250 workers and supporters with shouting “we are not thugs”. AFP reported that Mathieu told the crowd that the sentence was “a prime example of the assault of a state that would deny the working class a voice”, he continued “it’s disgusting, there is no justice in this country. I’m angry, they fought with dignity and the government has decided to make an example”.

The protest was also addressed by Olivier Besancenot, Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste spokesperson, who said he was “outraged” at the “provocation” of the sentences. Lutte Ouvrière’s spokesperson Arlette Laguiller said it was unacceptable that workers pay while the company’s leaders brought ruin to the region.

French unions have been unanimous in their opposition to the sentences. The CGT have described the trial as “profoundly unfair” and that while the government is “criminalising those who fight against the unilateral decisions of the shareholders” it is “lenient, even colluding with management who impose their strategic decisions sacrificing plants and employees”. AFP reported Force Ouvriere Secretary General Jean-Claude Mailly’s statement warning against litigiousness in resolving social issues. The Union Solidaires in a statement condemned the sentences, arguing that it was “revenge against activists who had led weeks of struggle” and it was an attempt to “make an example to deter others facing redundancy from fighting”.

The convicted workers have been informed that they will also now face civil proceedings in November to determine whether they will have to pay damages.


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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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