France: Auto Parts Workers Seize Plant, Fight for Jobs

VILLEMUR-SUR-TARN, FRANCE, August 27 — Eleven weeks after holding two bosses hostage for 26 hours, 283 Molex workers occupied the auto parts factory owned by the U.S.-based multi-national for 38 days, fighting to keep their plant open and save their jobs. This was part of a 10-month struggle against the French government and the U.S. company which exploits 32,000 workers in 45 factories in 17 countries. The workers are reacting to the bosses’ attempts to shift the burden of the world capitalist crisis onto their backs.

French media portraying Molex as a “rogue employer” and the Sarkozy government as “unpatriotic” create two dangerous illusions: that there are “good employers” and that a “patriotic” government would protect the workers. But both Molex and the Sarkozy government are typical products of capitalism.

“In the past ten months, we’ve gone through every state of mind,” Alain, a 30-year maintenance worker told a newspaper interviewer. “We’ve had our hearts in our boots, and then we began to hope again when the courts voided the first layoff plan in April, and again when they ordered the factory to reopen in early August. And when…management ignored the courts, our morale plunged even lower than before.”

Today, negotiations with the government-appointed mediator are stalled because Molex will only sell the factory to a purchaser that doesn’t compete in their market. But the government mediator “is just a media show,” declared Alain.

In 2000, SNECMA, then a French government-owned aeronautics company, raided the family-owned factory in southwestern France, bought and restructured it and then sold it to Molex in 2004. Nationalized companies remain capitalist companies.

In 2008, Molex stated that “during fiscal 2005, we decided to close certain operations in the American and European regions in order to reduce operating costs.” That year, workers in Detroit, New England, Germany, Ireland, Portugal and Slovakia got the axe.

“In 2006, eight executives began photographing our machines and noting…our working techniques,” said José, a 30-year veteran worker.

In 2007, Molex announced plans “to move production between facilities, reducing staff levels…”

Before closing the Villemur factory, Molex equipped its Lincoln, Nebraska factory with copies of the molds and tools used in Villemur, built up a stock of parts in the Netherlands, and informed its customers, the French auto companies PSA and Renault, of its plans. “They had us working overtime all summer to build up stocks,” said Michelle, a 23-year veteran.

On Oct. 23, 2008, Molex announced it would close the Villemur factory as “unprofitable,” although the factory netted 1.2 million euros in profits (US$1.6 million) that year. On Christmas, the workers guarded the factory to prevent Molex from stripping it of machines and stock during the holidays.

In January, 2009 Molex said the world financial crisis was forcing it to close the Villemur factory. It was when the Villemur workers discovered — on April 20 — that the Lincoln factory was making the same interconnects, that they held two bosses prisoner. One month later, workers’ actions prodded the courts into suspending the layoff plan.

In May, the Syndex accounting firm reported that the Villemur factory was economically viable. French Secretary of State Luc Chatel had promised that if this were true, “the government would…facilitate the purchase of the factory [by a “white knight”] in order to maintain interconnect production in France.” But the government did nothing, so on June 10 the workers demonstrated in Paris, and then, starting July 7, occupied the factory in a 38-day strike.

When Molex broke off negotiations with a possible “white knight” purchaser, the workers egged the Molex director of development. Two days later, four of us workers “were summoned to court,” said shop steward Guy Pavan. “The judicial system works fast against the workers.”

“When you respect the law,” said a worker, José, “you get screwed. When you stay calm, you get screwed. And when they’ve got your nose in the shit, you’re still supposed to keep your trap shut,” he concluded.

On August 6, the workers ended the strike, but Molex closed the factory “for security reasons.” Defying an August 11 court order to reopen the factory, Molex has used security guards and guard dogs to keep it shut. They can do this because the company has friends in government. Christine Lagarde, French Minister for the Economy, Industry and Employment, was Molex’s judicial advisor in 2004, when she was a director of the Chicago law firm Baker & McKenzie.

Today, these Molex workers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If Molex prevails, the factory will be shuttered. If Molex is forced to sell to a “white knight,” some workers will be laid off while others will continue to work to enrich its capitalist owner.

Communist leadership is needed here and everywhere to provide the revolutionary alternative to capitalism, a society where workers own the factories and share the goods they produce.

[Messages of support and contributions can be sent to: Association Solidarité des Molex, 5 rue St Louis, 31340 Villemur-sur-Tarn, France.] J

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