The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

France:
Continental Tire Workers Fight Against a Plant Closing

Apr 20, 2009

The following article is based on reports appearing in Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary organization of that name in France.

On March 31, 550 French tire workers from a town north of Paris drove in a convoy of over 100 cars to a tire factory 300 miles away located in Lorraine, in eastern France near the German border. The convoy took toll roads, but none of the cars paid any tolls. When the workers arrived in Lorraine, they were joined by several hundred workers from another tire factory. Together, they held a protest against the decision by management to close the factory north of Paris by 2010.

The workers from both plants are employed by Continental, the fifth largest auto parts maker in the world. Early last year, the Continental bosses had imposed big concessions, including an increase in work hours with no increase in pay with the promise that it would allow the bosses to keep the plant open. But a few months later, management cut production, and proceeded to lay off several hundred temporary workers. There were also temporary plant closings, which meant a further drop in income for the tire workers still on the job.

The March 11 announcement that the company was closing the plant completely was the last straw. Hundreds of workers left work and began milling around in front of the plant. Two hundred workers blocked a nearby intersection. They then went back inside the plant and organized a general meeting of the entire workforce.

The next day, workers confronted the plant manager. After some eggs were thrown at him, the boss quickly fled. The workers then left the plant and demonstrated in the town, where they were joined by many other workers. Many towns had already been hit hard by plant closings and high unemployment.

The following days, no workers in the tire plant worked. Instead, the workers went to daily meetings, in which they decided to demand no layoffs and the continuation of the payment of their wages. The workers also elected a committee to organize their struggle.

The workers soon began to take action. On March 19, 1000 tire workers, along with their families, went to other plants located near their factory. They soon gathered 15,000 workers and their families to demonstrate in a town that had only 45,000 people. It was the biggest demonstration in that town’s history.

On March 23, the workers went back to work, after management agreed to pay for the days the workers were on strike. However, the workers produced few tires. Then, there were more demonstrations. On March 25, over 1,000 workers traveled to Paris to demonstrate in front of the Presidential palace, where workers set tires on fire.

After the March 31 demonstration in Lorraine, the workers decided to make plans to charter a train to Continental’s German headquarters to demonstrate during a stockholders’ meeting – where they plan on joining up with not only workers from Lorraine, but workers from German plants as well.

After about a month of struggle, the Continental tire workers are trying to increase their strength by mobilizing workers from other plants, while at the same time pressuring the French government.