ArcelorMittal confirms French furnace closures

Mon Oct 1, 2012 10:52am EDT
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By Vincent Kessler

FLORANGE, France (Reuters) - ArcelorMittal ISPA.AS told unions it will permanently close two mothballed furnaces in northeastern France, enraging workers who blocked access to the steel plant and management offices at the site on Monday.

In a blunt response to the Socialist government's demand last week that it restart or sell the furnaces, ArcelorMittal said it would give the state a two-month window to try to find a buyer before it shuts down the site.

"After four years of economic difficulties, we cannot hope for any return in the short term to pre-crisis activity levels," ArcelorMittal, the world's biggest steelmaker, said.

It said the closure would affect 629 workers out of a total 2,700 at the Florange plant, near the German border, and said it would try and move as many as possible to new jobs.

Arnaud Montebourg, France's Minister for Industrial Renewal, said he strongly disagreed with the decision and would do his utmost to ensure that ArcelorMittal made a genuine effort to ensure a buyer was found.

Workers at the plant, which has become symbolic of France's entrenched industrial decline, wept and hugged each other as management announced the decision to union leaders at a meeting in the Paris suburbs.

Some workers lit a fire, erected a tent and said they would stay overnight. They welded shut the metal entrance gate to corporate offices and blocked external access to the whole site.

"For 14 months, they were telling us the closure was temporary. There is a lot of anger," local CFDT union representative Edouard Martin said at the site. "We need the government to fight alongside us and do everything it can to make Mr. Mittal stop his scrapheap strategy."   Continued...

A sculpture symbolizing the work of steel workers is seen in front of the ArcelorMittal Florange-Hayange blast furnace in Hayange, Eastern France, October 1, 2012. ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steelmaker, announced on Monday the closure of its blast furnaces at the Florange site. Workers occupied the site of two idle ArcelorMittal steel furnaces in northeastern France on Monday as management and unions met in Paris to decide the fate of a plant that has become a symbol of the country's industrial decline. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler