Showdown at Peugeot plant as strike splits workers

Thu Feb 7, 2013 2:05am EST
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By Nicholas Vinocur

AULNAY-SOUS-BOIS, France (Reuters) - For workers on the assembly line at Peugeot's doomed Aulnay plant near Paris, starting their shift has become a daily test of nerves.

Entering a factory that is set to close in 2014, they face jeers and threats, as well as eggs and other objects hurled by striking colleagues protesting against the shutdown and Peugeot's (PEUP.PA: Quote) restructuring plans.

The two-week-old standoff between union pickets and the workers they brand as scabs highlights the latest deterioration in labor relations as France's biggest carmaker seeks to cut production capacity amid a slump in European sales.

It may only be a foretaste of more clashes to come as unions steeped in a culture of conflict fight restructuring plans by Peugeot and Renault (RENA.PA: Quote), as both struggle to compete against high-quality German rivals and low-cost Asian players.

"Before coming in, I call a friend to test the water," one 35-year-old assembly line worker, who asked to be interviewed in an isolated office and who had taped over his name tag.

"Are things tense? Are they wound up? These days, it's better to be cautious."

Two weeks after the militant CGT union called a strike against Peugeot's plans to cut 8,000 job cuts across France, Aulnay is the front-line of an increasingly tense showdown between management, the strikers and non-striking unions.

Out of a total 3,000 workers, management says only 260 are striking, while the CGT puts that figure at up to 500. Absenteeism has doubled during the dispute, meaning that several hundred more are off sick at any given time.   Continued...

Citroen C3 automobiles are seen on the idled assembly line as striking employees prevent their colleagues from working at the PSA-Peugeot Citroen plant in Aulnay-sous-Bois, near Paris, February 4, 2013. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen