Alstom workers relieved as GE wins takeover bid

Mon Jun 23, 2014 3:06pm EDT
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By Gilbert Reilhac

BELFORT France (Reuters) - For Alstom (ALSO.PA: Quote) workers in eastern France, news that General Electric (GE.N: Quote) has beaten rival bidder Siemens to a tie-up with their firm has brought relief and a response perhaps best summed up by the saying "better the devil you know".

In the town of Belfort, some 2,500 Alstom employees have worked for more than a decade building electrical turbines just a few dozen metres (yards) away from a GE plant, whose workers they meet each day at lunchtime in a shared canteen.

While French Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg kept them on edge for weeks about the fate of their employer - forcing U.S.-based GE to sweeten its bid and prompting a rival one from Germany's Siemens (SIEGn.DE: Quote) - many Alstom workers admitted they had quietly been pushing for the former.

"General Electric's people have been here for a long time, and this purchase ensures that the factories will remain," said Daniel, a 53-year-old maintenance worker for Alstom who asked to remain anonymous. "My greatest fear was Siemens: with them in charge, we'd have been shut down in three years."

Montebourg, who is known for clashing publicly with foreign investors, reacted furiously in April when he learned through media reports that GE was planning some form of approach to buy Alstom's turbines and grid equipment business.

He set to work stalling GE, soliciting a rival bid from Germany's Siemens (SIEGn.DE: Quote) and issuing a decree which stated that any deal in the energy, water, transport, telecoms and health sectors required the approval of the economy minister.

Montebourg argued a GE-Siemens tie-up would create a European champion in which France would have a voice, while a GE takeover would put French strategic interest in the hands of a faraway foreign owner.

"We won't let Alstom sell this national champion behind the back of its shareholders, its employees and the French government," he wrote in April on his official Twitter account.   Continued...

The logos of French power and transport engineering company Alstom and U.S. conglomerate General Electric are pictured on their site in Belfort, June 23, 2014.  REUTERS/Vincent Kessler