At doomed Peugeot plant, talk of betrayal and war

Fri Jul 13, 2012 1:52pm EDT
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By Nicholas Vinocur

AULNAY-SOUS-BOIS, France (Reuters) - Auto body painter Kamel Yousfi's extended family emigrated from Algeria to work for Peugeot-Citroen in the 1970s. So news that the factory outside Paris where he has worked for most of his adult life will close came as an unforgiveable betrayal.

His emotional response: to declare "war" on the company.

Yousfi's rage reflected the attitudes of dozens of unionized workers at the sprawling plant in the suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois as they digested Thursday's announcement that their workplace would be shuttered in 2014.

The furious response to the closure, which loss-making PSA Peugeot says is necessary due to overcapacity, stems partly from a Marxist-inspired union culture that casts relations between workers and management as a zero-sum class struggle.

But the anger goes deeper, to the roots of a relationship with paternalistic overtones that began nearly 40 years ago when Citroen - later purchased by Peugeot - recruited the site's first workers directly from villages in North Africa.

"There are 500 members of my family working at this factory," said Yousfi, 40, who has two children. "Many came to France in boats in the 1970s to work here. Do you think we are going to give that up easily? And do what instead?"

Having lured dozens of his relatives to France from Algeria, parked them in high-rise housing estates and ensured their lives revolved around the factory, Yousfi said, Peugeot owed them more than promises of a new job.

In his eyes, the company owes it to them to keep the factory open.   Continued...

Peugeot logo is seen at a booth during the Geneva Auto Show at the Palexpo in Geneva, in this March 6, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/Files