A strike at the Citroen Aulnay car plant, in France, started on 16 January. Report updated to 30 January.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013, the Aulnay plant has been paralyzed by a strike of 450 to 500 workers: 236 accounted at 11 o'clock, probably about 250 strikers in the morning shift, and slightly less in the afternoon. It is still a minority but already significantly higher than in the previous walkouts and attempts to strike. Everyone felt that, strikers, non-strikers and management: no chief has tried to take the place of the strikers (… or succeeded to).
The strikers planed to gather at 7:30 the next morning, both shifts combined. A strike committee should be elected at the general assembly. A delegation should join other workers of the district at the “rally for employment” organized mainly by the CGT and SUD, while the rest of the strikers should continue to circulate in the plant to try to convince the non-strikers to join the strike.
This time, the strikers seem determined to commit the showdown with Peugeot. A turning point in the movement that lasts for a year and a half, where a minority has continued to maintain the mobilization by rallies, demonstrations, walkouts and attempts to strike. But it remained a minority. It is still a minority, but a little bigger. The workers indeed are back to the wall. Late February or early March, with the implementation of the redundancy plan and the beginning of the transfer of workers to other plants, one of the two shifts would have been removed and the workforce would have melted by over 1,000 employees.
Therefore, two immediate goals for the strikers to change the balance of power: to win other workers to the strike within a majority that is not hostile but wait; to find support from outside, in other companies that are threatened with closure or suffer layoffs and therefore have an interest to converge struggles and mobilizations. In fact, the main topic of conversation of the strikers, this Wednesday, was the 7,500 jobs Renault wants to remove ... and the need for a united response, at least in the car industry.
Thursday, January 17, 2013, the production was completely stopped as before although the number of strikers has decreased by fifty. There was some kind of turnover, as some workers were replaced by others who were not on strike on Wednesday. This may be the result of a higher pressure from the management, who let know that it was enough to be seen in a general assembly to be considered on strike the whole day, but certainly also some sign of reluctance to take this step forward in a movement that can be long. A positive sign, however: the 35 workers of the cleaning service, employed by a subcontractor, joined the strike.
Nevertheless, the morning shift and afternoon shift did not met as it had been planned. They retained their schedules – old habits die hard, especially at the beginning of a strike. Anyway, the fact that the general assemblies were still shift by shift did not prevent the election of the strike committee (this one for all the strikers together). Sixty workers are in the committee at the moment, which was keen to assert its authority immediately by declaring that union representatives and union leaders were welcome but had to participate as mere workers equal to all.
If most of the day was devoted to the organization of the strike (general assemblies, still by shift, strike committee, commissions), a delegation of fifty workers went to the rally with the other workers of the district, and was the largest delegation ... unfortunately one might almost say because it means that this demonstration was modest (between 700 and 1,000 attended). It was an opportunity to speak to other workers and unionists and to express explicitly the desire to make this strike a spearhead to build a convergence of the struggling workers, mobilized or under employers' threat ... that is all the workers in the current situation.
The strike continued, but the boss started a lockout, using the system of temporary layoffs. A delegation went to an other PSA factory at Saint-Ouen. They entered inside, despite the management had tried to fortify the place. The strikers were received by a delegation of the CGT of the plant and welcomed by the workers. They circulated in the factory, where the machines were stopped by the management, who feared destructions. It was peaceful, but the management tried to convince the workers that the strikers acted like hooligans (propaganda that nobody bought).
The lockout has not changed the determination of the strikers.
This Monday, January 21, the strikers found the factory gates padlocked (and behind them, managers, supervisors and guards to prevent opening). The lockout announced on Friday afternoon continued (disguised as a formal temporary unemployment with the excuse of a technical incident that would have imposed the plant shutdown).
Seething with rage, the 170 or 180 strikers who had braved the snow and ice have therefore sought refuge in the building of the local union of the CGT at Aulnay-sous-bois. The general assembly, the strike committee meeting and meetings of various commissions set up by the strike committee were held there. It was there that the activities of the day and the plans for the next few days were discussed. Different actions were organized from there too: leafleting at Carrefour and visits to the prefecture.
Even kept away from the factory, the strikers have therefore shown the same determination and level of activity than the previous days. At least enough to convince the management that it had to find something else: at the end of the afternoon, it announced the reopening of the doors for the afternoon shift on Tuesday. So it is inside the factory that the showdown will continue.
The boss continues the lockout
Strikers (like all workers) have learned this morning, January 22, at 10 am that, on the contrary to what was announced the day before, the plant will not reopen this afternoon (nor tomorrow Wednesday). The pretext is "a big technical problem" that requires to put everybody on temporary unemployment. Clearly the lockout continues.
This late change of plans had at least the disadvantage of preventing some strikers, disoriented by the twirling of the boss, to join the protest of the teachers in Paris. They only visited the two biggest Citroën and Peugeot dealers in Aulnay. In the afternoon they blocked the toll of Senlis and collected money from drivers. Friendly welcomed by them ... and the cops (but they still did not participate in the collection).
Furthermore general assembly, strike committee and commissions – always gathered at the local union of the CGT – continued to plan activities for the next few days trying to increase contacts with other workers: visiting other factories, especially Renault’s as walkouts are planned for Wednesday after the announcement of new redundancies and pay freeze; attending a meeting organized at the Political Studies Institute of Paris “SciencesPo” with unionists from Sanofi, Renault, Virgin and others on Thursday evening; and first contact with some workers from other more or less mobilized companies and all threatened as Citroën. To be noticed
The first releases and expressions of solidarity arrived, as for example from the CGT Renault Guyancourt.
These are some tiny steps towards linking Citroën strikers with other workers in the way to converge the fights, steps that have to be multiplied. The task of all the supporters of this convergence is to promote by all means the development of these links.
The first step towards a convergence PSA-Renault
The highlight of the Wednesday, January 23, 2013, is obviously the joint meeting held in Flins widely shown on all TV channels: the door opened by the 250 strikers who came from Citroën, the emotion of the reunion between the workers of PSA and the workers of Renault Flins who were 450 to participate to the walkout in the morning shift, the speeches of union officials from both factories stressing the importance to fight together as well against layoffs and plant closures as against the “competitiveness agreements” (which plan more work and smaller paychecks for those who stay employed) and to build the convergence of struggles.
This was an undeniable step towards this convergence, even though much of these meetings between companies struggling or under the same threats are certainly to be organized. Indeed this first must have given ideas to many, and not only at Renault where walkouts took place in almost all workplaces, some of which were successful like at Cléon where more than 900 workers attended and decided to repeat it next week and even stronger if possible.
The board of Citroën has announced that the lockout will continue the next two days (Thursday and Friday) ... pardon the “temporary unemployment”, this time using the excuse of threats that the strikers would have addressed to the managers and non-strikers who would suddenly be afraid to come to work. At first the excuse was that a so-called technical problem had supposedly crippled the plant, and then it was the damage and sabotage, and now here comes the fear among the staff! Anything goes except the real reason: the desire to lockout the plant. Well, it is true that during a strike lockout is illegal ... and would prevent PSA from collecting the subsidies it receives from the State to pay a part of the wages of the employees “temporary unemployed”. Anyway, there is a bright side, because it allows strikers to turn themselves to the population (eg at motorway tolls or train stations) and to workers of other companies and find their financial and political support. This is what they will continue to do in this second part of the week, for example by attending on Thursday to a meeting organized at SciencePo Paris with mobilized workers of other companies like Sanofi, Virgin, Renault …
The second week of the strike has begun
After the tumultuous events of yesterday, this Thursday 24 offered a break to Citroën strikers, dedicated to collect money or visit some city councils to ask for support to the strikers. Moreover, the strikers used some time to start planning the actions for next week. The meeting held at SciencesPo Paris – visited by a small delegation of PSA Aulnay – also participated in this preparation as in addition to Philippe Julien, secretary of the CGT PSA Aulnay, some workers and unionists from Sanofi, Virgin, Air France, Presstalis, Goodyear, Renault, 3 Suisses have spoken. We are still far from the convergence of struggles, but it certainly helped to make contacts which can only help to build this convergence.
For now, there is still some uncertainty about the policy of the management: will it give up the lockout that has been lasting since last Friday? Will it dare to reopen the factory? All bets are off and not only on the excuse that it will have to find to maintain the site on "temporary unemployment" if it would decide so.
Soon the end of the lockout and the showdown
Friday, January 25, the strikers went to meet suburb train users at the station Paris-Gare du Nord (a big and working class train station) and also Snecma workers (who build engines for aircraft and rockets) in Gennevilliers (near Paris). They saw how much sympathy other workers were feeling for their strike. The results of the collection were concrete testimonies of that.
The concern now is the reopening of the factory on Monday morning, January 28. The management decided to recall the employees on Monday morning, perhaps lacking a new excuse to keep up the lockout (pardon the "temporary unemployment") which has now lasted 10 days (since the afternoon of Friday 18). It also decided to beef up its reception committee by calling for many executives from other PSA sites and doubling the number of security guards. A team of a few dozens of security guards has already been in the place for some months now. It is to be noticed that the security company that employs them, whose name is Pretorius, belongs to the brother of the Chief of Security for Citroën. The family spirit reigns among the senior executives of PSA!
Obviously the management is preparing to exert maximum pressure on the strikers on Monday morning. Taking into account the past of a factory like Citroën, where the existence of unions has been hampered for long until a big strike in the 80s imposed them, the rumor of the current preparations of the management is likely to be more than just a rumor.
The strikers must obviously rely on their own strength and determination. But the support of workers in the automotive industry and other sectors is now very important. Already, unions of Renault Cleon or Guyancourt for example, expressed their support and their willingness to organize a common struggle. The more it will happen, the best it will be, not only for the return inside the factory but also to establish some convergence as last Thursday in Flins.
Some videos are to be seen on http://cgt-psa-aulnay.fr, specially of the joint meeting in Flins, with Flins’ union official and also JP Mercier, CGT representative at PSA Aulnay, also known as LO.