Tuesday, June 14, 2011

PSA, the Union, Besson, etc.

Does PSA intend to close its plant in Aulnay? The union, armed with internal documents, says yes. Industry minister Eric Besson called in the PSA CEO to hear his denials. François Fillon was a little more forceful: we bailed you out, you owe us, he said in essence.

But what is the reality? The PSA document may indeed be a contingency plan, but there is an implacable logic at work. Indeed, I vividly recall a conversation with a French union leader several years ago in which he said that the Italian unions had been much more realistic in their negotiations with Fiat because they recognized impending changes in the scale of the auto market and the concomitant need for auto companies to restructure in order to compete globally. He hoped to persuade his own union to take a more strategic view but said that it was an uphill fight.

Perhaps this is what Hollande has in mind when he uses the phrase "social democracy" (see previous post): a shift from confrontation to cooperation based on a sharing of information and open-eyed decision-making. The problem is that there will be losers in the end, and the only way to enlist their cooperation is to assure them of adequate compensation. Can this be achieved through negotiations at the branch level, as Hollande suggests? Or is the national political arena a better place to have this discussion (or battle)? Or the European arena? The game has become very complex, more so than the article in Mediapart wants to acknowledge. But this is the kind of issue that has sapped the old political structures of their meaning and rendered the right-left distinction increasingly problematic (see the earlier post about Chirac's "endorsement" of Hollande). It is also the kind of issue that explains why Marine Le Pen and others find protectionism such a tempting answer.

So Aulnay is a good place to think about a number of the issues that have come up in recent days.

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