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Latest update : 2008-04-05

Employees of global steel leader ArcelorMittal stormed their boss's office in Gandrange, eastern France, after they were told that more than half of the local factory's 1,108 staff would be made redundant. (Story: J. Walsh)

French workers in an ArcelorMittal steel plant smashed up their boss's office Friday and threw his furniture and files out the window after management confirmed hundreds of jobs would be cut.

The attack, witnessed by reporters and police who did not intervene, came after about 60 workers tried to break down doors to get into a meeting at which managers told union leaders that 575 jobs would go due to the plant's partial closure.

After the works council meeting at the Gandrange plant in northeastern France, members of the CGT union, who had been refused entry, fought briefly with members of another union, the CFDT. There were no injuries.

A group of CGT supporters then headed to the plant director's office to tear it apart, journalists at the site witnessed. 

The Gandrange plant of ArcelorMittal, the world's biggest steelmaker, is facing a restructuring plan that would see the elimination of more than half the jobs from a workforce of 1,108 between now and 2009.

CFDT representative Edouard Martin said Friday that the only hope now was that President Nicolas Sarkozy would "keep the promises he made to the workers of Gandrange on February 4." 

Sarkozy's office said that the president would meet Monday with union leaders from the plant to discuss its future.

Sarkozy said during a visit to the plant in February that the government was ready to use state funds, despite concerns from the European Union, to invest in the factory "because our goal is to keep factories open in France."

ArcelorMittal, after Sarkozy urged its owner Lakshmi Mittal to reconsider, agreed to freeze its restructuring plan until April in order to consider a counter proposal drafted by specialists selected by trade unions.

Union sources said an investment of 20 to 30 million euros (30 to 44 million dollars) is needed to maintain operations at the plant.

The plant's management repeated in a statement Friday that all workers whose jobs were to be cut would be offered a position in another ArcelorMittal plant, in particular at its plant in nearby Luxembourg.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Tuesday that Sarkozy would meet with Lakshmi Mittal "in a few days" to discuss the future of Gandrange.

A number of companies have reportedly expressed interest in buying the steelworks.

Fillon said in in February that one possibility was for the French state could take a temporary stake in Gandrange to facilitate a sale to an investor.

But ArcelorMittal, which has over 310,000 employees in more than 60 countries, said this week it wanted to keep Gandrange operational and that it was not for sale.

The group was formed in 2006 when Mittal took over Arcelor following drawn-out and often bitter opposition by the Arcelor board, labour representatives and some European politicians.

The steelmaker reported a 30-percent surge in 2007 net profit, a record 10.36 billion dollars (7.5 billion euros).

Date created : 2008-04-04