Workers at platform-crane manufacturer JLG in south west France won a 30,000 euro pay-out for each of 53 staff made redundant after three weeks of strike action. The tactics employed by the workers – including blocking a high-speed TGV train in a station and placing gas canisters around four cranes on site, threatening to blow them up – won wide attention in the French press and, as this Sud Ouest article demonstrates, showed the value of determined collective action.
“They had no other choice.” Christian Amadio, secretary of the comité d’entreprise at JLG France, is modest in success, despite the oviations by dozens of workers waiting outside the Tonneins mayor’s office until after 1am on Thursday-Friday night. The negotiations were long – more than 7 hours – and bitter. But they paid off in the end. “We won what we fought for. No more.” The agreement is based on a 30,000 euro pay-out for each of 53 workers who will be laid off according to plans announced by the platform-crane manufacturer in April. The names of the laid off workers will be announced in mid-September.
The workers were determined to stick together until the end, even into the early hours if necessary. No-one could leave the negotiating table without a written protocol determining reasonable conditions for departure. Even the storm which broke out in early evening could not dampen their spirits. The most hardy found refuge in the town hall with the mayor Jean-Pierre Moga. “He is the only elected official who we’d like to thank”, said Amadio, “he was always on our side, the others really disappointed us.”
Return to work on Monday
But the wait was a long one for the hundred strikers who will go back to work on Monday after three weeks of occupation of the production sites, punctuated by certain direct actions. “Mentally broken”, some ‘cracked’ while waiting for the negotiations to reach a conclusion. Others, like Pascale, who works in payroll and who joined the ranks of the strikers in the second week, remained calm. “We knew it was at a decisive stage. Everyone in their own way expected some fallout from these three weeks. I got out and went to sleep.”
While some of his colleagues had their ears at the door of the marriage-hall trying to get a trinket of news, played petanque or sipped on a pastis, Pascale was there, eyes closed, her head propped up by Jean. Before the start of the movement she only knew the electrician by sight. Afterwards, much had changed. “We were the company’s workers at the start. But now many of us feel like part of the same family. We have got to know each other and found out what we have in common”, smiled the young woman.
“At each break in the negotiations we saw bigger smiles on the faces of the comité d’entreprise representatives. It was a good sign”, Hélène recounted this morning, with a drawn look on her face. If the wait was a long one, the party which followed at the site, and which some continued until dawn, also left its mark, given the need to unwind.
Pay-off à la gas canister
As for the role of the infamous gas canisters placed around the cranes, opinions were divided. This morning many of the workers were “sure it had helped things along”. “At least it meant they took us seriously”, commented Denis Jalibat, a CGT rep. Christian Amadio was less certain, “Honestly, I’m not sure”. For Éric Martin, vice-director of the département‘s labour office, which played a mediation role in the negotiations, “they were there soley for the media effect”. Nonetheless, a deal was signed and the management, whose initial offer was one month’s pay for a worker of two years experience, and then went on to offer up to 16,000 euros, had to sharply increase the pay-out.
In any case, their tactics may well produce copy-cats. “We had our way of doing things, we didn’t plan to become a model”, argued Amadio. “Managing to win this pay-out was above all thanks to the unity of the workforce, which lasted for three weeks and which was not discouraged despite pressure management, who did everything possible to keep the dispute running and salaries unpaid.”
“All in it together, that’s what we have to remind people and all those thinking about not sticking it out”, mused Fabrice, a proud worker in distribution. “Unity was our strength.”