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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Mort d’un héros très discret

by Mehdi Fiksi

Death of an unassuming hero

Translated Sunday 19 April 2009, by Laure Tallot

Philippe Widdershoven killed himself on Monday 24 March.He was the IT director and the CGT shop steward of the china company Deshoulières which had been hit by a wave of layoffs in 2008.

Death of an unassuming hero

Suicide. Philippe Widdershoven killed himself last week. He was the IT director and the CGT* shop steward of the china company Deshoulières which had been hit by a wave of layoffs in 2008.

Chauvigny (Vienne).

It is the story of a company executive who joined the CGT, of a chap respected by his colleagues and his former boss, of a family man who decided to take his own life on Tuesday 24 March. The body of Philippe Widdershoven, fifty-six, and the IT director of the china company Deshoulières at Chauvigny (Vienne), was found in the pond of Morthemer, the village where he lived. That very same day, on the table of the union office, Dominique Multeau, his predecessor at the head of the union, found a letter in which he explicitly put the blame on the new management of the factory. Last Saturday, around a hundred relatives and colleagues gathered at Morthemer for his funeral. “Many people laid off during the latest firings were there” said Nadine Baurier, thirty-six, who had dark rings under her eyes, and who spent twelve years in the glazing shop at Deshoulières. “They are the people who are the most aware of what Philippe did for them. Without him we are lost.”

Philippe Widdershoven was hired by Deshoulières in 1979 and he joined the union after the company was taken over. “The first time (we met), he said to me “Call me ’Widder’ and it stuck” said Yves Deshoulières, the former boss, in his address in church. The new employee had been given the job of timekeeper. “Timekeepers? They’re the guys who watch the workers. They record the time spent making something so as to determine the cost price of the different parts” Dominique Multeau explains, smiling sadly while his blue eyes are sometimes clouded with tears. “ In those days he was already a good mate, a left-winger who gave us plenty of information even before he joined us,” the trade-unionist adds. And Widder’s info was invaluable, for the man, quickly promoted, eventually became IT director. “”It’s quite simple; he was the one who had the best knowledge of the company, on a human as well as a technical level,” Yves Deshoulières reckons.

“Very often Widder arrived early in the morning at half past six. He looked after everything and everybody” says Hélène Quérioux, thirty-two, head of the packing and shipping department. Dominique Multeau remembers: “He was active in setting up several sites. Once they even doubled his monthly pay check.” Yves Deshoulières goes on: “He’s the one I sent to the US to sort out our retailing sector over there.” In short, the epitome of the good employee who is self-trained, who does everything at the lowest cost, and never gives up. His commitment to his union was to be in the same vein.

In 2004 two years after “La Poterie” was taken over by a Russian oligarch, Widder joined the CGT, and was elected shop steward right away. “And such a senior officer joining the CGT, that was a first at Deshoulières,” says Dominique Multeau, who helped him to start out in the union. “He saw that we were heading for disaster; this revolted him and he decided to get involved,” adds Sophie Belouin, thirty, an employee in the “Methods and Safety Department”. On the day of the funeral, wearing sunglasses and speaking in a voice choking with emotion, the young woman recalled “a very competent fellow who made every effort to save heads during the layoff plan. Thanks to him the number of layoffs fell from 82 to 75 persons.” Daniel Ruffin, the works council secretary, who belongs to the CFDT** (the majority union in the factory) talks about “a very respectable and respected man who never drew attention to himself”. “Unassuming” — that’s the word most often used by those who knew him; which explains why it is so difficult to know the circumstances of his death better. “Philippe was very pessimistic about the future of the company, but he did not speak much,” Dominique Multeau regrets, and he adds in a whisper: “I’m not angry with him for not talking to me; but I’m so bloody angry with myself for not helping him.”

“Brilliant, unassuming, kind and charismatic” — apparently Philippe was all that simultaneously, and more: ”controlled skids on the parking lot”, “editing a satirical paper called ’Apilcodoc’” or “a hell of a mess on his desk and in his pockets, which were full of notes written on small bits of paper”. But everybody deplores a loss that will be difficult to overcome. “And can you imagine what’s going to happen to the union? Without him the branch is orphaned."

Saturday 28 March at noon the funeral took place at Morthemer. Just outside the village, on the road to Poitiers, there is the site of “Buroform”, a factory that makes office furniture. In this non-unionised workplace, “Widder” helped set up a CGT branch two weeks ago. An activist’s last achievement, done just before his death. “We are distressed by this radical action, but we are also revolted by this society” Francis Guionnet, former secretary of the Chauvigny branch, declared.

Translator’s notes:

*CGT: Confédération Générale du Travail or General Confederation of Labour, the biggest and most left-leaning of the French trade-unions.
**CFDT: Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail or French Democratic confederation of Labour, another French trade-union.

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