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by Thomas Lemahieu

Published in l'Humanité on 19 June 2007

Car-parts Manufacturer DELPHI will Keep its Ardennes Plant Open

Translated Sunday 12 August 2007, by Gene Zbikowski

The automobile industry. After months of using the threat of delocalization as blackmail, management has agreed to respect its labour contracts at its Donchery factory in the Ardennes in north-eastern France.

Relief has come for the 450 employees of the auto-parts maker Delphi in Donchery, in the French département of Ardennes, after many months of management threats to delocalize production to low-wage countries or to cut back social benefits. On Friday, the world purchasing department of General Motors, Delphi’s former parent company, signed two contracts for the manufacture of automobile air-conditioning modules to the Donchery factory instead of to a Polish factory. “The group’s decision to assign manufacture to a French factory rather than another of the group’s factories, located in Poland, will make it possible for the Donchery factory to maintain its activity at a stable level, at least until 2011,” management for the Delphi group pointed out in a press release published yesterday morning.

The announcement comes despite the auto-parts maker’s threats for months to close down the Ardennes plant - Delphi has been put in receivership in the United States and has begun a worldwide restructuring operation. A procedural agreement, which began last October, anticipates eliminating more than one hundred jobs through voluntary departures and reclassifications.

One of the factory’s key workshops was just transferred to Poland last Spring. In an internal vote at the end of April, an overwhelming majority of the workers (70%) rejected the blackmail efforts by management, which was threatening to renege on the 35-hour work week agreement and to freeze wages for three years in order to improve the French factory’s “competitiveness". And up to the end of last week, Delphi, which signed new contracts at the beginning of the year, had been threatening to have the work done in one of its factories in Poland. According to management, work on the GM contracts is to begin “very soon” in Donchery, and in the medium term staffing in the Ardennes factory “should be stabilized at around 320 workers.”

“The workers are happy to finally see the outcome after months of anguish,” according to Jean-Yves Stévenin, the CGT trade union chief steward. After its stinging defeat in the internal consultation, Delphi management went back on the attack with a “cost reduction plan” that, after bitter negotiations, was substantially amended by the trade unions: Whereas management wanted to freeze wages for three years, the amended plan calls for a 1.6 percent wage hike in each of the first two years and one year without a wage increase, which will be offset by a profit-sharing agreement.

At the same time, the Delphi bosses’ decision just two weeks ago to renege on the 35-hour work-week agreement comes in anticipation of the Sarkozy government’s plans to scrap the 35-hour work-week. “Legally, they have the right to renege on the 35-hour work week agreement, but for our part we’re waiting to see what they’ll do,” Jean-Yves Stévenin admitted: "We can sense, and moreover they’ve said it, that they hope that the government measures will provide them with what they want: to make us work for them at a lower cost. But, for the moment, you have to admit that, except for the elimination of company taxes on overtime hours, the government’s plans remain very fuzzy.”

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