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by Maurice Ulrich

NO To Alcatel Lucent’s Latest Redundancy Plan!

Translated Friday 18 October 2013, by Isabelle Métral

Alcatel bosses are cynical enough to invoke strategic errors as if, having admitted as much, they could simply turn the page. As the French financial weekly les Échos remarked, “of course Alcatel workers have already paid and will continue to pay for the past errors but still, drastic action had to be taken to save Alcatel from its imminent collapse.”

It will be remembered that the person who made one of the critical choices that misled the group into these straits, its former managing director Serge Tchuruk, went off with a bonus of 5,7 million euros: it was after his decision to purchase (take over) Lucent that that the group ran into heavy losses.

Moral indignation is not enough, though it is justified, and necessary. The obvious lesson is that the economy is too serious a business to be left in the sole hands of the big groups’ CEOs, notwithstanding Mr Gattaz’ wish that Alcatel’s CEOs be given free rein. In other words, if the workforce were given the right to intervene in the management of their firms, the strategic choices to which workers at present so often fall victims would no doubt be less irresponsible than a gamble at a game of poker on the green baize of globalization, and public interest would be far better served.

For the situation of Alcatel, which Secretary of State Fleur Pellerin is said to have been following closely, is indeed a matter of public interest: this latest ( 6th!) redundancy plan can’t have come as a surprise. A real tsunami, the CGT calls it.

How come, for instance, that last January Alcatel had to negotiate a loan at the exorbitant and usurious rate of 9% with the US bank Goldman Sachs, without the government intervening in order to find another financial solution? Weren’t banks granted loans in 2008? How come the government allowed Alcatel to pawn its treasure-trove of 29,000 patents with Goldman Sachs to guarantee the loan? The government knew this, having been informed by all the trade unions from the CGT to the CGC: they had rung the alarm bell, had staged demonstrations; the managerial staff union (CGC) even went so far as to demand that the State buy 25% of the group’s capital (despite, it said, its traditional diffidence for that kind of solution).

Suppose the group defaults: who will benefit from the massacre? A relevant question this, for the beneficiary would evidently be Goldman Sachs. And is it not ‘wonderful’ that it is the group’s financial manager, a former manager of Sachs’, precisely, who is currently trying to sell off part of the group’s activities, notably the strategic branch of undersea cables?

At this rate, Alcatel is bound soon to resemble those fierce warriors who, wielding their sabers in defense of their treasure trove, end up cutting off their own limbs. The order of the day is not, as President Hollande suavely said, “to do one’s utmost in order that the redundancy plan be less painful,” nor, as Arnaud Montebourg, Minister for Re-industrialization proposed, to ask the operators to be so kind as to accept to choose Alcatel if they please. What we need is a strong determination to reconquer public sovereignty over a sector that is absolutely strategic, to lay down the foundations for the workers’ active intervention in managerial options. The very first condition being the immediate suspension of the current plan.

The government must say NO.

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