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European workers rebel as G-20 looms

At companies, including Caterpillar in France and Visteon in Northern Ireland, workers have occupied offices and detained bosses.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 1, 2009

Laid-off workers expressed their anger with a sit-in at the Visteon car parts factory in west Belfast, Northern Ireland, Tuesday. European workers in several countries have taken militant actions amid layoffs and plant closings.

Peter Morrison/AP


Belfast, Northern Ireland

As world leaders meet at the Group of 20 summit in London, Europeans are taking militant actions to protect their jobs, pointing to a growing anger – and willingness to act on it – among workers in the European Union.

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In the latest such move, staff at US automotive-parts manufacturer Visteon in Northern Ireland occupied a factory.

The timing couldn't be worse for world leaders. With the G-20 summit bringing together heads of government, including President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a rise in militancy could undermine already shaky negotiations over how best to address the global financial crisis.

British unions took to the streets of London over the weekend as part of a demonstration calling for G-20 leaders to protect workers. More protests erupted Wednesday as G-20 leaders arrived.

President Obama cautioned the same day that the international community must address "the most severe economic crisis since World War II" together. But European workers appear unconvinced leaders will protect them as job losses increase:

• The British arm of Visteon, which is a major supplier to Ford, announced Tuesday that it was cutting almost 600 jobs across the United Kingdom, including 210 in Northern Ireland. It filed for bankruptcy the same day.

Workers immediately occupied Visteon's manufacturing facility in Belfast, seeking an enhanced layoff package, which they say should be financed by the factory's former owner, Ford Motor Co.

• In Ireland, fired workers at Waterford Crystal occupied the world-renowned glassmaking factory after it was shut down. The occupation, which started in late January, ended after almost two months with the announcement that 176 jobs had been saved for at least six months.

• In Dundee, Scotland, staff at Prisme, a box manufacturer, are in the fifth week of an occupation and are reportedly planning to restart the business as a workers' cooperative.

• In France, workers at Caterpillar took the dramatic step Tuesday of kidnapping four managers, who were held for 24 hours at the company's plant in the southeastern city of Grenoble before being released Wednesday. Workers were angry that 700 of the 2,500 employees face layoff due to a drop in demand for Caterpillar bulldozers.

The action at Caterpillar was the fourth "bossnapping" in France in the last month. Last week, workers at 3M held executive Luc Rosselet overnight until management agreed to discuss job cuts with staff. The chief executive and director of human relations of Sony's French arm were also held for a day by workers, and two managers were locked up at a Kleber-Michelin machine-parts factory in Toul.