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(en) France, Union Communiste Libertaire AL #305 - Syndicalism, Metallurgy: Let's change the air, let's socialize Luxfer ! (fr, it, pt)[machine translation]

Date Mon, 25 May 2020 09:38:20 +0300

The Luxfer factory in Gerzat (Puy-de-Dôme) was, until it closed in May 2019, the only one in the European Union to produce medical oxygen bottles. Despite the health crisis and the long struggle of employees against the closure of the site, the State still refuses to nationalize the company. Faced with capitalist appetites and the negligence of the public authorities, the socialization of the enterprise under the control of the workers is a necessity. ---- Despite the government's refusal to requisition Luxfer, Axel Peronczyk, CGT delegate for the factory, did not disarm: " For us, the struggle continues. It has never stopped since the plant was announced to close in November 2018. We will not let go of the deal, we value this factory and its unique know-how that made us proud. I hope these refusals will be the last. "

Renowned for their lightness and resistance, these oxygen cylinders are found in ambulances, fire trucks, hospitals and even in retirement homes for respiratory assistance and oxygen therapy. It is an essential product for the medical sector, particularly in a pandemic situation.

A shortage would be catastrophic. However, this does not seem to move the government, which closes the door on any possibility of a recovery under public capital, while the human and technical know-how are still there. It is this same government, through the Ministry of Labor, which decided in 2019 to validate the economic motive used by management to close the factory, overriding the opinions of the Labor Inspectorate and the General Directorate of Labor .

A textbook case on capitalist irrationality
The case of the Gerzat factory alone illustrates the irrationality of the capitalist system and the impasse in which it leads us. The flagship of the Luxfer group - which acquired it in 2007 - renowned for the quality of its products and the existence of a research center, the Gerzat site was particularly profitable to the point of being the second most the group's most profitable, with a record 2017 in terms of profits (+ 55%). However, this was not enough to satisfy the appetites of Luxfer group shareholders, representatives of investment funds managing several hundred billion assets.

Axel Peronczyk sums up the reasons for the closure of the plant as follows: " The Luxfer group is in a virtual monopoly on the aluminum gas cylinder market. His strategy to make even more profit was to take the whole market by the throat by creating a shortage on high-end products in order to force customers[mostly linked to the State ...]to reorient themselves towards its low-end steel-based products, which are cheaper to manufacture. Luxfer then raised the price of these products by 12 %, in order to further increase its margins. "

A typical case of abuse of a dominant position, in theory prohibited, but in fact inevitable: the formation of private monopolies is inherent in the capitalist logic of accumulation and concentration of wealth. It is done to the detriment of employees, medical staff and patients - steel cylinders have a shorter lifespan and can degrade the gas contained.

Behind the closure of the site, dark calculations of the shareholder to increase its margins, at the expense of quality, and by abusing its dominant position on the market.
A workers' cooperative project
For almost two years, ex-employees have worked hard to maintain activity and jobs. They first tried to convince the management of the company by playing on its ground - supporting figures and expertise - to show them that it was three times more profitable to invest in staff training and in new productions the money she planned to spend to close the factory. Then they looked for a buyer, without success, most of the potential buyers having neither the desire nor the means to confront the giant Luxfer.

Then 55 workers, much less reluctant, set up a cooperative society project. Each would have put out of his pocket and the rest of the necessary capital would have been provided by certain local authorities and by the investment fund of the Regional Union of Scop Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. However, the project was difficult since Luxfer prohibited them from selling on 93% of the gas cylinder markets...

To definitively condemn any takeover project, by a competitor or by the employees, Luxfer decided, in January 2020, to break the working tool. This was without counting on the fighting spirit of the workers who erected barricades in front of the factory to prevent this (illegal) destruction and to prevent, in the process, the wild spillage of thousands of liters of industrial oil which would have threatened the water table ...

The plant was occupied for fifty-three days, until the containment of March 17. The keys were then handed over by the employees to the prefecture of Puy-de-Dôme who promised to " protect " the site during this period.

Nationalization, yes but ...
But handing over the keys did not mean laying down your arms. Ex-employees are fighting today for the State to nationalize the factory and restart production. It is, from their point of view, the safest way to " take the factory back from Luxfer " according to Axel Peronczyk. And they especially do not want to hear about no temporary nationalization, the time to inject public money into the factory before putting it in the hands of the private sector, as usually happens with nationalizations!

All of the CGT's union structures (federation, confederation, interprofessional unions) support the "Luxfer" to advance their file for final nationalization with the government. The reformist left (LFI, PCF, PS) supports this request to the National Assembly, sometimes with protectionist and sovereignist overtones.

The nationalization of the factory would have the advantage of maintaining production essential to the health system. But it is not enough. Nationalization is very often only state property, with the continuity of capitalist governance and management. The democratic requirement is socialization, which would imply that the enterprise be declared "common good" belonging to the community, and self-managed by the workers.

If we do not arrive there, the recovery in cooperative form would be a first step, despite the limits of such an experience in the context of the market. It would support the idea of a self-managing socialism organizing work on new bases, without a patron state, consistent with the needs of the population. Especially since the usefulness of the production is not to be demonstrated (unlike 1939 when the factory manufactured... shells !). Because restarting production is possible and because we have to end the political and economic leaders who play with our lives, let's socialize the Luxfer company !

Dadou (UCL Clermont-Ferrand)

Luxfer is in the limelight, but other companies that help fight the disease are closing.

In 2018, the Honeywell group closed its mask manufacturing plant located in Plaintel (Côtes-d'Armor). The site employed 300 workers in 2010, it was then running at full speed following the H1N1 crisis. The state disengaged, the factory was bought by Honeywell who chained social plans before destroying the production lines. The regional council is today planning to revive production in the form of a cooperative by calling on former employees.
The Finnish multinational UPM wants to resell its newsprint factory in Chapelle-Darblay, south of Rouen. This factory could very well evolve to produce masks. Three days of strikes took place in January for fear of layoffs.
In Lyon, Famar, a subcontractor in the pharmaceutical industry, is the only factory in France producing Nivaquine (based on chloroquine), given to certain patients with Covid-19. It employs 250 workers. Following the stopping of orders by Sanofi, Merck etc., the Famar group sold its factories, part was bought by Delpharm, but not the Lyonnais factory, which will no longer have production in July. The Senate is studying its nationalization.
The Peters Surgical medical equipment factory in Bobigny went on strike in October against the dismissal of 60 of the 134 employees. It is now running at full speed, but without guarantees for the future.
Grégoire (UCL Orléans)

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