at the Metex factory in Amiens, the left tries to regain social colors

at the Metex factory in Amiens, the left tries to regain social colors
at the Metex factory in Amiens, the left tries to regain social colors

In the middle of the electoral campaign, the heads of the list of left-wing parties are increasing their visits to the site of an Amiens factory threatened with liquidation because of Chinese competition.

The blue suit is covered with a white blouse, the black shoes swapped for safety shoes. With a helmet on his head, Raphaël Glucksmann is ready to visit the Metex Noovistago factory, in the northern district of Amiens (Somme). Under a light rain, Tuesday May 14, the head of the PS-Place publique list in the European elections follows the director of the factory through the gigantic metal vats and the plumes of smoke with a sweet and sour scent. In these devices, Metex ferments thousands of tons of sugar to produce lysine, an amino acid that is used to feed pigs and poultry, and to make some drugs such as ibuprofen.

In the office corridors, black and white portraits of employees smile at the day’s visitors. But on the site, the faces are worried. The factory is on hold until May 27, the deadline for takeover offers. Otherwise, it will go out of business this summer. If this is the case, 300 employees will lose their jobs, while a thousand jobs will be indirectly affected.

The last site in Europe to produce lysine attracts campaign leaders. Some see it as a textbook case of deindustrialization in France and the blockages of the European Union. “No to Chinese dumping”, displays a red banner hung at the entrance. The company has been declining for months due to the rise in the price of sugar and energy and competition from Chinese lysine, which is much cheaper. The opportunity for candidates to tout their protectionist measures, in the hope of winning back an electorate more tempted by abstention or the National Rally (RN).

“Europe must do its job”breathes Raphaël Glucksmann in the Metex premises, that is to say taxing “massively” Chinese lysine. While the essayist wanders around, escorted by around fifteen journalists, clusters of employees leave the factory at the end of their day. Some try to discreetly dodge the cameras. In recent weeks, they have already seen quite a few politicians parade.

The day before, the head of the list of La France insoumise, Manon Aubry, made the trip. In front of the factory, she spoke to the employees. It was his second visit after a gathering at the end of March where the heads of the environmentalist list, Marie Toussaint, and communist, Léon Deffontaines, were present. The PCF candidate denounces a “triple scandal” : “social, economic and ecological”because Metex lysine emits five times less carbon than Chinese ones, according to the company.

“The Metex factory is at the heart of all European dysfunction. That’s why it is in the spotlight in this campaign.”

Léon Deffontaines, head of the communist list in the European elections

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After the start of the campaign focused on Ukraine, Raphaël Glucksmann chose this stage to give social pledges. Once the visit to the factory is over, he goes to a meeting in Camon, in the Amiens suburbs. “Metex is the symbol of the powerlessness of the European Union and France, a factory abandoned by Europe”, he denounces in front of 300 people. The solution ? “Protect industrial and health sovereignty” taking inspiration from “Canada which taxes certain products at 245%”.

For her part, Manon Aubry came to promise to“take the Metex to Brussels”. Way of showing that the question of employment is at the heart of his agenda, after having been eclipsed in recent weeks by the Palestinian question. While waiting to be invited to the Belgian capital, two Metex trade unionists were invited to the podium of the LFI meeting in Amiens, in front of 400 people. The rebellious MEP also defends “a border tax” European.

The unions assure that all the candidates told them “the same thing” and only have the word “protectionism” To the mouth. A promise that may be difficult to keep given the differences between the Twenty-Seven on trade rules, but which shows a united left in the face of free trade. In front of the microphones, however, the heads of the list show their differences. The factory becomes the site of a distance match between the PS-Place publique list, which is leading the left in the polls, and La France insoumise.

At a meeting, local deputy François Ruffin points to his “obvious disagreements” with Raphaël Glucksmann: on pension reform (the socialist is against leaving at 60 for everyone), the European electricity market (which he does not want to leave) or the accession of Ukraine, a factor of new relocations, according to the rebellious elected official. But the deputy for the Somme is delighted with the arrival of the one he judges “Aboveground” And “disconnected” : “So much the better if the Metex, the Picardy workers, attract the spotlight of Paris.”

“Now the socialists come here, the ministers come here. And they talk to us about industrial sovereignty. This is our ideological victory!”

François Ruffin, LFI deputy

in a meeting in Amiens on May 14

For his part, the communist Léon Deffontaines accuses Manon Aubry and Raphaël Glucksmann of“inconsistencies”. “We cannot reindustrialize the country by getting out of nuclear power, as LFI says, and by remaining in the European electricity market, as the PS wants.”

Will fine speeches save the last lysine factory in Europe? Around it, the industrial zone of Amiens has some scars: the former Whirlpool site, where 1,500 workers worked twenty years ago, lying fallow since the relocation of the activity to Poland despite the media coverage during the presidential election of 2017. A little further away, the Goodyear tire factory also closed in 2014, leaving a thousand employees behind.

The recent interest of European candidates in Metex fuels suspicions of political recovery. “It’s going to be the big parade. The politicians come because they’re in the campaign, to say that they’re taking care of it, but afterwards the people will be left alone”says Antonio Abrunhosa, former CGT delegate at the household appliance manufacturer Whirlpool.

“If there is political recovery, it is beyond ussmiles Samir Benyahya, CFDT delegate (majority union) of Metex. Our goal is to make noise, to get people talking about us, so that we are not pushed aside.”continues the man who has worked here for 21 years. “We are trying to put pressure on the State”agrees his colleague Christophe Ranouille, logistics manager for six years and CFE-CGC delegate.

It was also the Metex inter-union which solicited the candidates, an initiative that management views favorably. “Everything that can get people talking about us is positive”, supports the general director of the factory, David Demeestere. The electoral calendar is timely: the heads of the list are much more present in the home stretch before June 9. “When I sent emails to politicians in October, no one calculated for me, except François Ruffin. I am not LFI, but he really knows our fileremembers Samir Benyahya. That’s why we agreed to speak at the meeting, to thank him.”

In the maneuver to bring in the left-wing candidates at the end of March, François Ruffin assumes his method: “I told the employees and management that I have no guarantee that we will win, but in any case, it will not go through like a letter in the mail.” Having come to the factory 13 times in one year with his file under his arm, the deputy assures that after six months of negotiations away from the cameras, he decided with the unions to publicize the fate of Metex.

The European campaign serves as a pretext, because at this stage it is not a question of convincing Brussels to protect the factory from Chinese competition. “Today, it is the French State which can save Metex by rolling out the red carpet for a buyer”, assures François Ruffin. There “fight against dumping at EU level” will arrive later.

Employees are not naive in the face of the exploitation of their struggle by certain candidates, “who come just for the photo”. Other meetings, with former LR Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France region, and Macronist MP Ingrid Dordain, were much less publicized. “There are employees who criticize us for political recovery”recognizes the CFDT delegate, who wants to defend François Ruffin. “If he does a little, it seems legitimate to me, because he made himself available for us.”

By choosing to campaign in this factory in the Somme, left-wing candidates are venturing into electoral lands that are at best indifferent, even hostile. The very pro-European Raphaël Glucksmann is aware that the department largely rejected the EU constitutional treaty during the 2005 referendum (nearly 67%).

The left knows that its survival is at stake in this territory. “Thank you to François who fights so that Picardy is not relegated forever to the RN”, greets Manon Aubry from the podium. In the Somme, Marine Le Pen came first in the second round of the presidential election in 2022. In France, the majority of workers are turning away from the left: one in two plans to vote for the RN on June 9, according to an Ipsos poll published on April 29.

This comes as no surprise to Antonio Abrunhosa, most of whose former colleagues at Whirlpool “no longer interested in politics”or vote “for the extremes”. The RN, however, was little heard on the Metex issue. Two local officials were discreetly present at the union rally organized at the end of March.

It is perhaps not from Metex employees that the left can hope to grab votes either. At a meeting, the candidates all chant the countdown to the European vote. But the factory workers only have one date in mind: May 27, the deadline before liquidation. “People don’t even know if they will spend the summer on vacation or unemployed. So June 9 is not their concernsays Christophe Ranouille, who has no illusions. If we have a positive decision, you will see that a lot of people will take ownership of things. But if it’s negative, we’ll see a lot fewer people.”

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