The Japanese Bridgestone announced Wednesday the closure by 2021 of its plant in Béthune (Pas-de-Calais) employing 863 people in the manufacture of tires for cars, a “betrayal” for the government and the president of Hauts-de -France Xavier Bertrand, who intends to “force” the group to define a new industrial project.
“Structural market problems lead us to take structural measures to preserve the viability of the company’s operations,” Laurent Dartoux, president and CEO of Bridgestone Europe Africa and Middle East, told AFP.
Citing excess production capacity in Europe and competition from low-cost Asian brands, the group claims to want to limit the number of layoffs as much as possible through early retirement measures, internal or external reclassification of employees and the search for a buyer to the site.
Bridgestone informed employees that it was considering “the total and permanent cessation of the activity of the plant” during an extraordinary meeting of the Social and Economic Committee (CSE) in the morning. The closure could take place from the “second quarter of 2021”.
The government and Xavier Bertrand jointly denounced the “brutality” of the announcement. In a joint statement, a rare occurrence, “they also dispute” the relevance and the foundations “and ask that” all the alternative scenarios “be” analyzed in detail “to this closure.
– Goosebumps –
In front of the factory located in the industrial zone of this city of the mining basin, it is the cold shower.
“We were thinking of a reorganization but not of a closure,” says Christophe Bouttmy, South union representative.
Stéphane Rumeau (FO) has goose bumps. “I spent 27 years here, I entered as a temp (…) It feels like a bomb.”
“It’s been over a year that there is not much work, we felt the thing happen”, notes Stéphane Lesix, CFDT secretary of the CSE, recounting the drying up of investments in recent years.
Bridgestone says it is “fully aware of the social consequences of such a project and undertakes to implement all the means necessary to define a support plan adapted to each employee”.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal denounced “a betrayal of confidence” placed in Bridgestone, which must “assume its responsibilities rather than seek pretexts”.
– “Premeditated murder” –
At the end of a meeting on the site with staff representatives and other local elected officials, Xavier Bertrand, for his part, lambasted a “premeditated murder” but also underlined a “possibility of changing the situation”: “we must do everything to force, I mean force, Bridgestone, to consider another industrial plan “, he insisted.
If the group is ready to “discuss an investment project on this site”, the state and communities will then put money on the table, he assured.
“Are we dealing with manufacturers or financiers?” asked the regional president. “If they are + financiers + who do not wish to invest, it will cost them much more to close the site and it will take years”, he threatened.
A meeting should, “in the days to come”, confront government, Bridgestone management, employee representatives and elected officials.
“Every day, terrible social announcements, in a quasi-indifference. The Covid-19 should neither be a screen, nor a pretext for the economic crisis”, denounced the president of the RN, Marine Le Pen, member of the Pas- de-Calais.
“The State must take the hand and enter the capital”, claimed the number one of the PCF Fabien Roussel, native of Béthune, expected Thursday on the spot.
This announcement comes a year after the decision of French competitor Michelin to close its La Roche-sur-Yon plant (619 jobs).
It is another big blow for Hauts-de-France, already severely affected by the closure of two major tire manufacturing sites: Continental in the Oise (683 employees in 2010) and Goodyear in Amiens-Nord (1,143 employees in 2014).
Bridgestone claims the world’s leading position in the tire market. The Béthune plant, which produces automotive tires under the Bridgestone and Firestone brands, has been struggling for a long time. It is “the least efficient” among the ten factories of the group in Europe, says management.
Like Michelin, Bridgestone cites growing competition from low-cost Asian brands, especially Chinese. And the European car market fell by nearly 40% in the first half of the year, hit by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.