With just two weeks to go before the first round of the French presidential elections, growing anger over the uncertain fate of one of the last major steel-making plants in France has returned the issues of de-industrialization, globalization and the social responsibility of corporations to the fore of the political agenda. Exhausted but triumphant, a group of workers from the ArcelorMittal steel mill in Florange, north-east France, finally reached Paris on Friday amid public cheers and a battery of TV cameras after a marathon ten-day, 330-kilometre march in protest at the feared closure of part of their plant. Mathieu Magnaudeix was there to follow the men, now known across France as ‘the ArcelorMittals’, who have become the heroes of a decimated industrial heartland.
The small town of Le Cheylard, in the Ardèche region of south-east France, has for decades enjoyed an unusual level of prosperity, essentially through the national and international success of two local companies, one a textile firm the other a jewellery-maker. But now Le Cheylard is facing sudden social death after the companies, weakened by market changes, international competition and the economic crisis, announce job cuts, shorter working weeks and the threat of delocalisation to the Far East. Rachida el Azzouzi reports from a town that is a mirror image of the dramatic industrial transformations wrecking small communities across France.