Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Trend: Borderless Protests Renault Layoffs Prompt 50,000 European Workers to Take to Streets in Brussels

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Trend: Borderless Protests Renault Layoffs Prompt 50,000 European Workers to Take to Streets in Brussels

Article excerpt

Europe's newest social trend - the Euro-protest - started small in Paris last week, where some 8,000 workers from Belgium, France, and Spain converged on Renault headquarters to protest the French automaker's decision to close a profitable plant in Belgium.

It gained momentum on the streets of Brussels Sunday, when at least 50,000 workers marched to protest Renault's "brutal" decision and call for a more "social Europe."

Workers ranged from the automobile sector to textiles, telecoms, and steel. These protests started spontaneously. Europe's union leaders have been scrambling to come up with a list of demands to match the anxiety on the streets and shop floors. For European Union officials, the Renault affair has been a public relations nightmare. At a time when politicians are defending budget cuts needed to qualify for a single currency by 1999, they did not need a high-profile example of job destruction. Euro-philes had promised that a more united Europe would lead to greater prosperity. Last week, the EU began to draft a "code of conduct" for international businesses to "avoid another Renault" and is setting up a high-level group to develop a strategy on restructuring the auto industry. Protests began spontaneously on the factory floor in Vilvorde, after 3,152 workers were told they would be out of a job by the end of July. Protests quickly spread to other Renault factories in France and Spain, as well as Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen, and Volvo sites in Belgium. The first Euro-protest, in Paris on March 12, was in the spirit of what the French police call "bon enfant" - good natured, not dangerous. Protesters tossed eggs at the Renault headquarters, fire crackers at journalists, and ham sandwiches at passing motorists. But Sunday's protest in Brussels signaled a broader base to the discontent. Delegations from Germany, Britain, Portugal, Greece, Austria, Italy, and Slovenia joined French and Belgian workers, who were the core of the first protest. …

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