By BASTIEN INZAURRALDE and SARAH DiLORENZO
RUEIL-MALMAISON, France (AP) â¿¿ Burning the very fruit of their labor, workers from Goodyear clashed with police outside the tire-maker's French headquarters Thursday in a last-ditch attempt to save their jobs.
Goodyear has been trying to restructure or close its plant in northern France for five years in the face of a shrinking European car market. The workers say Goodyear wants to shift the work to China, where tires can be made more cheaply and which is closer to booming markets. Goodyear says the type of tires made at the French plant is for Europe and are no longer selling.
Workers' protests, government concerns and the Byzantine layoff process in France have held up the factory closure. In yet another effort to save the plant and its 1,200 jobs, hundreds of Goodyear employees protested Thursday outside the company's offices near Paris, setting fire to a pile of tires in protest. Inside, union representatives met with management.
Protesters fired paintballs at a line of riot police sheltering behind their shields. There were several brief clashes, as police drove large barriers forward in an effort to push back the protest. One demonstrator tore away a policeman's shield while others set upon the officer, hitting him on the head. Only a spray of tear gas pushed them back.
Police did not immediately respond to requests for an injury toll.
The fight over the Goodyear factory has become a symbol of France's hidebound labor market, which drew the derision of an outspoken American executive whose company considered taking the plant over.
"The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three," Maurice Taylor, the CEO of Titan tires, wrote to a French government official.