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Clashes At Goodyear Protest Of Factory Closure

France's political leaders attacked the letter, but the country's Socialist government is also trying to reform labor regulations, saying that relaxing rules on firing is key to also improving hiring.

France's unemployment has been intractably high for years, even during boom times, and it has climbed higher in recent months as Europe's economic crisis has deepened. Statistics released Thursday showed the jobless rate rose to 10.6 percent last year.

Labor rules and generous benefits also make it expensive to manufacture in France, leaving the country with a major competitiveness problem that the global economic slowdown has exposed and exacerbated. Many companies that produce in France are now in a bind: Either they get beaten by competitors with more room to slash prices because they have lower costs or they also cut prices to compete, leaving little left over to reinvest in the kind of innovation that insulates manufacturers from such price competition.

The government's proposed reform â¿¿ unveiled Wednesday â¿¿ would offer companies in financial difficulty more flexibility in setting working hours and salaries. The government hopes that will help businesses stay afloat, instead of shutting down factories or moving production to countries with cheaper labor.

It's unclear if that reform would help a company like Goodyear, which is still profitable, even in Europe. Workers, in fact, have seized on the company's profitability in their fight against the factory closure, but the company says profit margins have been slipping for years and that the business in Europe isn't sustainable.

"We came here to fight and avoid that they close down our factory because there is no reason for the factory to close down because it is extremely profitable," said Richard Jouhannet, a worker from the doomed factory in Amiens, who was outside Goodyear's headquarters on Thursday. "We are fighting in the courts and today we are in the streets."

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