In Grim French North, Worker Unrest Looks To Last

By LORI HINNANT

AMIENS, France (AP) â¿¿ Workers at a dying French tire factory who have become the butt of American jokes staged a last-ditch protest on Tuesday to defy anyone â¿¿ plant owner Goodyear, prospective buyers, even the French government â¿¿ to try and take their jobs away.

They've say they've been fighting for 62 months to keep the factory operating and prevent Goodyear from shifting work to China. Goodyear says the tires made in their factory no longer sell, and the European market for tires â¿¿ just like for cars â¿¿ is contracting. But the workers' efforts seem doomed in a larger sense as a labor model that features high wages, long vacations and short work weeks is increasingly being called into question amid a weak economy.

It's a growing problem across France, particularly as the Socialist government of President Francois Hollande is under pressure from the European Union and financial markets to focus on cutting debt, rather than trying to prop up loss-making industries.

The protests at the plant in the northern city of Amiens came after efforts to find a new buyer for the struggling factory fizzled. The most promising prospect, an American executive, sent a letter last week to the French government saying that the country's economic model is too worker-friendly and discourages investment.

The factory's closure was announced five years ago by Goodyear when workers refused to accept any layoffs. It will be at least 2014 before the French government intervention runs its course and the plant ultimately shuts down.

"I have visited that factory a couple of times. 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. I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that's the French way!" Maurice Taylor, the CEO of Titan tires, wrote to the French government official trying to find a buyer. "How stupid do you think we are?"

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