French unions join outcry at closure of Peugeot plant

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The Independent Online

British and French unions have agreed to join forces to fight the closure of Peugeot's UK car factory in a campaign which may include industrial action.

The move came as the French company was accused of reneging on a commitment to its UK workforce by failing to consult before announcing the closure of the Ryton plant in Coventry with 2,300 job losses. Amicus and the Transport and General Workers' Union, the two main unions at the plant, disclosed that they had received a message of support from their French colleagues expressing "disgust" at the closure and pledging to back the campaign to keep Ryton open. Jim Boyle, the T&G convenor at Ryton, said: "They are prepared to fall square behind whatever decision we take to try to get the company to reverse that decision."

National union officials said industrial action remained an option but refused to be drawn on whether they had requested French counterparts to strike.

The closure prompted heated exchanges in the Commons yesterday between Tony Blair and the Conservative leader, David Cameron. The Prime Minister said he felt "sadness and sympathy" for the Ryton workers but maintained that such factory closures were "inevitable". Mr Cameron said the blame lay with the Government for making the UK a less competitive place to do business.

Peugeot defended the decision to end production of the 206 model at Ryton, saying it was the company's most expensive car plant in Europe and denied that Jean-Martin Folz, its chief executive, had given any commitment to consult unions on the future of the plant. "He said he would come back and talk to them when a decision had been made. He never said he would consult them," said a spokesman.

But Roger Maddison of Amicus described the closure as "a case of corporate greed and a betrayal of the workforce", adding that he believed union members would fight to prevent the closure. But the mood among workers arriving for a mass meeting at the plant was more one of quiet resignation. Dawn McGuckin, a 39-year-old track worker, said: "The unions are talking about striking but ... it's a waste of time, they'll just shut us down sooner."

Peugeot says it intends to close the plant in phases over the next 12 months ceasing production altogether in mid-2007.