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France - Emmanuel Macron

Macron returns to hometown in bid to win back public opinion

Whirlpool employees (here in 2017) are due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron again on 22 November, 2019 to ask what happened to their jobs.
Whirlpool employees (here in 2017) are due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron again on 22 November, 2019 to ask what happened to their jobs. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

The French president has kicked off a high-stakes visit to his hometown of Amiens in an attempt to reconnect with the people. The start of his visit was marred by protests from laid-off factory workers, whom Emmanuel Macron had promised to keep in their jobs.

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The visit, the first since Macron's whistle-stop tour of Amiens in October 2017, has been billed as the "most important territorial visit" since 2018, when the French president made a 14-stop tour of towns, cities and battlefield sites of the First World War.

No fewer than eight ministers are accompanying him on his two-day trip, an indication of the bulk of tasks he plans to get through, beginning with an inauguration of a new wing at the Citadelle University.

But the closure of the former Whirlpool tumble-dryer factory, which shut down this year after an unsuccessful attempt by the president to keep it open, has garnered more attention. 

Around one hundred people, mainly the factory's ex-staff, demonstrated on Thursday afternoon, demanding an immediate meeting with Macron, who is not scheduled to meet them until Friday.

Protesters, students and unionists were joined by members of the Yellow Vest movement, waving banners reading "Whirlpool produces unemployed workers", "Macron resign" and "Our schools are not guinea pigs".

Industry miracle-turned-fiasco

This redbrick working-class city in northern France saw similar unrest during the presidential election campaign, where concerns over closing factories on the outskirts and public sector job cuts were rife.

In an interview with daily Courrier Picard Thursday, Macron said, "I came in October 2017 with a new buyer at a time where Whirlpool workers feared for their future. I told them the truth, and like them I believed it. Like them, I am disappointed," he said.

The new buyer chosen by the government was WN. However, in August – two years after taking over Whirlpool – the company filed for bankruptcy. It had only been able to employ two thirds of Whirlpool's original 282-strong staff.

The ex-factory employees have denounced what they describe as a "fiasco" and an industrial miracle gone wrong.

Jam-packed visit

On Friday, the president is expected to tell them to continue that there is future – if they fight for it, according to the Courrier Picard interview.

Macron's tour will also include a tense meeting with students, after a 22-year-old Frenchman set himself on fire over money woes, blaming the president. 

Macron will also inaugurate a new support centre to improve access to public services, before joining in celebrations to mark the 800th anniversary of the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Amiens.

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