* Unions protest steel mill closures in Europe
* 24-hour strikes announced in Luxembourg and at Florange
plant in France
* Unions: 40,000 demonstrators protest plant closures in
By Stefano Ambrogi and Robert-Jan Bartunek
LONDON/BRUSSELS, Dec 7 Thousands of
workers were staging strikes and demonstrations on Wednesday at
European plants of ArcelorMittal, the world's largest
steelmaker, in what unions said was a protest against job
The European Metalworkers Federation (EMF) said strikes
ranging from two hours per shift to a 24-hour walkout would take
place at plants in Belgium, France and Luxembourg, with
stoppages also expected in Italy, Spain and at some sites in
Germany. Sites in Poland and the Czech Republic were also
expected to suffer some disruption, it said.
ArcelorMittal said 24-hour production halts were limited to
plants in Luxembourg, Belgium and one in France but had no major
impact on output, as furnaces at most of the sites affected had
already been partially idled.
"(The furnaces at) Rodange and Schifflange are idled anyway,
Liege is idled, as you know, and so is Florange idled, the
furnaces at all these plants are idled," an ArcelorMittal
But at a news conference in London close to the firm's
corporate finance offices in the well-heeled district of
Mayfair, EMF deputy general secretary Bart Samyn said more than
25,000 workers had walked out, hitting production by at least
10-20 percent across Europe.
Samyn, who represents 72 labour organisations and 95 percent
of metal unions in Europe, accused ArcelorMittal of pursuing an
irresponsible strategy of rationalisation that could see steel
production disappear entirely from the continent.
He said the company was behaving more like "an investment
bank than a steel producer" by putting profits before long-term
investment in the industry and its skilled workforce.
"We do understand the issues surrounding the problems of the
current economic crisis ... but we don't see a strategy in
ArcelorMittal, that will keep steel production alive in Europe,"
Samyn told reporters.
"In the end we could see the disappearance out of most of
the countries in Europe, simply making quantity steel in the
rest of the world and losing their crown jewels of the past."
Samyn said unions will decide their next course of action,
which could include more strikes, following a meeting with
management in mid-January over the concerns they have raised.
Belgian unions said there were 40,000 people at a
demonstration in the town of Liege on Wednesday.
"There are not just steelworkers here today, there are also
workers from other sectors, both industry and services, who are
on strike," Eric de Deyn, spokesman for the BBTK union said.
"All shops in the city centre are closed out of solidarity
with the workers of ArcelorMittal."
The company announced in October that it would permanently
end liquid-phase steel production at its site in Liege, given
over-capacity and a slow recovery in the European market.
The group also idled blast furnaces in Florange in France
and Eisenhuettenstadt in Germany.
The steel producer, which makes between 6 and 7 percent of
global steel and has been laying off staff at some plants, said
in early November that a summer dip in demand was deepening into
a second-half slump and that customers were increasingly
cautious because of economic uncertainties.