* Unions angry at closure of blast furnaces
* Workers disillusioned by empty election campaign pledge
* Hollande stuck with dismal ratings as industry languishes
By Nicholas Vinocur
FLORANGE, France, April 24 Steelworkers here
cheered Francois Hollande in early 2012 when, as a presidential
candidate, he vowed to protect them from a plan to close two
blast furnaces. Now they've they erected a marble tombstone
engraved with the word "BETRAYAL".
Owner ArcelorMittal turned off a gas feed on
Wednesday, shutting the furnaces for good. The workers' gesture
reflects deepening disappointment with the Socialist leader and
his pledge to revive industry, not just at the Florange
steelworks but at plants across France where thousands face
layoffs, transfers and economic uncertainty.
"This is the end of 22 months of fighting, of false hopes
nourished by this government," Frederic Weber, 39, a Force
Ouvriere union leader behind the initiative, told Reuters.
"We've discovered how much real power the government has
against finance, against big money - none."
When Hollande made a campaign stop in Florange a year ago
and addressed workers from a truck wearing a hard hat, many
believed he could succeed where his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy
Sarkozy's inability to prevent the 2009 closure of
Gandrange, another ArcelorMittal steelworks in the region, near
the German border, earned him his own on-site gravestone.
While Hollande did not explicitly promise to save Florange's
furnaces, pledging instead to pass a law forcing viable firms to
find buyers for sites they wanted to close, many understood his
speech from the truck as a commitment to do just that.
Eleven months into his term, Hollande's talk of legislation
has faded, the furnaces are shut for good and industrial decline
has continued apace, with technology giant IBM saying
last week that it will axe up to 1,400 workers in France.
Overall unemployment has surged to 10.6 percent and is still
rising, while Hollande's approval ratings have sunk to as low as
25 percent, a record in modern France.
"Hollande made the mistake of coming here and telling lies
once. He won't do it again," said Florange worker Jean Mangin,
50, as a rumour swirled that the president might return to the
site to promise new funds for "cold-phase" mills still running.
ArcelorMittal says the aging Florange furnaces are no longer
viable compared with other furnaces it runs on the north coast,
fed with iron ore shipped from abroad to the port of Dunkirk.
The company is also grappling with shrinking demand from
carmakers in the area around Florange, in eastern France.
Chief Executive Lakshmi Mittal proceeded with the shutdown
after several meetings with Hollande and despite Industry
Minister Arnaud Montebourg's threats, at one stage, to
nationalise the furnaces temporarily.
The Indian magnate plans to invest 180 million euros ($235
million) over five years in the cold-rolling mills at Florange,
which will transform steel slab into increasingly high-end
products for the auto and packaging industries.
Workers dismiss the measures as too little to halt the
decline of the sprawling site, which spans several small towns
dotted across a valley.
The investment means that no workers will be fired at
Florange but some 629 who operated the "hot phase" will be
offered new jobs elsewhere or early retirement. Another 800
temporary workers are unlikely to be rehired immediately.
Vestiges of centuries of industry are visible from the road
that passes Florange and eight other towns. Many old furnaces
lie rusting. One is now a museum.
The tombstone workers have put up as a rebuke to Hollande
also commemorates the end of an era: "Forging and steelmaking of
Lorraine - 1323-2013."
(Reporting by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Catherine Bremer and