BRUSSELS (AP) - Six Belgian police officers were injured in Tuesday’s
scuffles with some 2,000 steel workers protesting plans to lay off 1,300
workers at several ArcelorMittal plants in Liege.
Workers attempting to get close to the regional government offices in
southern Namur threw bricks at police, who responded with tear gas and water
Police said two policemen had to be hospitalized with the others treated
locally, all for minor injuries. It was unclear how many protesters were
ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel company, blamed a slump in demand
and structural overcapacity in Europe for last week’s decision to close the
plants. It says it will continue to operate five steel production lines,
which employ 800 people.
The protesters want the regional government to intervene.
“Enough of promises, we want results. We want them (the Walloon region) to
take over our plant,” ArcelorMittal worker Marc Detrier said of the Walloon
“We have to get rid of Mittal. He has to leave the group,” Detrier said of
ArcelorMittal chairman, Lakshmi Mittal.
Belgium’s Prime Minister, Elio Di Rupo, held talks with Mittal at the World
Economic Forum in Davos last week on the matter but with little success.
“I want to tell the workers that I understand their revolt and worry when
faced with the future,” Di Rupo said.
However it is unlikely that Di Rupo would consider nationalizing the steel
plant; opting instead for helping out areas hit by industrial decline by
investing in rebuilding the area and new technology.
In the past, he said, “we were able to help certain industries by investing
in innovative products.”
ArcelorMittal was involved in a similar controversy in France late last year
when it revealed plans to close two blast furnaces at its plant in Florange,
France’s industry minister, Arnaud Montebourg, threatened to nationalize the
plant - and resign amid public criticism from Prime Minister Jean-Marc
Ayrault, who described the idea as “inefficient.”
In the end, following talks between Mittal and President Francois Hollande,
a deal was agreed where slightly fewer jobs were cut and more was invested
in the plant.