French presidential front-runner Emmanuel Macron is going hunting for blue-collar votes, planning to meet on Wednesday with workers from a home appliance factory that is the latest hot-button symbol of the loss of French jobs to plants overseas. Macron’s discussions with union leaders from the Whirlpool plant in northern France, a region where his anti-European Union opponent Marine Le Pen got the most votes, is not without risk. The pro-EU centrist must walk a fine line between defending his program to tackle France’s chronic unemployment without falling into the trap that befell winners in previous elections of struggling to keep campaign promises.
The factory in Amiens, where the production of dryers is due to stop this year and shift to Poland, joins a growing list of threatened plants that have become symbolic in French presidential election campaigns.In the 2012 race, Socialist candidate Francois Hollande traveled to a closure-threatened steel works in eastern France’s rust belt in a similar pursuit of blue-collar votes in his winning presidential campaign against Nicolas Sarkozy.
Union leaders later accused Hollande of betrayal when the Hayange plants’ blast furnaces were mothballed, in a deal Hollande’s government struck with steel giant ArcelorMittal. Le Pen has vowed to keep the Amiens plant open if elected, come what may. Needing millions more votes to beat Macron on May 7, she has been hammering hard with her claims that more French jobs would be lost overseas under the former banker’s more economically liberal program.