AMIENS, France (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron has used a visit to an ailing Whirlpool factory that had become a symbol of the battle for jobs as an opportunity to promote his economic policies.
The dryer factory in Amiens, northern France, was during the presidential campaign in April the site of what became known as the “battle of Whirlpool.”
At the time, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen had upstaged Macron with a surprise visit to the factory, which was threatened with closure. That prompted Macron to meet with angry workers: he was booed at first, but stood his ground, patiently debating about how to stop French jobs from moving abroad.
The site was then taken over in September by a local industry group that promised to maintain most of the jobs.
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Macron on Tuesday welcomed the “good news” and met with employees in a relaxed atmosphere.
“We must make the French territory more attractive” to investors, he told reporters.
Macron turned Tuesday’s visit into a tightly-controlled PR effort aimed at showing the impact of his economic policies. He took numerous selfies and joked with employees in front of the single press video camera allowed to cover the visit.
Macron insisted his government’s budget for next year aims to cut taxes to increase French workers’ purchasing power. “The middle class will benefit from it,” he said.
The government plans to cut taxes by 10 billion euros ($11.7 billion) next year in hopes of boosting growth and jobs.
One key part of the plan is the scrapping of a tax on wealth that currently applies to people with more than 1.3 million euros in assets. Instead, the government wants to create a tax on real estate, in a move that it hopes will attract more wealthy French and foreign investors in the country.
France’s left-wing parties and workers’ unions accuse Macron, a former investment banker, of being “the president of the rich people.”
“For years we taxed the successful people, and we regulated the job market with rigid rules. And what did we get? Job losses,” Macron said.
A few CGT unionists symbolically gathered near the factory to protest against Macron’s labor reforms, saying they weaken hard-won workers’ rights.
The government last month passed changes to labor laws that make it easier for firms to hire and fire and reduce the power of national collective bargaining, prompting a series of nationwide street protests.