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French doubt Mittal way of functioning

Media reports seem to hint that Mittal is imposing an Asian style on European workers at Arcelor, reports Vijay Dutt.

india Updated: Jan 04, 2007 00:36 IST
Vijay Dutt

The French elite seems to be still upset over Laxmi Mittal's take-over of Arcelor, the 330,000-strong company and number one steel group in the world. A section of the French media has now accused Mittal of showing scant regard for the French model of corporate management. He is also indicted for breaching the spirit of the memorandum of understanding with Arcelor, in which he agreed to take a back seat in the actual operations of the company, but replaced the chief executive within four month of his takeover.

The British media took its time but ultimately embraced Mittal as one of their own. The acceptance came not only because he happened to be the wealthiest person in the country but also because of his undoubted success in the steel industry. The English are prepared to salute a man who through his own endeavours wrests whatever he desires. The French remain suspicious for much longer.

Now reports seem to hint Mittal has been imposing an 'Asian style' on his European steel workers, after “snatching Areclor from beneath the noses of the Paris establishment” as a columnist put it in the Telegraph.

Le Canard Enchaine magazine said that Mittal's promised "merger of equals", when he took over, had become a sick joke. This sums up the attitude in the elite and a columnist said it reminds one of the ex-Arcelor chief Guy Dollé saying that a merger was unthinkable because Arcelor distilled perfume while the Mittals made cheap eau de Cologne.

But the reality is said to be radically different than what some French media have presented. French workers are reportedly far from hostile to a man viewed as a better long-term bet than the last lot. "I am amazed to say it, but Mittal has given us hope," said Edouard Martin, a union chief at the CFDT labour federation in Florange to a Telegraph columnist based there.

It is said that in the Valle de la Fensch, “Where mills supply Peugeot, Volkswagen, Mercedes, and Toyota — the most demanding, say the workers – with flat steel, the 4,000 employees were already on death watch before the Mittal takeover.” The mills were to be run down over the next three years. But the first thing Mittal did was to take a fresh look, informed Martin. “What frightens us is that Mittal is a financier rather than an industrialist. The man is obviously brilliant. But there is a feeling that we are all working just to make him richer,” said Martin to the daily. There is indeed a general feeling that greater stress is on profits. But the hint that any rebellion is brewing against Mittal takeover has been rubbished. “On the contrary, there's a new feeling of hope.”

First Published: Jan 03, 2007 22:59 IST