An equity fund shouldn’t have the power to decide over people’s fate. What is happening in Florence, with the announced dismissal of over 400 workers upon the closure of the GKN site in Campi Bisenzio, is not only of concern to Italy, it affects all of us in Europe. This is not merely the unfortunate and painful end of some difficult years, but just the latest example of the clear and greedy logic of multinationals: maximise profit for shareholders, leaving workers to foot the bill. 

GKN is an automotive and aerospace components multinational. In 2018, it was bought by British equity fund Melrose, which defines itself as "a company specializing in the purchase and improvement of underperforming assets". Where they write "improvement", we read "dismantling". Melrose was, in fact, already known for its aggressive policies, which immediately made UK trade unions suspicious. Despite its past behavior, the company won the backing of 52% of GKN shareholders in a hostile takeover bid of £8.1 billion. They promised to treat workers with dignity and respect but didn’t waste any time doing exactly the opposite. In 2019, GKN announced the closure of a factory in Birmingham, with 170 layoffs. In January 2020, there were 519 more, again in England. At the end of 2020, it was Germany's turn, where the company laid off 540 workers from its Offenbach branch. Less than a year later, it set its sights on Florence, where Melrose’s infamous methods will cause almost 500 people to lose their jobs.

Is this the crisis's fault? Not at all. In the first quarter of 2021, the GKN site in Campi Bisanzio saw its revenue increase by 7% compared to the previous quarter, causing turnover to jump 14% more than forecast. The only reason behind the closure in Florence is to lower costs and boost profits. We have observed similar speculative behavior in other sectors and countries.

Companies paying dividends to shareholders should not be allowed to proceed to collective redundancies. Adding insult to injury, the company has also received European funding in recent years. The Left group in the European Parliament has been fighting for years for aid to companies to be tied to guarantees in terms of employment and respect of the most basic rights. At times, like in February 2021, we succeeded in pushing the majority of the European Parliament to call for those who receive public funds to at least respect the applicable collective agreements, pay taxes, and refrain from paying bonuses to executives. However, there has been no concrete action in this direction since then. The European Commission is very quick to apply absurd conditionalities when it comes to respecting market logic but plays deaf when it needs to protect the dignity of workers. 

Last week we met with a delegation of GKN workers who told us about their struggle. On Saturday, they will take to the streets once again to defend their jobs. They have our full support. The Commission and the member states must find concrete solutions, beyond slogans and empty rhetoric. Laws must protect people, not finance, they must guarantee jobs, not profiteering.

The Left group presented a written question to the European Commission asking about the case of GKN workers. We want to know the extent of the European funding received by Melrose, and whether the von der Leyen-led Commission intends to put forward any legislative proposal to prevent layoffs in multinational companies that pay dividends to shareholders or receive EU funds. The Commission now has the duty to respond.

Marc Botenga (PTB), Leïla Chaibi (France Insoumise), Özlem Demirel (Die Linke) José Gusmão (Bloco de Esquerda), Sandra Pereira (PCP), Maria Eugenia Rodriguez Palop (Unidas Podemos) - MEPs of The Left in The European Parliament

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