Railway: anxiety rises at the manufacturer of train wheels Valdunes, in search of a buyer


Strike picket for employees of Valdunes, a company specializing in wheels and axles for the railway industry, in Trith-Saint-Léger (Nord), May 9, 2023.

They went from dismay to cold anger. However, as the order books dwindled to a trickle, concern had been rising for months on the two northern sites of the Valdunes company: the Leffrinckoucke forge (95 employees), near Dunkirk (North), as in Trith-Saint-Léger (245 employees), in Valenciennes.

Already in the fall of 2022, Philippe Lihouck, CGT delegate in Leffrinckoucke, confided his doubts about the future. Lack of investment since the takeover of Valdunes by the Chinese MA Steel in 2014, disengagement of the SNCF – “which has gone from 45,000 train wheels ordered per year to 3,500, whereas we must produce 60,000 to break even” –, aging industrial tool and expenses judged “inconsiderate” by the trade unionist and his troops: all the signals were red.

The ax fell, Friday, May 5. MA Steel, listed on the Hong Kong and Shanghai Stock Exchanges, and with a turnover of 14 billion dollars (12.8 billion euros), will not spend a penny on Valdunes. Immediately, the steelworkers stopped work. Tires and pallets caught fire in front of the two northern factories. All political labels combined, the elected officials stepped up to the plate and challenged Bercy and the Elysée. Objective: to save Valdunes, the only French company to supply wheels, axles and shafts to the railway industry.

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To tell the truth, Valdunes is no longer really French, but it still employs 380 steelworkers in France. “At a time when the government is talking to us about reindustrialisation, and while we are insisting that we must develop rail for ecological reasons, it would be unlikely that we would close”fulminates Maxime Savaux, secretary of the social and economic committee of Valdunes.

“Mass Blow”

Thursday, May 11, the unions were received by the Minister Delegate for Industry, Roland Lescure. The day before, the management and the shareholder had been summoned to Bercy. On this occasion, MA Steel confirmed its final decision. In Leffrinckoucke and Dunkirk, we want to believe that a nationalization of Valdunes, even partial, can save the company and the jobs. But “the Minister told us that it was not relevant and that he was looking for a reliable buyer. We know the song “loose Mr. Savaux.

In Trith-Saint-Léger, the communist mayor, Dominique Savary, is preparing the demonstration which was to take place on Saturday May 13 and speaks of a “mass blow”. A purchasing employee told him that, “for more than three months, almost nothing (returned) at Valdunes ». It is here that the wheels forged in Leffrinckoucke are machined, heat-treated and assembled. The activities of the two sites are completely linked.

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