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Reuters/Pascal Rossignol
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France’s presidential frontrunner tried to defend globalization to factory workers, and got punked

By Aamna Mohdin

In the aftermath of the US presidential election, critics faulted Hillary Clinton for failing to sell the working class on the benefits of a more open economy.

But a showdown between France’s presidential candidates shows Clinton isn’t the only one struggling with that message. Globalization has become a public relations nightmare for progressive politicians everywhere.

In France, the problem erupted on the campaign trail at a Whirlpool factory in Amiens, a northern rustbelt town, where 280 jobs are on the brink of being outsourced to Poland. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who faces off against pro-market centrist Emmanuel Macron in the May 7 election, has throughout the campaign used the factory as an example of the perils of globalization for French workers. Macron, who opposes Le Pen’s calls to dismantle the EU and tighten borders, visited Amiens yesterday (April 26), where he grew up, to meet with union leaders in the center of town.

The amicable meeting turned ugly when Le Pen showed up for a surprise visit to the factory to take photos with striking workers. She riled up the crowd by saying Macron was showing “contempt” in meeting bosses at an office miles away rather than speaking to the workers themselves. “Emmanuel Macron is with the oligarchs, with the Medef (employers’ association),” she said, declaring, “I am with the French workers.”

Macron later turned up at the scene to defend himself, where he was booed and heckled by workers. He stood his ground for over an hour, accusing Le Pen of lying to workers when she said she would halt plans by the US-based company to move the jobs to Poland.

The tense exchange, broadcast on Facebook, ended with some of the workers shaking Macron’s hand. At a rally later that day in the town of Arras, he said in a live broadcast that Le Pen was trying to exploit the situation by showing up to “take selfies for 15 minutes and then she was gone.”

Macron’s campaign posted his comments on globalization to Twitter, which fanned the flames on social media.

“The response to what is happening to you isn’t to undo globalization or close borders. Those who tell you that are lying to you.”

“The first response is to train. Training does not prevent a company from closing but allows for protection and to find other employment.”

“I will not tell you that I will nationalize Whirlpool. That wouldn’t solve your problem. First thing: a buyer.”

“To the workers of Whirlpool, of Goodyear, to all those who who are fighting: the future of our country, we will make it with you!”

“The workers in front of the Whirlpool factory: “vote Macron?” He never speaks to us, when he does, he treats us as illiterate.”

While Macron is widely expected to trounce Le Pen in the election’s second round vote, her decision to step down from her far-right party, the National Front, to attract more voters suggests he isn’t in the clear yet. Half of those surveyed in an Elabe poll for BFM TV thought Le Pen was off to a better start campaigning after the first-round vote, compared with 43% for Macron.