Macron jeered, Le Pen acclaimed at troubled French factory

It wasn’t quite the homecoming he hoped for. There were chaotic scenes when French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron visited a factory set to shut down next year and relocate to Poland.

In his northern hometown of Amiens, many felt Macron’s visit came too late. The former economy minister was meeting earlier in the day with union representatives in town, when his rival Marine Le Pen unexpectedly showed up at the plant itself. There, she declared herself the candidate of workers.

“Mrs Le Pen is using this situation to her political advantage, because what she does is stir up political activists in a parking lot. I want everyone who lives and works in this region to know: if she’s elected, this factory will shut down. And I can name dozens more in this case. That’s what makes us different, in our method and in substance,” Macron said, speaking from the Chamber of Commerce a few kilometres away from the plant.

The region is a National Front heartland, and on her visit to the Whirlpool plant, Le Pen got a radically different welcome. There, she hammered home her message that free trade was to blame for France’s de-industrialisation.

“You’ve become the symbol of this hideous globalisation,” she told workers. “We’ll do everything we can so this plant doesn’t close, we’ll find a buyer. When the state wants, it can. We have to stop saying the state is powerless. It’s not true.”

When he heard of Le Pen’s appearance at the plant, Macron headed there and spent over an hour trying to talk to workers and making himself heard above the shouts and whistles.

The latest opinion polls suggest he will easily beat Le Pen in the May 7th runoff, with over 60 percent of the votes.

But his campaign for the second round has been off to a wobbly start. Meanwhile Le Pen has been portraying him as a candidate who cares more about business than the working class – as she seeks to woo leftist voters tempted by abstention.