In Hometown Of French French Presidential Candidate, Politics Are Taking A Turn : Parallels The industrial city of Amiens, France, is the hometown of presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron. But closed factories and angry workers there may vote for extreme political parties instead.
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Life In Amiens: This Small French Town Sees 'Turning Point In Civilization'

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Life In Amiens: This Small French Town Sees 'Turning Point In Civilization'

Life In Amiens: This Small French Town Sees 'Turning Point In Civilization'

Life In Amiens: This Small French Town Sees 'Turning Point In Civilization'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/523170094/523170095" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The relics of St. John the Baptiste are housed in Amiens Cathedral. Eleanor Beardsley /NPR hide caption

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Eleanor Beardsley /NPR

The relics of St. John the Baptiste are housed in Amiens Cathedral.

Eleanor Beardsley /NPR

Workers come and go through a turnstile during a shift change at the Whirlpool factory in Amiens, a provincial town about a two hour drive north from Paris.

The U.S. appliance maker once employed more than 1,000 workers here. In 2002, it farmed out washing machines to Slovakia. And next year, the plant will close for good, moving operations to Poland. Longtime engineer Cecle Delpirou says most people have been working at this factory for 25 years.

"That means we have given to Whirlpool the best half of our working life," she says. "And it is the time when you are the most efficient productive — between 20 and 50. So Whirlpool used our energy and now they say, okay, you can go to another company. It's not correct."

Whirlpool engineer Ceclie Delpirou Eleanor Beardsley /NPR hide caption

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Eleanor Beardsley /NPR

Whirlpool engineer Ceclie Delpirou

Eleanor Beardsley /NPR

"What really stings," says union representative Frederic Chanterelle, "is the clothes dryers manufactured in Poland will be sold back to the French."

Globalization and the move from voting left to far right

Chanterelle says multi-nationals care more about stockholders than employees.

"Globalization means always more for the big guys and less for us," he says. "We have to constantly tighten our belts and they don't even wear belts. The people are going to rise up one day."

Chanterelle says a lot of his members used to vote for the left, but this year they're going for Marine Le Pen. She's promised to impose huge tariffs on companies that follow Whirlpool's strategy. As for Emmanuel Macron, "he must have lost our address," says Chanterelle, "he's never shown up to talk to us."

With less than two weeks before the first round of the French presidential election, no one can predict who will make it into the runoff on May 7. Far right candidate Marine Le Pen and political outsider Emmanuel Macron are currently the frontrunners. But many voters have yet to make up their minds, even in Macron's hometown.

There's more to Amiens than shuttered factories. Amiens has a rich cultural heritage including a magnificent 13th century cathedral. The former industrial town has a growing services sector, and Amazon will soon open a distribution center, creating more than a thousand jobs.

Life's great but many fear for their future

Brigitte Fourr, the mayor of Amiens, says life is good in the city. But she says many people are scared of their future and Marine Le Pen is playing on that.

Mayor of Amiens Brigitte Fourré. Eleanor Beardsley /NPR hide caption

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Eleanor Beardsley /NPR

Mayor of Amiens Brigitte Fourré.

Eleanor Beardsley /NPR

"I feel like we're at a turning point in civilization and in political life," she says.
"And in France we see those who are afraid of globalization – those who feel fragile and fear the future. And then there are those who say, 'OK, globalization is here, let's deal with it as best we can and go forward.' "

Fourre is supporting the mainstream conservative candidate Francois Fillon, despite the scandals that have plagued his campaign. In a crazy, unpredictable election, she says, many people want to vote for a candidate that is experienced and not extremist.

Young volunteers are handing out flyers for Emmanuel Macron. They say Macron's popular, though he's not considered a total hometown candidate because he moved away from Amiens when he was still a teenager. But Macron launched his new party here a year ago. He describes En Marche, which translates as On the Move, as a progressive, centrist party. Volunteer Olivier Williame says Macron has novel ideas. For example, he wants to train workers to find new jobs rather than try to save the old ones.

"I think Macron is quite original because he proposes to think about globalization with a realistic view," Williame says.

Worker Christian Lefevre. He's a replacement worker at Whirlpool. He was laid off a few years ago when the Goodyear tire factory closed. He rides a motorcycle with an American flag and is not at all anti-American despite the factory closings. "Why would I be?" He said. He loves America for the I-66 and other mythical things. Eleanor Beardsley /NPR hide caption

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Eleanor Beardsley /NPR

Worker Christian Lefevre. He's a replacement worker at Whirlpool. He was laid off a few years ago when the Goodyear tire factory closed. He rides a motorcycle with an American flag and is not at all anti-American despite the factory closings. "Why would I be?" He said. He loves America for the I-66 and other mythical things.

Eleanor Beardsley /NPR

But Williame admits Macron's ideas can be nuanced and complex. So Le Pen's message of blaming globalization and foreigners for France's problems has an advantage.

"Because the talk of the extreme right candidate is very simple," he says. "It's because of foreigners. So it's easier to give this kind of message."

And in a town with unemployment above the 10 percent national average, Williame admits Le Pen has a ready audience.