More than 10,000 people have demonstrated in support of strikers at the Swissmetal factory in Reconvilier in northwestern Switzerland.
The strike, in its 18th day, was called in protest against plans to close the Reconvilier foundry, with the possible loss of 120 jobs.
Saturday's rally, the largest so far in support of Reconvilier, gathered together people from all over the Jura region, including the strikers, their families, union representatives and local politicians. According to the police and the organisers more than 10,000 people took part.
Strikes and protests of this kind are fairly unusual in Switzerland.
"We are fighting for our company and for our children's and our region's future," said Nicolas Wuillemin, the staff spokesman.
Reconvilier workers are against plans, announced by Swissmetal last November, to close the plant and concentrate its activities at another site, Dornach.
This would mean that the Reconvilier plant would exclusively concentrate on manufacturing premium wires and rods.
The vice-president of the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions, Jean-Claude Rennwald, called on the strike's mediator – appointed by the Swiss economics ministry on Thursday – as well as the government and local authorities, the economic sector and the unions to help find a solution to the dispute.
Other speakers denounced the Swissmetal management's strategy.
Saturday's demonstration comes soon after Swissmetal announced that an "accelerated headcount reduction" of 120 positions would take place over the next two to three months.
This was on the basis of current forecasts for the plant, said the company on Thursday. Originally 40 jobs were to be lost under the plans announced in November. In all, 350 people are employed at Reconvilier.
A day later the company announced the reacquisition of former subsidiary Busch-Jaeger in Germany, which carries out similar work to Reconvilier.
The company said in a statement that it had stepped up scheduled talks with the German company over the past few days, but that acquisition negotiations had only started once the strike had broken out.
But it stressed that the company still firmly intended to develop Reconvilier as a production site.
Swissmetal called upon workers to end the strike and to enter into an open dialogue on the future of the plant.
However, Friedrich Sauerländer, head of the company's board of directors, told Swiss public radio on Saturday that there could be dismissals on Monday if work was not restarted.
The strikers remain undaunted. Trade union Unia said a union and workers delegation intended to meet mediator Rolf Bloch on Monday. Until then, the strike is set to continue, said the union.
swissinfo with agencies
January 25, 2006: Reconvilier workers strike for a second time over management's restructuring plans.
February 9, 2006: Management announces an "accelerated headcount reduction" of 120 positions. Swiss economics ministry nominates a mediator.
February 10, 2006: Swissmetal announces the acquisition of former subsidiary Busch-Jaeger in Germany.
Swissmetal manufactures high-quality products from copper and copper alloys. It clients are in the electronics, telecommunications, aviation, automotive, stationery and watch industries.
It intends to consolidate its activities between the sites at Reconvilier (Bern) and Dornach (Solothurn). Reconvilier is to concentrate on manufacturing premium wires and rods. Jobs are to be cut.
Reconvilier workers have contested the move. Some of the factory's clients are said to be worried about the loss of the foundry and a rise in unemployment in the region.
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