Up to 50,000 people are expected to demonstrate in Genk next week in protest at Ford’s decision to close its Belgian plant in 2014 with the loss of 4,300 jobs and potentially thousands more.

Belgian unions are due to hold a European Works Council meeting in Cologne on 8 November, but maintain a demonstration planned for Genk on 11 November is growing in size every day.

“We expect this will be a huge meeting on 11 November – we are counting on 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 people,” FGTB-ABVV union cabinet staff member, Rudi Kennes, told just-auto from Belgium. “These 50,000 people are a very diverse public.”

“Every day we have to raise [the] figure from [an initial] 15,000 people. The huge square where the rally [is] has a maximum capacity of 30,000 to 40,000 – we have told the police about it.”

Kennes has been drafted in due to his deep experience of General Motors shutting its own Belgian plant of Antwerp nearly two years ago with more than 1,000 job losses, but the union adviser is more pessimistic the large Genk site will offer the same level of attractiveness to any new potential investor.

“The difference between Antwerp and Genk is we had the advantage of having the third biggest port of Europe, which could absorb a lot of workers, but in the region of Limburg [Genk] there is absolutely nothing,” Kennes said.

“We don’t see reconversion possible in 100 miles, so this is huge.”

There has also been some speculation in Belgium the Genk site could be hived off into separate units, which are currently profitable, although no confirmation of this is as yet available. 

Kennes added he expected there would be some show of solidarity for Ford workers from the players at tonight’s (31 October) Belgian league football match between Racing Genk and Standard Liege.

The speculation is this could take the form of either black armbands or special t-shirts worn by the players.

Ford chairman and CEO, Stephen Odell, insisted to just-auto last week its decision to close Genk was ‘absolutely necessary’ given the huge over-capacity currently plaguing Europe.

The automaker also highlighted its investment in new development with 15 new products in five years.

As well as its Genk site, Ford will also close its Transit site at Southampton in the UK and the tooling and stamping work at Dagenham.