Sacked French Workers Take to 'Bossnapping'

March 25, 2009
Workers are currently detaining a boss at a factory owned by 3M over redundancy packages.

Bosses across the world are having to break bad news to employees as companies go under. But that can be a risky business in France, where some furious workers have taken to holding their managers hostage to demand better pay-offs.

In the latest outbreak of "bossnapping", workers at a pharmaceutical factory on March 26 are holding their boss in his office for a second day to force him to improve their redundancy packages. "This action is our only currency. But there is no aggression," said union representative Jean-Francois Caparros from the plant owned by 3M in the central town of Pithiviers.

The detention came less than two weeks after workers held the boss of Sony France hostage for a night and barricaded their factory entrance with tree trunks. They freed him only after he agreed to reopen talks on their pay-off.

In neither case did police intervene to free the managers, in a tacit recognition that such radical tactics were part of negotiations and that no harm would come to the bosses. "It's true that this might seem surprising abroad, but it's less surprising in France, where we're more used to this kind of situation," said a Sony spokeswoman.

There have been several other cases of executives being held hostage over the past year by French workers outraged at learning that their jobs were being slashed.

And last week, in another sign of growing labor unrest, angry workers from the Continental tire firm burst into a management meeting in the Champagne town of Reims and pelted their bosses with eggs to protest at the closure of their plant. Outside their colleagues hung effigies of managers and threw shoes and other projectiles at them.

"This sort of thing will inevitably happen again," said Bruno Lemerle of the CGT union in the Peugeot car plant in Sochaux, France's biggest factory. "Those who sow misery reap fury. The violence is done by those who cut jobs, not by those who try to defend them," he said.

Worker-employer relations are not particularly good at the best of times in France, but since the economic storm struck they have deteriorated rapidly. Many fear for their jobs, with two million already unemployed and 350,000 more layoffs predicted this year. More than a million striking workers took to the streets last week to call on President Nicolas Sarkozy to do more to protect their jobs.

There is a growing sentiment, here as elsewhere, that the business elite caused the crisis but it is the workers who are paying. "Basically we (the French) have a hard time loving business and not thinking that employers are exploiters," said Francis Kramarz, an economics professor at the elite Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. That explains, he said, the impressive performance of Olivier Besancenot, the 34-year-old leader of the newly-founded New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA). A recent poll said an almost equal number of French thought his policies were as credible as Sarkozy's.

Besancenot, a part-time postman who wants to abolish the stock market and nationalize much of French industry, regularly takes part in occupations of post offices as part of his negotiating tactics with the management of the state-run postal service.

Marcel Grignart, of the CFDT union, said he too believed that if company closures continue, there will likely be more radical actions in the months to come. Each time workers see their employers treating them in an "unjust, immoral, unacceptable way, faced with these decisions that offer them no future, there is the risk of anger, of more or less radical attitudes," he said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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