Monday, April 13, 2009

French lessons

"I'll kidnap the gaffer on my way to the dole office"

Last Tuesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy decided to join the debate. He asked a rhetorical question: "What's this new thing of abducting people now?", and then warned: "I won't let such things happen".

Sarkozy was talking about a new type of protest kickstarted by certain workers facing redundancy: "boss-napping", the abduction of company managers as a way of exerting pressure when there's nothing else left.

It all kicked off in March, when a group of workers from a Sony plant in Pontonx-sur-Adour held their human resources manager captive until he agreed to restart talks on their severance packages. "We've got nothing to lose: we've already lost our job", the workers justified themselves. The boss made it home safe and sound but, since then, the trend has caught on fast.

The unemployment rate in France is currently standing at 8%, but the number of companies laying off staff or closing down altogether is increasing non-stop.

Two weeks ago, outraged at the mass redundancy of 110 workers while huge bonuses were being handed out to executives, the staff at the American company 3M in Pithievers abducted their manager while another executive was forced to join the workers' demonstration.

The most blatant case was when some workers from the Caterpillar plant in Grenoble abducted four managers for a whole day with the aim of ending a standstill in the negotiations affecting the future of 733 workers. The fact that Sarkozy himself got involved in the search for a compromise was enough to persuade the strikers to free the executives. "We're only human", said one of the protesters, while another added: "We don't want to abduct the bosses. We just want to save our jobs and that's all".

But as the number of abducted executives grows, more politicians are having their say but remarkably no-one appears to be seen siding with the bosses. Last Sunday, former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal stated: "It's illegal to deprive people of their own freedom of movement, however the workers are looking for ways to stop injustice". Martine Aubry, general secretary of the French Socialist Party, added: "No violence against a person's freedom can be justified, but the brutal social violence that is unravelling in front of us may explain the cases we are seeing".

Last Tuesday workers at British adhesives firm Scapa in Ballegarde-sur Valserine held hostage four of their executives, three Brits and a Frenchman, asking them to renegotiate redundancies. They kept them overnight until, the bosses accepted to talk over a meeting at the local Town Hall.

Some French sociologists, like Denis Muzet, believe that the recent abductions are a symptom of "the increasing discrepancy between people and the elites". A recent poll showed that 64 percent of respondents predicted that the French would "revolt" against the crisis with more violent incidents with little sympathy being expressed towards banks as well as political and business leaders. The French equivalent of the CBI have expressed their preoccupation: "No matter who is affected by the crisis, the law cannot be breached".

So far though, none of the abducted managers or executives have been injured and their ordeals are yet to be reported to the police.


thepatriot said...

As much as I'm not a fan of the French I must say fair play to them for such a display of balls.

Chris Baldwin said...

Man, that mural's in Catalan!

claude said...

Well observed, Chris!
I bet an average Catalan would be proud to know that a foreigner can spot their language just like that

Paul Morden said...

I will only say that, French or not, people are now going through levels of frustration not seen on such a wider scale since the 1980's.

Anonymous said...

I work with a film company and we've just found some extremely ironic footage of Jack Straw on the cutting room floor. It's currently being edited but I think it would be perfect for your readers. Is there an email address that I can use to send it to you?
Thank you!
Best wishes,

claude said...

Hi Rachel,
yes, there is.
Please look at the right hand column where it says:

Problems? Suggestions? Let us know what you think by contacting us here.

Looking fwd to seeing what you described. Cheers.