With rising unemployment, incidents of executives held hostage by threatened employees are on the rise in France. Are these desperate gestures a sign of a more widespread anger?
For the French employees of companies such as Sony, 3M, Caterpillar and the luxury group PPR, holding their boss hostage seemed the only solution.
"When people feel that negotiation is useless, they tend to take desperate action,” said an ex-leader of the CFDT trade union, Jean Kaspar.
On Wednesday, striking employees at Caterpillar’s factory in the southeastern French town of Grenoble released four executives they had been holding since the previous day. Like previous incidents at Sony and 3M, the release took place without any trouble, with police standing by at the scene but not intervening.
In exchange, the strikers received pay for their strike days and an agreement to continue negotiations which should focus on reducing the number lay-offs, currently estimated at 733.
Earlier on Wednesday morning, they had received President Sarkozy’s support, who said on Europe 1 radio that the government wouldn’t let the employees down.
A culture of negotiation leading to radicalisation
All sectors are affected, from pharmaceuticals to commerce to IT, according to sociologist Henri Vacquin, author of 'My workers' rights', published by Seuil Editions.
"What is new is the frequency of these kidnappings. Before, they occurred in the context of weighty employment problems, such as during major restructuring in the textile industry. But this crisis is no longer to do with one sector, it feeds a more widespread anger," he says.
After winning a resumption of the negotiations on plans to save jobs, union leader Jean-François Caparros at 3M told the press, "All the TV channels were there when Luc Rousselet was taken hostage, so it was definitely a good way for the employees to publicise their dismissals. At the same time, we know this isn’t the answer... It’s a feeling of hopelessness that pushed the employees to this."
As well as this hopelessness, Jean Kaspar adds that there are two further factors that have hardened these kinds of social conflict. One is a kind of government 'autism', which maintains the presidential promise of a tax shield and overtime exemption despite the current economic changes. The other concerns the lack of ethics and transparency in conducting the affairs of others.
The need for hostage-taking is specifically French and comes from another French tradition of having 'done deals', rather than much negotiation, he adds. "We are still a country where, culturally, the concept of negotiation lags behind most other European countries. We need to learn to consult each other before taking decisions."
Date created : 2009-04-02