French labor protesters do it differently

Workers from the Continental tire plant in Clairoix, northern France, demonstrate in Paris

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bob Moon: French workers are mad about the economic crisis and they're really demonstrating -- quite literally -- that they're not taking any more. There have been huge protests across that country, and a rather unusual display of outrage at a factory run by an American company.

Anita Elash joins us from Paris with more on this. Good morning.

Anita Elash: Good morning.

Moon: So what's been happening this week?

Elash: Well, the big event was this hostage-taking at the 3M factory in Pithiviers. About half the workers there are getting laid off, and so on Tuesday, when the company's director came in to negotiate severance package, things got out of hand and he ended up locked inside his office, where he stayed until early on Thursday morning. That was the second boss-napping in a couple of weeks. Now, there were a couple of directors of Sony France that also spent a couple of days locked in their office. And then this week, we had hundreds of workers who were losing their jobs at a Continental tire plant demonstrating on the streets of Paris and burning tires not far from the presidential palace.

Moon: Why is all this labor unrest happening now?

Elash: Well, it's because people are really very angry about the way the Sarkozy government has been handling the economic crisis. People mostly think that he's doing a lot more for the rich than he's doing for the ordinary working person. And things keep happening to reinforce that point of view -- we've been seeing more and more layoffs, another 80,000 people lost their jobs last month. And then at the same time, we've been hearing about bank executives taking bonuses or stock options, and managers at companies that are laying people off leaving with very large golden parachutes.

Moon: I have to say the French seem to do things differently, though. It's a little hard to imagine, let's say, union autoworkers throwing the head of GM in the back of a car and taking him to an undisclosed location.

Elash: Uh well, yes, haha, that's a bit hard to imagine. But in fact it's actually, it's not hard to imagine at all. Because this isn't the first time that workers have resorted to boss-napping. There were a couple of cases about a year ago, and that was well before anybody realized that there was going to be an economic crisis.

Moon: So watch out, Mr. CEO, it could come to this. Anita Elash, reporting from Paris. Thank you.

Elash: You're welcome.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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