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Steve Chiotakis: Strikes and street protests are almost as French as a cigarette before dessert. But in the last few months, French workers facing layoffs have started taking things to new extremes. Anita Elash takes a look at the now more radical French labor movement.
French Protestors: A taxi, a taxi, pour Francois Henri . . .
Anita Elash: One of France’s richest men, Francois Henri Pinault, held hostage in a taxi by workers upset at plans to close stores and lay people off at FNAC, Pinault’s chain of culture and electronics stores.
Eric Maclou, who’s been at FNAC for nearly 30 years, said it was a last resort for employees who felt no one was listening to them.
Eric Maclou (voice of interpreter): We wanted him to see how real people see things. To say “there are real people in the stores you own, they have faces and voices and they are our faces and voices.”
Pinault is just one of the bosses who’s been trapped in close quarters with angry employees. In the last couple of months, there have been bossnappings at companies like 3M, Sony and Caterpillar. Some factories have been occupied for weeks.
Bernard Vivier, director of the Paris-based Higher Institute of Work, says relations between unions and companies have always been tough in France.
He says labor relations are marked by confrontation, barricades and mistrust. In France, you go on strike first, and then you negotiate.
Bossnappings were common in the 1970’s, when unions were pushing for more rights. Labor expert John Evans says workers have returned to those extreme measures because they have far fewer options in the depressed French labor market than they might have, say, in the U.S.
John Evans: There are no alternative jobs, so there’s not the option either of finding jobs locally. Or indeed when this is happening on a national scale, saying OK, we’ll move to the equivalent of California.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said the government will start punishing bossnapping and other illegal protests. But in the meantime, it looks like radical measures are succeeding. Most workers have successfully negotiated better severance packages after letting their bosses go.
In Paris, I’m Anita Elash for Marketplace.
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