Disgruntled French workers are taking their bosses hostage again

Goodyear managers Bernard Glesser, left, and  Michel Dheilly are held at the factory in Amiens.
Goodyear managers Bernard Glesser, left, and Michel Dheilly are held at the factory in Amiens.
Image: AP Photo/Michel Euler
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Bossnapping” is back in France, with two executives held against their will at a Goodyear tire plant threatened with closure in Amiens, in the north of the country. The factory employs just under 1,200 workers and has a history of labor unrest; with the plant’s closure seemingly assured, a group of workers is pushing for larger severance packages. Earlier today they rolled in a large truck tire to block the door to a meeting room where the executives were discussing the closure with workers.

Bouts of bossnapping track economic conditions. Significant outbreaks took place during the late 1970s and following the recent global financial crisis, with more than a dozen cases in both 2009 and 2010 at sites run by 3M, Caterpillar and Sony, to name a few. This latest case is an ominous sign for the struggling French economy, which appears to be sliding back into recession as the rest of the euro zone begins to pick up steam.

Spates of bossnappings seem to feed on themselves. After all, several high-profile conflicts have resulted in the bosses boosting severance pay for workers following the standoffs—in 2009 workers at a Siemens plant saw compensation per worker boosted by €10,000 and those at a plant owned by Continental (another tire company, as it happens) won payoffs more than €30,000 higher than initially offered after a particularly nasty dispute. One executive in the printing industry (link in French) has been held hostage by workers no fewer than seven times.

If the Goodyear hostage-taking follows the usual script, the executives will be held for a day or two in order to reopen negotiations, and concessions, over severance pay. French president Francois Hollande, whose approval rating is languishing at record lows, will hope that this latest spark of labor unrest is extinguished before it flares up at similarly combustible sites elsewhere in the country.