French trade unionists held two executives overnight on Tuesday at the country’s Goodyear tyre plant – a flashpoint for France’s troubled industrial relations – to demand higher pay-outs for more than a thousand planned layoffs.
Workers at the idled factory in the northern city of Amiens have been trying to negotiate redundancy terms with management for nearly a year, after Texan tyre tycoon Maurice Taylor withdrew a potential rescue bid on the grounds that French workers were lazy – triggering a political storm.
After a court rejected their most recent appeal against the plant’s closure, members of the hard-left CGT union locked up production and human resources directors Michel Dheilly and Bernard Glesser on Monday.
France 2 TV showed the Goodyear executives seated at a table staring straight ahead as workers shouted in their ears. One director had a bed pan thrust in his face. The unionists said the two men were being amply supplied with food and water.
The so-called “boss-napping” is the first since a spate of them in 2009 prompted conservative ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy to give police powers to intervene by force if necessary.
Tough labour tactics have declined under Socialist President Francois Hollande. But the situation in the factory, where the hardline CGT has majority staff backing, creates a dilemma for the left-wing government wary of cracking down too hard on protests by their blue-collar voters.
“We’re ready to go all the way,” said CGT union delegate Franck Jurek. “It can last for a few more hours, it can last for a few days or a few weeks. As long as our demands are not met, these two people stay with us.”
“WE’D CALL THIS A KIDNAPPING”
The boss-napping may be the final chapter in a dispute which started in 2009 when Goodyear management said the plant in France was not competitive enough to keep running and needed modernisation to produce the sort of tyres now required on the market.
Goodyear workers rejected plans to tighten costs and labour conditions while across the street workers at the Dunlop tyre plant owned by the same Dunlop-Goodyear parent accepted new conditions. That plant is still producing after receiving hefty investments.
The unions at Goodyear are now no longer fighting to keep the plant open, but want severance packages of between 80,000 euros ($109,100) and 180,000 euros depending on seniority. Management’s proposals have not been made public.
The unions also want access to job re-training benefits for 24 months rather than 15, as currently proposed, Jurek said.
“We’ve decided with the workers to change tactics to extract as much money as possible,” he added.
While holding a person against their will for less than 7 days is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a 75,000-euro fine, courts rarely enforce the penalties. Goodyear said in a statement it had filed a complaint on a lesser charge of impeding personal mobility.
The police declined to comment on the case.
Maurice Taylor, chief executive of Titan International , said the boss-napping had killed any chance of a takeover for the plant.
“In the United States, we’d call this a kidnapping,” he told Europe 1 radio. “These people would be arrested and charged… In France your government does nothing, it seems crazy.”