Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Employee Free Dinner Act 

Americans have boring strikes. The only reason gay pride parades draw so much attention is because American labor unions are still striking in the 19th century.One of the best pieces of journalism I've read was the P.J. O'Rourke account of strikes in South Korea; you had a real sense from his writing that you were in the middle of something dangerous with him. Via my colleague Ming Lo, here's another odd little strike going on right now in France (bien s�r!).
Striking French workers for U.S. manufacturer 3M held their boss hostage amid labor talks Wednesday at a plant south of Paris, as anger over layoffs and cutbacks mounted around the country.

While the situation at the 3M plant outside Pithiviers was calm, worker rage elsewhere boiled over into an angry march on the presidential palace in Paris and a bonfire of tires set alight by Continental AG employees whose auto parts factory was being shut down.

...A few dozen workers at Pithiviers took turns standing guard Wednesday outside factory offices where the director of 3M's French operations, Luc Rousselet, has been holed up since Tuesday. The workers did not threaten any violence and the atmosphere was calm.

A few police officers stood outside, while workers inside exchanged jokes and worries about their future amid heaps of empty plastic coffee cups and boxes of cookies.

...In France, it is not unheard-of for striking workers to hold company executives as a way of winning concessions from management. The hostages are almost never injured. A similar situation ended peacefully earlier this month at Sony's French facilities.

"We don't have any other ammunition" other than hostage-taking, said Laurent Joly, who has worked at the Pithiviers plant for 11 years and is angry that he is being transferred to another French site.

...When Rousselet came out of the guarded office to go to the bathroom Wednesday, workers booed him while reporters asked how he was holding up.

"Everything's fine," he said.

Workers planned to bring Rousselet mussels and french fries for dinner if he was still there Wednesday night.

Ming wonders if the workers are Belgian. Seems unlikely. Seems also unlikely that this tactic would work in the US; can you imagine Andy Stern serving mussels?