Angry French workers holding their managers hostage at a bulldozer plant run by US firm Caterpillar won a promise yesterday from French President Nicolas Sarkozy that he would meet their leaders.
Employees at Caterpillar’s factory in the southeastern city of Grenoble barricaded bosses inside an office on Tuesday after talks on a compensation deal for 733 workers facing redundancy broke down.
Human resources director Maurice Petit, who suffers from heart problems, had been allowed to leave, while four others, including factory director Nicolas Polutnik, were released later yesterday.
The action was the latest in a spate of so-called “bossnappings” in France as anger mounts over the global economic crisis and the president and his ministers have taken a careful approach to the protests.
“Caterpillar is a firm that makes earthmoving equipment and which works mainly in the United States. The collapse in demand has been 80 percent,” the French leader said, in an interview with Europe 1.
“I will save the site. I will meet the union leaders since, if I understand right, they called for my help and I understand this. I won’t let them down,” he said.
It was not immediately clear what Sarkozy’s promise amounted to: the “site” as such is not under threat, but 733 of the firm’s 2,800 jobs at two plants in Grenoble are expected to be cut.
Nevertheless, Sarkozy’s failure to criticize the workers for denying the bosses their freedom of movement could give encouragement to the organizers of increasingly militant protests across the country.
Earlier yesterday, union leaders at the plant had issued a call to both Sarkozy and the European parliament, demanding that funding be found to fund more generous redundancy packages.
They said the money could come from the European Globalization Adjustment Fund, which Nicolas Benoit, the representative of the CGT union at the plant, said holds 500 million euros (US$659 million) for such emergencies.
“If there’s money to save banks and finance you should find some to save businesses,” he said, reflecting a common feeling of anger in France over the priorities of Sarkozy’s economic recovery plan.
It was the third time last month that executives had been held by French workers outraged at job losses sparked by the global economic crisis.
A manager of a factory run by US pharmaceutical giant 3M was held for more than 24 hours last week and the boss of Sony France was detained on March 12 by workers seeking better redundancy packages.