I was both surprised and amused when I read this piece in the New York Times about the French way of handling labor troubles.
According to what's reported, at least three times in recent weeks workers in France have held their bosses hostage in order to get management to accede to their demands.
Last week workers at a Caterpillar plant in the French Alps held five of their bosses in a dispute over their severance packages. Pierre Piccarreta, a French union representative, justified the conduct this way :
“There is no violence or sequestration, but simply pressure so they restart negotiations . . . .At a time when the company is making a profit and distributing dividends to shareholders we want to find a favorable outcome for all the workers and know as quickly as possible where we are going.
The same type of hostage taking occurred at two other French plants in recent weeks:
- Workers at a 3M plant held their boss for more than 24 hours at a plant in Central France.
- Workers at a Sony plant in southwest France held their boss overnight when they were trying to get better severance packages.
France has a long history of labor militancy and as reported in the Times has become increasingly restless as the impact of the global economic crisis worsens . The French unemployment rate rose to 8.3 percent in February, according to the European Union.
It certainly struck me as an interesting contrast to the way we do things in America.
It's no secret that we are in a hot debate over the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill provides a bypass to the traditional union election process and allows for a certified bargaining unit if a majority of workers sign cards indicating their support for a union.
The bill would also provide stiffer penalties against employers for intimidation and retaliation of union organizers.
Labor suffered a real blow this past week when Senator Arlen Spector backed out of his support for the bill. Another hurdle came came from Senator Diane Feinstein, a past sponsor of the act. Citing the flailing economy as a reason, her office issued a statement indicating she would seek alternative legislation that was less divisive.
There are many compelling reasons for the bill and it still has lots of support. One example is the excellent editorial by David Freiboth in Friday's Seattle Times who wrote:
The debate over pending labor-law reform, the Employee Free Choice Act, is getting mired in concerns about an employee's role in democratic determinism, thereby missing the larger economic issue that drives the real issue. Scare tactics that highlight problems with union intimidation during organizing campaigns are just that — scare tactics — designed to subvert the essence of the issue.