French police raid ice cream factory to free British manager
French police stormed an ice cream factory to free a British manager who had been held hostage by workers angry over job cuts
SAINT-DIZIER, France, January 16, 2008 - French police stormed an ice
cream factory on Tuesday to free a British manager who had been held hostage
by workers angry over job cuts, officials said.
Paramedics reported 14 workers injured in the police operation to free
Prakash Patel, who had been held captive in his office for one night after
more than 250 redundancies were announced at the factory owned by the
Anglo-Dutch food giant Unilever.
Patel was said to be unharmed. But tensions remained high with some workers
burning tyres and wooden pallets in front of the factory gates even after the
The manager of the Cogesal-Miko plant in the eastern city of St Dizier was
trying to leave the factory on Monday night with a bailiff when about 40
workers blocked his car and forced them to return to his office.
Unions had been angry after the company announced 254 job losses out of the
493 workers at the plant. The staff who held Patel had demanded information
about redundancy payments, witnesses said.
The manager had last Thursday lodged a complaint against a local union
official claiming he had been the target of xenophobic insults. The official's
union called the action a "provocation."
About 10 police, led by the St Dizier police chief, took part in the
operation to free Patel, departmental prefect Yves Guillot told AFP.
"Some of the workers, despite being caught red-handed in the abduction,
physically opposed the police. They tried to block the door. The police had to
push to get in and there was a scuffle," added the government official.
The paramedics said the 14 suffered light injuries or shock.
"We were really scared. I was shocked. They were charging people like me
who are 57 years old," said Alain Didelot, a union official at the factory
which has been making ice cream cones for 33 years.
Unilever announced the job cuts in November.
"I regret what happened during the night, which was really a useless
offence which shows an irresponsible attitude. But I want a real social
dialogue," said Daniel Degove, chairman of Cogesal-Miko. He would not say if
the company planned to press charges against the workers.
Unilever France said it would meet workers to discuss the planned changes
at the plant.