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French government warns workers who turn to violence

Published on 23/04/2009

PARIS -- French Prime Minister Francois Fillon called Wednesday for charges against laid-off workers who vented their anger by trashing a government building as fears grew of labour unrest turning violent.

Workers from a plant owned by German tyre company Continental ransacked the offices on Tuesday in the latest flareup of labour anger that has also seen employees take managers captive at factories hit by the economic crisis.

"These are violent acts that are unacceptable," Fillon said after Continental workers smashed windows and wrecked computers at the offices of the regional administration in Compiegne, northeast of Paris.

Fillon said they should face legal action for the rampage triggered by a court’s refusal to block the company’s decision to shut down the factory and scrap 1,200 jobs.

"But at the same time, these are violent acts carried out by a minority of workers and they should not be the focus of all of our attention, which should instead be directed at the future of Continental," he told France Inter radio.

Continental announced the closure of its factory in Clairoix, north of Paris in March, the biggest single closure announced so far in France, and workers have been been waging a vocal campaign to save their jobs.

The plight of the Continental workers and the wave of "boss-nappings" have raised alarm over spiralling social unrest in France, which looks set to sink deeper into recession in the coming months.

Fillon said the economy would shrink by 2.5 percent in 2009, revising the government’s previous forecast of a 1.5 percent fall, which had been viewed by independent economists as optimistic.

"It’s unacceptable to target a government building because you’re angry, even if this anger is justified," budget minister Eric Woerth said separately.

"At Continental and elsewhere, managers cannot be sequestered, government buildings cannot be ransacked. The people who do such things must be held responsible," Woerth told Europe 1 radio.

Facing strong public resentment over corporate perks, Fillon also took aim at executive bonuses, charging that companies were stoking tension with "shocking" payouts to their managers.

The former boss of rescued Franco-Belgian bank Dexia, Axel Miller, walked away from his job with a 825,000-euro (one-million-dollar) severance package, according to the bank’s annual report released on Monday.

In the latest "boss-napping" incident, workers at a US-owned Molex car parts supplier in southern France held two managers captive at the plant for more than 24 hours before releasing them late Tuesday.

President Nicolas Sarkozy earlier this month said locking up company bosses in their offices was illegal and that he would not allow "matters to go on like that."

No charges have so far been brought against employees for detaining their bosses. In each case, the managers were released unharmed, and most of them agreed to new negotiations.

Sarkozy also pledged to save jobs at a factory owned by US construction giant Caterpillar, but that promise ran into trouble after union leaders rejected a proposed five-year rescue plan for the plant.

Former prime minister Dominique de Villepin this week warned that there was a "revolutionary risk" in France from the increasing number of flareups in worker anger.

More than one million demonstrators took to the streets in two days of nationwide strikes held this year and unions are gearing up for another show of force on the streets during May 1 Labour Day protests.

AFP / Expatica