- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

PARIS | Proud of their revolutionary heritage, the French have found a creative way to vent their wrath at the economic crisis and the business establishment they blame. They are locking up their bosses.

In recent weeks, disgruntled workers have confined managers and proprietors at a half-dozen plants across the country to protest the shrinking economy and rising unemployment.

On Thursday, about 125 employees of FM Logistic in northeastern France barged into a meeting and took five managers hostage.

As evening approached, they let go two female executives with small children and kept the other three. Workers said they are angry after a year of fruitless restructuring talks.

In many cases, boss-napping has paid off.

Last week, factory workers in southeastern France released three executives from the British-owned adhesives factory Scapa after management reportedly agreed on a $2.5 million severance package for several dozen laid-off staff members.

“We kept them, but they ate well. It was pleasant,” Christophe Bougret, a member of the CGT trade union, told Le Point weekly. Other reports quoting the executives described a hostage experience that was not so merry.

The boss-nappings have drawn a sharp response from French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“What is this business of sequestering people?” he asked in a recent speech. “We have the rule of law, and I will not let matters go on like that.”

Still, many French appear to support or at least understand the sequestrations. A survey by the CSA polling agency found that 45 percent of French think the practice is acceptable. An IFOP poll found that 30 percent of those surveyed backed boss-nappings, while more than 60 percent understood them. Only 7 percent condemned the practice.

“You have to put this in context of the crisis of factory shutdowns, the strong hike in unemployment that we have witnessed these last months,” along with reports of golden parachutes and executive bonuses that have enraged many French, said Jerome Fourquet, deputy director of public opinion studies at IFOP.

Strolling in downtown Paris on a sunny spring evening, one resident who would give only his first name, Thomas, said he fell into the “understand but disapprove” category on the boss holdups.

“Violence sparks violence,” Thomas said. “Unfortunately, many French have not read Gandhi,” the legendary Indian independence leader who preached and practiced nonviolent protest.

Emanuel Miranda, 22, was even less sympathetic. “I have a more American approach. I don’t think kidnappings are the right solution. Businesses don’t really have a choice about this economic crisis,” said Mr. Miranda, who said he has been hunting fruitlessly for a job.

The boss-nappings are the latest twist in a proud French tradition of protest that includes the storming of the Bastille in 1789.

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