France’s economy, the second largest in the EuroZone, has been getting deeper into trouble in recent months. Unemployment is almost equal to the record level of 3.195 million people out of work and able to work last reached in 1997 and worse still the spending power of typical French households fell in late 2012 for the first time since 1984.
Little wonder then that the small greetings card company Edit66 based in the southern French city of Cabestany is facing mounting financial difficulties. Dutch owner Mercurius decided that staff cuts were necessary and prepared the workforce for the inevitable redundancies. The company employed upwards of 60 people in the 1990’s which steadily declined to 37 more recently of which 19 were to be dismissed for lack of enough work to do.
However, trouble began Friday (29 Apr. 2013) when the management told those to be laid off that they would not be given their severance payments agreed earlier “as there is no money”. So in typical Gallic fashion the workers took matters into their own hands and promptly protested by taking the company bosses Paul Denis and Merthus Bezemer hostage.
Danielle Casanovas, from the company’s works council said the two men were being allowed to freely move within the company premises. The town’s socialist mayor Jean Vila said he also backed the action taken by the sacked workers (how very French and civilized all at the same time).
“I find it immoral,” he told journalists. “There are laws in France and they have to be respected.”
Protest in France is a feature of life, but is much more prevalent where the local politicians hold several elected offices and are at risk of losing everything. The French public know this to be the case and will when pushed use the system against itself to get a “fair” outcome as they see it. Its not a bad way of going about things, its just different (and can be extremely frustrating if caught-up in a protest and you don’t know whats actually going on). The way the French protest is symptomatic of a populace at ease with itself, sure of what it deserves and expects from life in general but never-the-less accepting of the hierarchical, elitist government system in place.
I wish the protesters well, but my instincts are that they will lose their jobs and not be paid what was agreed initially, perhaps a bit less but I still wouldn’t bet against them.