FRANCE: TAKING MANAGEMENT HOSTAGE
Several hundred employees at a Caterpillar Inc. office in Grenoble, France held four managers (including the head of operations) captive for several hours March 31 before police forced the workers to release them. This is the third example of workers holding management hostage in France in the past three weeks. On March 25, employees of a 3M plant held their country operations director for over 24 hours in protest of severance packages for laid-off staff. And workers used tree trunks to barricade a facility where Sony France CEO Serge Foucher was held captive in a meeting room for 18 hours March 12 and 13.
French workers have a reputation for going to great lengths to protest layoffs and plant closures, and the tactic of taking managers hostage has been used before. At least three other similar hostage situations occurred in France in 2008. Recent hostage incidents have lasted as long as 24 hours. In 2008, however, two executives of a machine parts manufacturer were held for five days at a French factory. Police tend to avoid getting too involved in such incidents, usually opting to monitor the situation rather than break them up.
In each case, the layoffs and plant closures were at the heart of the dispute, and the executive or manager (often visiting from headquarters) was held to publicize the event and pressure the parent company to enter talks with workers. Negotiations did in fact resumed between labor and management following each hostage incident.
Similar incidents have occurred in China and India over the past months. In March of 2009, executives of a Western firm operating in China were detained for several days during a meeting over layoffs at the company. In an extreme case, Indian workers at an auto parts factory outside New Delhi owned by Italian automotive firm Graziano beat an Indian company executive to death Sept. 30 after being laid off two months earlier. While physical harm to executives is rare (none has occurred in France), the hostages of often very angry and desperate workers are at risk.
In November, STRATFOR pointed out that a contracting global economy that has seen layoffs, plant closures and security budget cuts worldwide has laid the conditions for increased workplace violence. With the recession still going and more layoffs expected, incidents such as the one today can be expected to continue. Additionally, if police allow such actions to take place unmolested and the tactic prompts management to negotiate with workers, this will only create an incentive for other aggrieved workers to carry out similar hostage takings.
Copyright 2009 Stratfor.