French Workers Hold Boss Hostage

Angry 3M workers take extreme measures to negotiate severance benefits.

ByABC News
March 25, 2009, 1:28 PM

PARIS, March 25, 2009— -- About 150 striking employees of U.S. pharmaceutical company 3M in Pithiviers, south of Paris, are holding a company executive hostage today as they negotiate job severance benefits and French laborers protest widespread job losses.

French TV showed 3M's director of French operations, Luc Rousselet, locked up alone in an office, in front of his computer, talking on the phone and eating.

He told France 2 TV through the half-open door of the office that "it's going very well." A group of employees could be seen killing time in front of the office, playing cards, reading newspapers and talking.

Rousselet slept for a few hours on a flattened cardboard box after the negotiations broke off at 3 a.m. this morning. Groups of 20 employees took turns in keeping an eye on their hostage.

Besides taking the boss hostage, French workers burned tires and marched on the presidential palace today in anger over growing layoffs and economic instability.

"When workers have a grievance in revolutionary France, the laws of the republic are suspended," Ted Stanger, a U.S. journalist living in Paris who has written numerous books on the French, told "They can kidnap, they can virtually do what they want, and the police will not intervene, because it's considered that workers have all the rights. So, that explains why they can presume to hold somebody hostage when in any other part of the world it's considered a terrorist act."

At 3M, Rousselet said the employees took him hostage after he rejected what he described as a last-minute demand from the unions -- payment for days employees were out on strike.

"This is something they put on the table at the last minute," he told France Info radio this morning. "One has to assume his responsibilities. It's also unfair for people who did not go on strike. My personal case is not dramatic, to spend a night in an office. I think people who are affected by this restructuring plan are certainly to be more pitied. So, I understand the distress of the people."