Pay us off or we blow up the plant, say French workers

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The Independent Online

Kidnapping bosses is no longer in vogue in France. The new publicity-seeking trend among redundancy-threatened workers is to threaten to blow up their own factory.

Almost 500 employees of the insolvent Canadian-owned telecommunications company Nortel warned this week that they would detonate 12 large gas cylinders at their plant in Châteaufort, west of Paris, unless they each received €100,000 in redundancy pay.

Last Sunday, 366 employees of New Fabris, a bankrupt car parts plant at Chatellerault in central France, threatened to detonate gas cylinders in their factory unless they each received €30,000 in redundancy pay by the end of the month.

The Nortel threat was withdrawn yesterday. The menace hanging over the New Fabris factory remains.

Earlier this year, there was a rash of "boss-nappings" by French workers: the seizure overnight, or for a couple of days, of executives in an attempt to improve redundancy terms. The incidents became so common that they ceased to command media attention.

The threat to blow up factories is an imitation of a successful protest by workers at the Cellatex textile plant at Givet in the French Ardennes nine years ago. After threatening to pollute rivers and explode their plant, the 153 Cellatex workers won a year's redundancy pay. The episode was immortalised in a French TV movie, Jusqu'au Bout (To the very end) in 2005.

Workers at Nortel France SA in Châteaufort, declared insolvent like the parent company in May, announced yesterday that the explosion threat has been withdrawn.

"We have got the media coverage we wanted. The gas cylinders were a symbolic act to show that we had been pushed to the limit," said Christian Berenbach, the local representative of the moderate trades union federation the CFTC. "We are not terrorists or bandits, just the victim of a... financial scandal."

The workers said that they had been promised negotiations last night with French and British representatives of the receivers dealing with Nortel.

Workers at the New Fabris plant at Chatellerault are maintaining their explosion threat. They insist that the company's two main clients, the French car giants Peugeot-Citroë*and Renault, should underwrite €30,000 of redundancy pay for each worker.