French boss barricaded in office by employees

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Striking French workers at the US manufacturer 3M held their boss hostage amid labour talks yesterday at a plant south of Paris, as anger over layoffs and cutbacks mounted around the country.

While the situation at the 3M plant outside Pithiviers was calm, worker rage elsewhere boiled over into an angry march on the presidential palace in Paris and a bonfire of tyres set alight by Continental AG employees whose car parts factory was being shut down.

While France has a long tradition of labour unrest, the latest wave of hostage-takings, marches and strikes has echoed across Europe, as the global slowdown fans job fears and leaves many workers sceptical of their leaders' ability to solve the crisis. The French division of 3M – a diversified US manufacturer known for Post-it notes and Scotch tape – recently announced lay-offs and job transfers among its 2,700 workers at 13 French sites. Among those targeted are 110 of the Pithiviers factory's 235 workers.

A few dozen workers at Pithiviers took turns standing guard outside factory offices where the director of 3M's French operations, Luc Rousselet, has been holed up since Tuesday. The workers did not threaten any violence. A few police officers stood outside, while workers inside exchanged jokes and worries about their future amid heaps of empty plastic coffee cups. Talks among 3M workers and management resumed yesterday mediated by a local labour official. M. Rousselet was not taking part. Workers want better severance packages for those being laid off and better conditions for those keeping their jobs. In France, it is not unheard of for striking workers to hold company executives as a way of winning concessions from management. The hostages are almost never injured. A similar situation ended peacefully earlier this month at Sony's French facilities.

"We don't have any other ammunition" other than hostage-taking, said one worker, Laurent Joly. The 3M workers at Pithiviers have been on strike since last Friday.