How to protest at work the French way – take the boss hostage

Head of Sony France released after night locked in factory by sacked workers
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The Independent Online

In industrial disputes in other countries, the bosses lock the workers out. In France, disgruntled workers lock their bosses in.

The head of the Sony corporation in France was held overnight in an electronics plant in south-west France yesterday by workers protesting against their redundancy terms.

The workers blocked exits from the factory with the trunks and branches of trees and forced the chief executive of Sony France, Serge Foucher, and the company's head of human resources, Roland Bentz, to spend the night in a conference room. Hostage taking? Industrial terrorism? Not in France. The "sequestration" of bosses has been a common tactic by French workers for several years. It is unusual, however, for the "prisoner" to be someone as senior as the national chief of a company as large as Sony.

The incident, at Pontonx-sur-l'Adour in the Landes, south of Bordeaux, caused a stir among the international media but provoked hardly any reaction in France. No attempt was made by the gendarmerie to break into the factory to release M. Foucher. Relations within the factory during the night were reported by both sides to have been "good humoured" and "perfectly friendly".

The "hostages" were released peacefully yesterday morning after Sony agreed to further talks, brokered by the local office of the employment ministry and the local prefect, or senior national government representative. When M. Foucher emerged to enter a mini-bus to take him to the new talks, he passed through two lines of silent workers.

Sony announced in December plans to cut 8,000 jobs, or 4 per cent of its workforce, worldwide. The cuts include the closure of the Pontonx-sur-l'Adour factory next month with the loss of 311 jobs.

Workers representatives claim that the redundancy terms offered fall far short of severance packages previously offered to Sony workers in France. Chantal Omiciuolo, 50, who has worked at the factory for more than a decade, said: "Refusing to let the chief executive leave was our last chance. We didn't have any other choice."

Patrick Hachaguer, the factory representative for the Confédération Génerale du Travail (CGT) trade union, said: "We are not demanding a gold mine. We just want to be treated exactly the same as other Sony workers in France when they were laid off."

The factory – one of two remaining Sony plants in France – makes magnetic tape and other recording equipment.

In the most prolonged recent example of "sequestration", two senior executives of the Kleber company, belonging to the Michelin corporation, were barricaded into a plant at Toul in Meurthe-et-Moselle for five days last year.