An American industrialist has kicked up a firestorm in France for refusing to save an ailing French tyre maker on the ground that its “so-called workers” are lazy and only at their posts for three hours a day.
In an incendiary letter, Maurice Taylor, boss of the US firm Titan, told the French Industry Minister, Arnaud Montebourg, that he had visited the struggling Goodyear factory in Amiens, where he said “the French workforce get paid high wages but only works three hours”.
Mr Taylor added that the workers “get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three”. When he discussed this with representatives of the “crazy” French union, they told him “it’s the French way”.
“How stupid do you think we are?” Mr Taylor asked, ending his letter by telling Mr Montebourg: “You can keep the so-called workers.”
Mr Montebourg did not immediately respond, saying he did not wish to harm French interests. But aides said he would reply to Mr Taylor, also known as “the Grizz”.
The Goodyear factory in Normandy has been threatened with closure since January, with the predicted loss of 1,173 jobs, after five years of negotiations. Mr Taylor had been called in to assess whether Titan might take over production of agricultural tyres at the loss-making plant.
Union leaders at the Normandy plant were nonplussed. Mickael Wamen, a spokesman for the CGT, described Mr Taylor as “closer to the lunatic asylum than able to hold the reins of a multinational company” and called his letter a “total insult”. Mr Wamen also threatened legal action against Titan.
Some conservative lawmakers suggested that the letter was a deliberate attempt to sabotage the French economy by the flamboyant Mr Taylor and said that the business daily Les Echos had fallen into a trap by publishing it.
The letter has also sparked a fresh debate on the issue of French competitiveness, at a time when the Socialist government is accused of stifling the profit motive by introducing a 75 per cent tax on millionaires. French sociologists in Amiens condemned the caricature of the French work ethic as depicted by Mr Taylor. “He’s prejudiced. It shows bad faith,” said Laurence Proteau, from Amiens University, who pointed out that the workload in France had risen rather than diminished. She also took issue with Mr Taylor’s assertion that the French workers were highly paid. “It’s tough for workers to make ends meet on €1,000 to €1,300 (£870 to £1,135) per month in full-time jobs,” she said.
Another Amiens expert on the French labour market, Pascal de Poorter, noted that a recent study by Dominique Méda concluded that France was one of the countries in Europe where attachment to work was the highest.
Productivity statistics also highlight French competitiveness despite a 35-hour working week. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, considering the gross domestic product per hour worked, in 2011 the French came in at $57.7, ahead of Germans at $55.8, and British workers at $47.2. US workers were just ahead of the French at $60.2.
Mr Taylor also said Barack Obama’s administration was “not much better than the French”.