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Wednesday, April 28, 2010


For those that have traveled to France or at least studied a decent amount about the culture would probably be aware that people like to strike here a lot. Though I could break this down in another entry (which I probably will), one of the reasons that so many people protest here is because it often works. Over the course of time, many corrupt monarchies that have allowed the vast majority of the populace to suffer and starve gave way to a very angry and rebellious population, which culminated in that famous Revolution of 1789 (yes the one with guillotines). Since then, the French have had numerous uprisings, including 1830, 1832, 1848, 1871, and 1968. The people here are not afraid to use force to get what they want.

Stemming from this, a curious tactic has come to the forefront in the business world. If you've been laid off from work and feel that you have been wronged or feel that you deserve a better severance package, why don't you and your other terminated colleagues kidnap your boss?

In early 2009, this becoming something that I saw in the news pretty frequently. A good example would be the "bossnapping" conducted at Caterpillar, Inc.'s plant in Grenoble last April. When Caterpillar announced that it planned to lay off 733 workers at its two plants in Grenoble, the unions demanded talks over the severance package that would be given to the newly fired employees. Although Caterpillar agreed to increase their severance from 37 to 47 million euros, the employees still felt that it wasn't enough. On March 30th, the employees went on strike and the next day, the bosses began their 24 hours in captivity at the mercy of their former employees. The managers were allowed to call their families to let them know that they were alright. Most spent the night sleeping on the floor in their offices. By the morning of the 1st of April, the managers agreed upon a 10 day schedule of meetings over the severance packages, and in addition, agreed to pay the employees their wages for the days on which they were striking. They were released, and no charges were filed.

In what other country would this actually work other than France? I cannot think of a country in the world where this practice is legal and would spare jail time for the abductors. It is technically illegal in France as well, but according to Jérôme Pélisse, a sociologist, it is way for the employees' voices to be heard (Wall Street Journal, "In France, the Bosses Can Become Hostages"). Furthermore, the police are afraid that by arresting the employees, they could further antagonize those that have been wronged. The French have sympathy for those that take their issues to the public to make the injustice they have suffered known to the populace. There was even an occasion in 2001 where a protest in Aveyron led to the burning of a McDonald's which was under construction, and as would be the norm in most countries, the man claiming responsibility was arrested. Soon after, people were outraged and threatened to cause more damage, so the police decided to let the detained José Bové go, having served just 44 days in prison. Last year, Bové was elected as a member of the European Parliament.

When bossnapping, there seems to be an unwritten code of conduct. The police will let things be as long as the captive is treated humanely. In another instance, a kidnapped boss was treated to mussels and fries while his office was barricaded shut by his former and current employees. The purpose isn't to harm the former boss, it is to make them realize the magnitude of suffering that they are causing their formerly loyal workers. It is to show them their perspective. The police may wait outside the building to be on hand in case things do get out of control, but they don't want to step in it as this could further anger the workers. Once an agreement is reached, the captive is set free, unharmed, and almost everyone goes home with a sense of satisfaction, except for the managers, who will probably have to give away more money and funding for re-training to keep their former employees content.

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