“French law says if you want to put all these workers on the dole, you have to have a good reason,” says Fiodor Rilov, the CGT union’s lawyer. “This may be an American company, with a headquarters in the US but they are operating on French soil and they have to respect our social rules.” […]The workers see their conflict in epic terms. Footage of past demonstrations features piles of burning tyres, huge banners and dramatic headgear. Some protesters sport helmets with horns on them—as in the French cartoon Asterix about a plucky Gaulish village defending itself against brutish Roman invaders.
The CEO of the company to which Goodyear tried to sell the factory pithily encapsulated part of the problem (as he sees it):
“The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three, and work for three. I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that’s the French way!”
To be sure, this is more than just a case of a hard-working American company dealing with a bunch of lazy Frenchmen. Both Goodyear and its employees in Amiens are dealing with the decline of the manufacturing sector in France. Neither has had much time to come to terms with this phenomenon, and it’s hardly shocking that workers would resist the erosion of their industry in every way they can. The livelihoods of both company and workers are at stake, and no one quite knows how to keep the worst from happening.That said, France’s labor unions and judicial system cannot protect workers indefinitely from the day of reckoning. The forces of capitalism and technological progress will overwhelm “respect” for France’s “social rules” sooner rather than later. The longer and harder France tries to resist this tidal wave, the worse things are going to get. Americans and others will think better of investing in France and employing its heavily unionized, underproductive workers, weakening the country’s economy and labor force and making a badly needed recovery that much harder to achieve.The collapse of the blue model is global, and the pain is being spread far and wide.[Map of France image courtesy of Shutterstock]