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Enraged About Corporate Greed? Kidnap Your Boss

The French have taken to bossnapping -- "sequestering" their bosses while keeping them comfortable and safe -- to protest economic unfairness.

In answer to their own economic crisis, the French have taken up "bossnapping."

Here's how it works: An executive of a company, perhaps the CEO, stands before a group of his employees, puts his hands together, sighs, and then, with regret as smooth as brie, explains the fact that downsizing is needed to meet the exigencies of economic crisis (read: the preservation of profits in downturn).

The employees get pissed off -- and bum-rush the boss. They trap him in his office, barricade the door, feed him espresso and baguette, and demand a fair deal.It's a sort of soft-touch storming of the Bastille.

And lo, it works. A few weeks back, this happened at the FM Logistics Co. in Woippy, France, as 125 workers charged into a meeting of five company managers and held the poor creatures hostage for a day. At least 475 workers at FM Logistics, which is owned by Hewlett-Packard Co., were facing the specter of "redundancy" as HP sought to move its printer packaging operations to the cheaper labor pool in Malaysia.

By midnight, the company had turned tail, promising "new proposals on redundancy talks," according to Reuters. The news service quoted one of the bossnappers: "We've had enough. We have been negotiating for a year, if you can call it negotiating, and we haven't managed to make ourselves heard."

  • At 3M's pharmaceutical factory in Pithiviers, 50 miles from Paris, workers exploded upon hearing that 110 of them were to lose jobs. They surrounded the manager and forced him into his office, where he was held hostage for 24 hours until 3M agreed to resume negotiations.
  • The president of Sony France in March was locked in his office by employees who barricaded the doors and windows with tree trunks.
  • Angry factory workers at the Caterpillar plant in Grenoble took four managers hostage on April Fool's Day.

In the last month across France, at least a dozen such incidents have been reported, with no less than five CEOs of major corporations held in what the French are calling, with typical delicate aplomb, "sequestration." In each case, the sequestered bosses have been well-fed and well-treated -- though sometimes, alas, forced to sleep on the floor.

I called my family in France -- my ex lives in Paris with our daughter -- to get the home-fire take on these outrages.

"Most people are for it," my ex told me. "Because of les inegalites" -- the inequalities of the rich doing well as the rest of the country immolates.

I e-mailed her sister-in-law, a schoolteacher, who wrote back, "These bossnappings seem to be peaceful most of the time, and I'm not so shocked. Workers are totally desperate, and I don't blame them for wanting to be heard, as long as no one is hurt." (She also noted that she personally knows a company boss in the south of France who has taken to keeping a bedroll and extra food in his office, just in case.)

A poll this month found that 45 percent of French agree with the practice of bossnapping, while only 7 percent condemned it. A second poll found that 55 percent of French believe that "radical protest" under the current circumstances was justified, while 64 percent said that bossnapping should be depenalized. And perhaps most compelling is that authorities are listening: In most cases, they are declining to prosecute the bossnappers.

It's lovely to behold all this, and even lovelier to think my daughter is growing up weaned on the grand French tradition of raising hell. The habit goes back to the revolution -- its call signs, Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite -- to the Paris commune, the resistance, the Soisante-Huitards toppling the republic.