Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Bye Bye Bengal, Hello France

The capital of militant and inflexible labour is France. The title that Bengal held in the 70s and 80s seems to have been taken over by France.

These are bad times everywhere in the world. France is not immune to the ill winds. Factory closures and job losses, are alas, everywhere. French workers have reacted to it, by contributing to a new word in the English language – "bossnapping”. Holding bosses hostage until their demands are met. What in India, is called ghereao.

Now there is a report of the workers at a failed auto supplier threatening to blow up the factory unless the supplier’s customers – Peugeot and Renault – pay € 30,000 to each worker. This is a rather unique demand. They aren’t asking their own employer, for they know that their employer does not have the money. They are asking their employer’s customers !

Losing jobs is one of the most demeaning things that can happen to anyone. The anger is understandable. But the reaction will harm France for a generation to come. That’s what happened to Bengal. Bengal has become associated with “difficult labour” because of what happened in the 70s and 80s. Its no longer true of course – the Bengali worker of today is as hardworking, committed, and non militant as any other , if not more. In the service industry today, Calcutta is a very attractive destination – wage levels are a tad lower, commitment is high and attrition rates are amongst the lowest. And yet the image of “difficult labour” has stayed, however unfair it may be. And it won’t go away that easily for a generation or more. Bengal, the pride of India, now lags behind economically.

This is the problem for France. However huge a country it may be, it cannot stand in isolation. It needs the rest of the world to come, invest, create jobs, etc etc. But that won’t happen if the French worker is considered synonymous with laziness and militancy. This is absolutely untrue. But the image is becoming one of that. And images, unfortunately, matter.


A journey called Life said...

desperate times lead to (even more) desperate measures.. and image is defnitely not on their minds..
but what u r saying is also right, impressions are formed quick and stick even quicker and fail to wear off for a long long time

Anonymous said...

As they say "Your reputation precedes you" and once stuck with a negative reputation, it is tough to make it look impeccable again.
In a world where most corporates are concerned about their profits, the workers see a need for taking things into their own hands - after all somebody should be bringing the bread to the table, clothe the family and put kids through school. I am not justifying their actions - its just that we are not in the same boat as them.

Ajay said...

You are right about the image the French are earning themselves. I was in Belgium on student exchange in Nov-Dec 2007 and more than half the number of times when we had to go out over the weekend the SNCF (French railways) would be on strike. I was beginning to get the impression that they are almost always on a strike. The experience with the French bureaucracy of my batchmates who were in France was no different. Paperword would take ages to get done. They got their residnce permits when they were almost about to head back to India.

Ramesh said...

@AJCL - its very tough times in most pasrts of the world and yet the French reaction has been different.

@thoughtful train - Of course its a kick in the gut when you get laid off; can completely understand the frustrations ; hence my "leftist" leaning posts on layoffs (see under categories). But bossnapping and threatening to blow up the factory won't solve anything.

@Ajay - Yes the French bureaucracy is legendary, but in the private sector, they work as hard as anybodyelse, except in August when everybody goes on leave.

Adesh Sidhu said...

This situation is bad.
And it spells lot of trouble for Sarkozy as he promised lot jobs and riches to his people. But recession spoilt his big bang plans.

Hansjoerg Siber said...


I am delighted to read your view on West Bengal, you know I am advocating Calcutta as a service location already since 2006. In terms of France you should be not to harsh on them, they are emotional people these things are not lasting for long mostly only until dinner. I would be worried in Germany there it could get really serious.

Ramesh said...

@Adesh - Now Sarkozy is claiming form the rooftop that the French model is much better than the Anglo Saxon one !!

@Hansjoerg - Ha Ha. You caught me ! I am still not a convert to Calcutta !!

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