A string of "bossnappings" by French workers angry over layoffs show President Nicolas Sarkozy has misjudged the level of anger in the country, the leader of France's biggest union said Friday.
"There has not been a fundamental recognition of labour discontent," said Bernard Thibault, leader of the CGT.
Sarkozy's rightwing government "has played down up until now the level of discontent and the mobilisation" among French workers, he told RTL radio.
Workers at a Faurecia car parts factory southwest of Paris on Thursday held three managers captive for five hours to press for better layoff packages for 360 workers.
It was the latest in a string of such incidents in France and Sarkozy this week vowed to take action to put an end to the practice.
"I can't say I'm surprised that workers are resorting to these types of spectacular actions," said Thibault, adding that employees were looking to draw media attention to their plight.
"They have to do something to draw the television cameras and be heard," he said. Detaining factory managers is a labour negotiating tactic, Thibault said. "You can't compare it to a hostage taking."
No charges have been laid against any of the employees who have detained their bosses over the past weeks. In each case, the managers were released unharmed and most of them agreed to hold fresh negotiations.
"I understand them and I will defend them as long as these actions do not result in any physical harm to managers," said Thibault.
Striking French workers at gas and electricity giants GDF and EDF have also cut supplies to homes and businesses. Thibault said the cutoffs were also "union actions" approved by a majority of workers.
Sarkozy this week said authorities were ready to clamp down on the tactic, saying workers angry over losing their jobs must nevertheless obey the law.
"What is this business of sequestering people? We have the rule of law, and I will not let matters go on like that," Sarkozy said.
Polls show that up to half of French people believe workers are justified in taking executives captive to seek better redundancy packages during the economic crisis.
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