Date: Sat, 25 Jan 97 09:27:23 CST
From: rich@pencil.CC.WAYNE.EDU (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Paris Workers Occupy Bank
/** 476.0 **/
** Topic: Paris Workers Occupy Bank **
** Written 8:18 AM Jan 24, 1997 by labornews in **
From: Institute for Global Communications <>

/* Written 6:24 AM Jan 20, 1997 by bi008@FREENET.TORONTO.ON.CA in igc:list.labor */
/* ---------- "Occupation of French Bank" ---------- */
From: "P. K. Murphy" <bi008@FREENET.TORONTO.ON.CA>

Hundreds of Unarmed Employees Occupy French Bank

By Lara Marlowe, Irish Times, 20 January 1997

Captors are holding the governor and six directors of the ailing Credit Foncier de France, Lara Marlowe writes from Paris

Mr Jerome Meyssonier, governor of the Credit Foncier de France (CFF), sat at the long conference table, flanked by six of the troubled bank's directors. Three heavy crystal chandeliers hung above them. The walls were covered in red and gold damask. The Place Vendome loomed beyond the high 18th-century windows, just a stone's throw from the Place de La Concorde, where aristocrats were guillotined during the French Revolution. Perhaps Mr Meyssonier and his colleagues were thinking about 1789, for there was a whiff of revolution in the air.

No, Mr Meyssonier said, he did not consider himself a hostage. Do I look like a hostage? he snapped. Did that mean he was free to go? That's another question, he answered testily.

On Friday morning, bank employees burst into a meeting of the bank's directors and announced that no one could leave until the governor came in person. Reached by telephone, Mr Meyssonier arrived shortly thereafter. More than a dozen unarmed trade unionist bodyguards have ensured that he does not escape, and he is eating and sleeping in his bank apartment.

The captors have offered to allow the governor's deputies to go in shifts to bathe and change clothes; the deputies have not yet accepted. No one but bank employees and journalists are allowed to enter the CFF headquarters. Yesterday was the third day of the occupation by several hundred bank employees, and the strain was beginning to show.

At least 1,800 of 3,300 jobs at the CFF will be lost if the plan by the Finance Minister, Mr Jean Arthuis, to cede the ailing bank to the rival Credit Immobilier is passed by the French Assembly next month. I've always been shocked to see that journalists write only about the number of jobs being lost, Mr Meyssonier complained. Why don't you write about the efforts we are making to save jobs?

The CFF was founded in 1852 under Napoleon III. The conduit for low-interest government loans to disadvantaged home buyers, it was nonetheless a private bank. CFF employees have tried to stall the liquidation of their bank since 1995 results showed z1.33 billion in losses. Over the past year, they have briefly occupied the stock exchange and two provincial government offices. They twice marched on the Elysee Palace, where they scuffled with riot police.

Last Wednesday, Mr Arthuis announced his intention to go ahead with the plan to dismantle the CFF. The employees decided it was time to take more dramatic action.

Did Mr Meyssonier feel any solidarity with his staff? I understand their worries, he said. But that doesn't justify the means they are using. Trade union leaders camping out in the bank's marblepillared central hall told The Irish Times they have contingency plans for a police assault. I have no intention of asking the police to do anything, Mr Meyssonier said. But there are limits.

Although definitive figures are not yet available, he conceded that the CFF probably made z96.4 million in profits in 1996—an argument used by his employees as proof their bank should not be dismantled. We would need at least 3 billion francs, (z361 million), Mr Meyssonier said. The bank has to be restructured. It needs capitalisation, and the government has said it will not recapitalise us.

Mattresses and clothing were piled along the walls of the bank's grand central hall, where men and women helped themselves to coffee, mineral water and sandwiches.

Mr Patrice Faucheux, a representative of the Communist CGT union, has worked for 23 years at the CFF, where he distributes mail. I'm fighting not only for my job, but for the right of French people to buy their own houses, Mr Faucheux said. The state is trying to shed responsibility for housing. That's why they want to break the CFF. The state is pulling out of all kinds of establishments with public duties. We'd be happy if our action sparked a broader movement. There's a deep social malaise in this country—even if we don't often see things like this. The trade unions have to work together to reject the fate the government is trying to impose on us.