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An American capitalist-running-dog vs. the lazy French

February 20, 2013|By Paul Whitefield
  • Goodyear workers in France protest the planned shuttering of a tire plant in Amiens.
Goodyear workers in France protest the planned shuttering of a tire plant… (Patrick Kovarik / AFG/Getty…)

Mon dieu!

C’est la vie.

There. I imagine that will about cover France’s reaction to U.S. tire magnate Maurice "Morry" Taylor Jr.’s scathing criticism of French workers.

In case you missed it, Taylor, head of Titan International, minced no words when responding to Arnaud Montebourg, France's minister for industrial renewal, who had suggested that Titan might want to take over an ailing Goodyear tire factory in Amiens.

In a letter to Montebourg, he said:

"Sir, your letter suggests you would like to open discussions with Titan. How stupid do you think we are?

Which is, of course, both insulting and a bad rhetorical gambit, because we already know how stupid the French think we are. Heck, they think everyone who isn’t French is stupid. 

Now, that opening line was probably all Monsieur Montebourg needed to read. But Taylor was just getting started. Describing what he had seen during several visits to the Goodyear plant in Amiens, he stuck to his born-in-the-USA-I’m-a-Republican-who-hates-unions guns:

"The French workers are paid high wages but only work three hours. They have one hour for their lunch, they talk for three hours and they work for three hours. I told this to their union leaders directly; they replied, that is the way it is in France.”

Personally, I think that’s just a dumb thing to say. In my visits to France, for example, lunch hour was a misnomer: It usually ran from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., or thereabouts. But can you blame them? You try eating a cheese plate or a salade, a warm, fresh baguette, perhaps a nice filet of sole and a fruit plate, washed down with a bottle of Bordeaux, in an hour.

Taylor is not without solutions, though. He offered this GOP-inspired union-busting tactic -- the old slave labor dodge:

“Titan has money and the know-how to produce tires. What does the crazy union have? It has the French government. The French farmer wants cheap tires. He doesn't care if those tires come from China or India or if those tires are subsidized.

"Titan is going to buy Chinese or Indian tires, pay less than one euro an hour to workers and export all the tires France needs."

There you go: the American way! Treat your workers badly and, if they complain, ship their jobs overseas, where you can treat those workers even worse. All so someone can pay $89 instead of $99 for a tire.

Of course, it’s hard to argue with capitalism. The French tire plant is ailing, and 1,173 jobs are at risk.  And Goodyear has blamed union intransigence for the problems there.

But wouldn’t it be nice if there were a middle ground? Isn’t there a way to have decent jobs at decent pay and produce products at a price folks can afford?

Henry Ford’s great idea, in part, was to make his Model T inexpensive enough and pay his workers well enough so they could buy one.

It worked then. Surely it could work now? And maybe even in France.  

Although that lunch hour thing may be a stumbling block.

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