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French police free hostages from Goodyear plant

French police have secured the release of two managers held hostage by trade unionists at a Goodyear tyre plant in France, a union representative told CNBC on Tuesday.

Since Monday morning, the production and human resources directors of Goodyear Amiens Nord, Michel Dheilly and Bernand Glesser, have been barricaded in the factory by employees, led by the left-wing union CGT.

(Read more: Angry workers use tires to barricade bosses inside Goodyear factory in France)

The incident is the latest in a series of flare-ups since the Ohio-based tire giant said last year it planned to close the 1,250-worker plant in Amiens by the end of 2014.

The dispute has its roots in a 2008 conflict between the management of the Amiens Nord plant and its employees over plans to reorganize working hours to save 402 jobs

While its sister facility, Amiens Sud, readily agreed to the change, Amiens Nord rejected the proposals. Since then, unions and management have been embroiled in a bitter legal battle.


Dialog between the two sides continued to worsen, with restructuring plans from Goodyear continuallyrejected. Even government intervention into the negotiations were unable to cool down tempers. Then on January 31 2013, Goodyear announced that it would close the whole plant, cutting 1,173 jobs in the process.

Not even the potential buy-out of Goodyear's agricultural business by Titan in 2010 was able to cool down the dispute, and the American giant reneged on its offer to buy the factory, saying unions had become cut-off from reality.

Titan's outspoken CEO, Maurice Taylor, sparked a debate in France when, in February 2013, he sent a letter to the French minister of Industrial Renewal, Arnaud Montebourg, to explain why Titan would not buy the plant after all.

"The French workforce gets paid high wages but work only three hours", he wrote before adding that French workers "get one hour for breaks and lunch, they talk for three and work for three", and concluded with: "You can keep the so-called workers. Titan has no interest in the Amiens North factory".

But the plot twisted again, when later in the year, Arnaud Montebourg announced that Titan might still be interested in acquiring the plant after all, despite Goodyear maintaining they had received no new offer.

(Read more: A Tale of Two Frances in 'Lazy' Tire Worker Town)

However, the new proposal continued to irk unions, as Montebourg had mentioned that it would allow 333 to be saved, a figure that had been downwardly-revised from Titan's initial 537.


On January 6, union representatives were supposed to meet with management, but Franck Jureck, assistant secretary for the plant's CGT union explained that "the whole weekend staff" (about 200 people), turned up to "try to put pressure on management", which resulted in the two men being confined.

The union rationalised its move with a letter posted on its blog entitled "J'accuse" (I accuse), a potent phrase in France since the 1898 Emile Zola campaign to free French army officer, Alfred Dreyfus.

In its posting, the CGT affirms that "since January 2013, we are the witness of a genuine conspiracy" in which the Hollande government is the "conductor and the other actors play the music, Goodyear, Titan and the judges are all agreement".

They argue that effort has been made to block the employees' every attempt to access key information and their legal cases were unfairly dismissed.

"We accuse the government to help the closure of our factory, to help the shameful buy-back and to pressurize the Justice system so that the decisions taken are in total contradiction to labor rights", it writes, threatening the government with demonstrations.

The workers at Amiens Nord have resigned themselves from ever keeping their jobs, instead they want management to improve on one of its previous offers and give severance packages of up to 180,000 euros ($245,000). They also want access to job re-training benefits for 24 months rather than the 15 currently proposed.

(Read more: Titan-ic U-turn? Speculation rises over French tire plant)

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