When Morrie Taylor visited a Goodyear factory in north Amiens, France, he couldn’t believe what he saw: “The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours,” the CEO of Titan TWI -2.45% International wrote to French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg earlier this month. “They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three.”
The letter, dated February 8, was leaked to the French newspaper Les Echos this week, apparently by the government. The French unions have denounced it as gravely insulting, and so on. Mr. Taylor is unrepentant.
Mr. Taylor built Titan from scratch into the world’s largest maker of steel wheels and tires for farming and off-road use. And when Goodyear wanted to sell the factory in North Amiens, Titan was the only company that bid. But the factory is dominated by the hard-left CGT union, which Mr. Taylor, not without reason, calls “the communist union.”
Mr. Taylor was the only thing standing between the plant and full closure, with the ensuing loss of 1,500 jobs at that plant and another, also owned by Goodyear, across the road. But when he tried to suggest that the plant’s productivity needed to improve to keep it open, the union president said, according to Mr. Taylor, “This is the French way.” Mr. Taylor told us over the phone that he responded, “Sitting in a cafe is also the French way, and that’s what you’ll be doing soon” if this plant closes.
Mr. Taylor also said that the union bosses told him, “You have to do what we tell you, or we won’t let you buy it [the factory.]”
“So I told them, you guys go bag it,” Mr. Taylor told us.
The trouble with these French factories, Mr. Taylor added, is that once you own one, “You can’t do anything about it, because you can’t fire anybody, you can’t discipline anybody, because that’s against the credo.” Mr. Taylor told us that at least some of the union bosses agreed with him that the situation was out of control at that plant. Alas, it also isn’t the French way to speak out against the most militant of your fellow unionists.
So Mr. Taylor walked. That prompted Mr. Montebourg in January to beseech Mr. Taylor to return to the table. According to Mr. Taylor, the Industry Minister promised to “put his weight behind” getting a mutually agreeable deal with the unions.
And that’s where Mr. Taylor’s February 8 letter comes in.
“Sir,” he wrote, “your letter states that you want Titan to start a discussion. How stupid do you think we are? Titan is the one with the money and the talent to produce tires. What does the crazy union have? It has the French government.”
Mr. Montebourg’s full title is “Minister of Industrial Renewal,” but hardly a month seems to pass without another story about a plant shutting down, or Mr. Montebourg threatening a CEO for threatening to shut down a plant, or begging a CEO (sometimes the same one) to stay in France. If there were truth in advertising laws in politics, he might well have to rebrand himself as the Minister for Industrial Decline.
This article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.