From the New York Times:
PARIS — “How stupid do you think we are?”
With those choice words, and several more similar in tone, the chief executive of an American tire company touched off a furor in France on Wednesday as he responded to a government plea to take over a Goodyear factory slated for closing in northern France.
“I have visited the factory a couple of times,” Maurice Taylor Jr., the head of Titan International, wrote to the country’s industry minister, Arnaud Montebourg, in a letter published in French newspapers on Wednesday.
“The French work force gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They have one hour for their breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three.”
“I told this to the French unions to their faces and they told me, ‘That’s the French way!’ ” added Mr. Taylor, a swaggering businessman who is nicknamed “the Grizz” by Wall Street analysts for his abrasive negotiating style.
His decidedly undiplomatic assessment quickly struck a nerve in France, where concerns about declining competitiveness and the divisive tax policies of President François Hollande’s government have led some economists to ask whether the nation is at risk of becoming the next sick man of Europe.
Mr. Montebourg, who is known for lashing out at French corporate bosses without hesitation, initially seemed at a loss for words on how to respond to the American charge.
“I do not want to harm French interests,” he said when asked about Mr. Taylor’s letter. Later, Mr. Montebourg released a letter to Mr. Taylor, calling the executive’s comments “extreme” and “insulting,” adding that they pointed to a “perfect ignorance” about France and its strengths, which continue to attract international investors.
French media outlets minced no words. “Incendiary!” “Insulting!” and “Scathing!” were just a few of the terms replayed on French newspaper Web sites and on the airwaves throughout the day. The French blogosphere lit up with hundreds of remarks condemning the “predatory” American corporate culture that Mr. Taylor seemed to represent; other commentators who ventured to admit that there might be something to Mr. Taylor’s observations were promptly bashed.
And from the Sydney Morning Herald:
….The communist-backed CGT union, France’s largest, strongly opposed a Titan takeover last year. Mr Montebourg had hoped to rekindle the company’s interest but admitted defeat this month.
”Sir, your letter says you want Titan to start a discussion,” Mr Taylor said. ”How stupid do you think we are? Titan is the one with the money and the talent to produce tyres. What does the crazy union have? It has the French government. The French farmer wants cheap tyres. He doesn’t care if those tyres come from China or India or if those tyres are subsidised.
”Titan is going to buy Chinese or Indian tyres, pay less than €1 ($1.30) an hour to workers and export all the tyres that France needs,” he said. ”In five years, Michelin won’t be producing tyres in France. You can keep your so-called workers.”