American capitalist criticizes Socialists
PARIS — It is a battle of archetypes: Morry “the Grizz” Taylor, the millionaire American who owns tire manufacturer Titan International, has taken on Arnaud Montebourg, a handsome French Socialist and political comer whose evocative government title is minister of productive recovery.
In an unusual public exchange, the two have been trading insults about the work habits of the French, who, according to folklore, attach more importance to coffee breaks and wine-filled lunches than to production. It is an old and entertaining subject but one that has assumed urgency in the fifth year of an economic crisis affecting France and its European neighbors.
In a letter to Montebourg, Taylor said bluntly that French workers at a tire plant he had visited were overpaid, lazy and coddled by a Socialist government enforcing such legally mandated rights as a 35-hour workweek, five weeks of vacation and early retirement. But the biggest problem, Taylor said, is what the workers do, or not, while on the job.
“The French employees get high salaries but only work three hours,” he wrote in the letter, which was made available to the media. “They have an hour for their breaks and their lunches, chat for three hours and work for three hours. I said this in front of French union representatives. They said that's the way it is in France.”
Montebourg shot back that Taylor's accusations were “as extremist as they are insulting” and revealed “a perfect ignorance of what our country is.” He added: “Do you at least know what La Fayette did for the United States of America?”
Taylor, a 68-year-old conservative, ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996.
Montebourg, 50, who garnered 17 percent of the vote in the Socialist Party's presidential primaries last year, has positioned himself in President Francois Hollande's government as an industrial nationalist. Although often not heeded by the cautious Hollande, he has advocated protectionist measures to ward off competition from cheap-labor countries such as China and vowed to protect France's wheezing factories from predatory foreign capitalists by nationalization if necessary.
The work habits of the French have been a hot topic here, the subject of jokes and serious discussion. Even the Socialist government has tried to reform the labor laws.