I’ve been in France celebrating the hundredth birthday of an old friend of my family’s. World War I had hardly begun when she was born. In World War II, her husband had been taken prisoner, and came back from Germany with tuberculosis. In extraordinary good physical and mental shape, the centenarian lady bustled about at the party given in her honor, cut the chef’s huge creamy cake, and graciously accepted large bunches of flowers. Perhaps because I was a foreigner, everyone seemed to feel the urge to tell me that the present day is as bad as a world war, if not worse. François Hollande is a really, truly, inescapably awful President. People around me had been forced to close their business or lay off employees for one reason or another. Did I know the Labor Laws comprise a book of 3,371 pages? We were not so far from Amiens, and a little angry knot was soon putting me in the picture about the Goodyear tire factory there. Changes in the market meant that it had been losing $80 million a year. Half of the 1,170 workers would have to go. A tycoon from Texas, Maurice Taylor, chief executive officer of Titan International, tentatively proposed to buy the factory until he discovered that the Labor Laws were against him, he couldn’t lay anyone off, and would have to pay a severance bonus between $163,000 and $176,000 to anyone who did choose to leave. During his electoral campaign, President Hollande visited the plant to express comradely solidarity. Mr Taylor is on record saying that the French may as well become Communist.
Did I know that the workers had held two managers hostage and the police had to be called in to free them? And did I know the workers had set a fire? That’s how crazy they are. France is finished, these people were very sure of that, and sad and angry about it too. At the reception we drank champagne but the general advice was that anyone under a hundred had better get out while the going was still good.