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Geeks marching for their jobs

More on the  protests from Les Sanofi, the researchers in France who took to the streets when their jobs were threatened.  They’ve bought themselves some time.

In many ways, this march doesn’t look that different from an Occupy event.  But I am reminded of something Naomi Klein said about what it’s like to protest in the US, like there’s no oxygen here compared to Europe or the Middle East.  As soon as people start to agitate, the flame gets put out because there’s no place to go with your grievances.  No one will allow you any space, the propaganda machine cranks up to make you look like dirty subversives and if that doesn’t work, the DHS moves in to crack you skull and the Justice department subpoenas your tweets.

But in France, the only time the police step in is when the marchers want to march on a road.  There are other actions in France by Les Sanofi that are recorded in Montpellier where the marchers occupy a city square and lay down in it and no one moves in to arrest them.  I think that’s because as annoying as striking is to the French, there is still a critical mass that is in solidarity with them.  Check out what happens starting at minute mark 5:20.  It would be impossible to script something like that but quite easy to understand when citizens support each other.

What blows my mind is that these are employees protesting their management, something that is increasingly unheard of since Reagan fired the PATCO union.  Most employees know that to protest against your management here in the US means instant career death unless you belong to a union. It occurs to me that the reason we have had so many layoffs here in the US and why management in big pharma gets away with lying about researchers is that there *is* no oxygen for a protest and therefore no other side of the story.  We are invisible to the policy makers and press.

This country will pay for that.  If you don’t have free speech to protest what is important to you, like losing your job or losing your civil liberties, or your vote or your life from being put on a “kill list”, you haven’t got free speech or anything else of value.  Obama can go to the UN and give a speech on the concept but it means nothing if a cop in full body armor can randomly grab you out of a crowd, throw you to the ground, cuff you and cart you off to a holding facility just for trying to exercise your rights.

You whip kissers from the Crawdad Hole should take a good look at that video.  They’re just average people, with good jobs, nice families, neat little houses, there are a lot of PhDs in that crowd.  These are not deadbeats or bad employees or lazy workers. If these people had malicious intentions towards their company, they wouldn’t need to protest to bring Sanofi down. These are not stupid people. There are countless ingenious ways to bring the company to its knees.  But that’s not what this protest is about. As you can see from the banners, the protestors include Sanofi employee representatives from all over France.  And yet, they’re doing everything that you look down on.  They’re noisy, disrespectful, persistent.  And they are saving their jobs because they are organized and their government is aware of them.

You can’t argue with success.  Nothing in the US is going to turn around until a critical mass of ordinary people stand up for themselves.  You can’t expect young people and the extraordinarily brave to do it for you all the time.  The next time there’s an Occupy event, grab your labcoat and go.

What every Democrat should be asking: why aren’t our representatives fighting for workers the way French Minister Mountebourg is fighting for French workers?

Back in July of this year, just after French drug maker Sanofi announced the closure of several French research sites in France resulting in over 2000 layoffs of highly skilled French researchers, France’s productive recovery minister furiously defended those French researchers:

Ok, it’s in French but do you see how mad he is? THAT is what democracy looks like- an elected government standing up for the people who voted for it. When was the last time anyone in this country did that? Basically, what Montebourg is saying is that Sanofi’s actions are unacceptable, their plan came without warning and Mountebourg pretty much publicly shamed the company for doing it when it made 5€ billion in profits this year.

The French researchers fought back. For one thing, they’re represented by a very strong union and they’re allowed to protest without fear or retaliation. I should mention that the sanofi employees in the US that were laid off had no opportunity to protest because they all signed severance agreements which let them go away quietly in exchange for a payoff. The severance wasn’t nearly enough to make up for the loss of a job in the US where ybig pharma is rapidly turning researchers into low paid contractors and short term job hoppers.

The good news for the French workers is that only 900 jobs will be lost to attrition. The site that wa most under threat was Toulouse*. There will be a working group to discuss what will happen to it. But that wasn’t good enough for the government Minister Mountebourg who said yesterday, “Trade unions are right to say this is too much. The government says this is too much and we want guarantees for Toulouse.”. So, the company has to come up with a new restructuring plan by Oct 3, 2012.

One thing is for certain: there is very little actual research going on in the labs in France in this environment. People who are worried about losing their jobs are too preoccupied to concentrate well on projects that might be gone soon anyway. Of course, if work helps you take your mind off your worries, you’re probably in the zone right now. But this is something the big wigs at sanofi are probably not even considering. To them, it’s all about reducing costs, appeasing shareholders and getting big bonuses. If research underperforms because it is under stress and disorganized from restructuring after restructuring, they’ll just blame the lazy researchers. And in the US, nobody questioned them. The representatives, and state and federal governments just accepted it. No one ever questions management. But when you have to spend so much time and effort defending your right to practice your craft, you can see where actual work might get pushed aside temporarily while you protest and update your CV.

The bad news is that the new restructuring plan will hit the remaining US researchers whose numbers were vastly reduced last year when Sanofi closed their main US research facility in Bridgewater, NJ. The US researchers are worried. I know this because I get email.

What are the chances that a US government official or representative from MA or AZ is going to stand up on the floor of congress and demand that Sanofi stop foisting the burden of unemployment on these researchers and the taxpayers the way that Mountebourg did?

How many of the 100,000 research positions that have been lost since 2008 might have been saved if Democrats hadn’t acted like feckless cowards?

We may never know but we should be asking questions and demanding answers. The unemployment problem among researchers is pretty bad and we are pissed off with all the talk about sweeping more naive, young students into a career that won’t pay the rent.

I want answers as to why every representative from NJ, NY, CT, CA, DE, MD, MA and PA isn’t demanding that industrial research become accountable for the burden they place on the taxpayer and skilled professionals.

*Toulouse is a pretty nice site. New, modern building, up-to-date labs, great espresso bar on the second floor landing. Much nicer than the Vitry site buildings right outside of Paris, which look like they’re straight out of the 19th century. If anything, sanofi should be encouraging researchers to relocate to Toulouse and Montpellier where the cost of living might be less than in Paris. Montpellier is nicer than Vitry as well with facilities right near the Mediterranean. Just saying.

Sanofi Scientists do a Haka

This is what happened in Toulouse, France when Sanofi planned to close the research facilities.  Not only did the union and their government officials get involved, the R&D staff did a haka.

Check out that last hand movement. It looks like they may have saved their jobs, at least temporarily.

We are such wooses here in the US.  We meekly accepted our fates as we were forced through the doors, like lambs to the slaughter.  We knew there was absolutely no one looking out for us and our severance packages would be revoked if we put up a fight.

There are more videos of their protest.  In a couple of them, they have made signs against some of the top management.  I’ll have to get the kid to translate for me but I don’t think they were saying nice things.  And they got away with it.  Incroyable!

Keep it up, guys!  Bravo Les Sanofi!

**********************************

And here’s the salsa they wrote called Salsa du pognon, which I think means The Money Salsa.

The last part of the song contains these lines:

on lache rien, non on lache rien
tant qu’y a de la lutte
y a de l’espoir
tant qu’y a de la vie
Y a du combat
tant qu’on se bat qu’on est debout
tant qu’on est debout on lachera pas

Which roughly translated mean:

you lose nothing, no nothing is lost
so what was the fight
there is hope
so what has life
There’s the fight
As we fight we are standing
As we are standing on let go

Google translate is not perfect but in this case, nothing is lost in translation

This is my favorite slogan:

Sauvez un chercheur
Mangez les actionnaire

Save a researcher, eat a shareholder.

Big Pharma and the power of a union

French union scientists at Toulouse do a haka to protest salary and position cuts.
{{sniff}} I am so proud!

Derek Lowe at In The Pipeline wrote recently about French drugmaker Sanofi’s recent plans to close some sites in France.  I’ll get to that in a minute but first a little background.

A few weeks ago, Sanofi announced that it would be closing some French sites, the biggest site would be at Toulouse.  The closure would have put approximately 2300 scientists out on the unemployment rolls.  The Ministry that handles labor and unemployment had a fricking fit:

Besides unions, Sanofi has gotten an ear full from some government officials. With France’s economy struggling, the fact that Sanofi’s mother country was absorbing more of the pain, has not set well. French Productive Recovery Minister Arnaud Montebourg told senators when the cuts were first leaked: “Sanofi showed up at the ministry to tell us they were planning several thousand job cuts. Couldn’t you have said that earlier on? Last year you made €5 billion ($6.1 billion) in profits.”

And I’m sure that Sanofi would have cut elsewhere, if they had anywhere else to cut.  Last year, the company laid off all of the scientists at their main site in the US that was located in Bridgewater, NJ.  A couple dozen jobs were rescued and sent to the Cambridge, MA site, which is small, cramped and inadequate.  The rest of the projects were distributed to the French sites.  And do you want to know WHY the work went to the French sites and not to China (at least not yet)?  I’ll tell you why:

THE FRENCH SCIENTISTS ARE PROTECTED BY A UNION

Their union is pretty damn good too.  You could take every project away from them and have them just occupying the sites and playing tetris all day and the company would still have to pay them.  So, any time the company felt like research was being too much of a money pit, they took it out on the US workers until there weren’t any left.

This time, the unions threatened to strike and the French Productive Recovery Minister told the company that dumping French scientists on the labor market and relying on the government was not an option.  Usually, the companies who do business in France lay scientists off through attrition or generous early retirement packages.  A straight layoff , although rare, is still heavenly by American standards with terminated employees getting up to 80% of their salaries for 2 years and then able to go on the French public assistance program after that.  AND you don’t need to shell out half your unemployment on COBRA.  So, pretty sweet deal even if you’re being laid off.  You have time to find something else or go back to school for retraining or emigrate to Canada.  Your life isn’t thrown into an instant and chronic crisis.  And THAT, in turn, helps stabilize the rest of the economy.  The more people who can spend and keep demand up, the less of a hit the economy takes in newly unemployed people.

Anyway, it was still looking pretty grim for the French scientists until this week.  It looks like the Productive Recovery Ministry and the unions had an impact.  From Derek’s post:

here’s the announcement itself. And maybe this is my first impression, but compared to what’s gone on in other Sanofi sites (like Bridgewater), this one comes across like a shower of dandelion fluff. No reduction in the number of sites, no actual layoffs – just 900 positions to phase out, mostly via attrition, over the next two years. The Toulouse site is the only loose end; that one is the subject of a “working group” to figure out what it’s going to do, but I see no actual language about closing it.

Here’s more from FiercePharma’s article on the cutbacks in France:

A key official in France is keeping up pressure on Sanofi about its planned work force reductions in the country, sticking to the position that the drug giant ($SNY) hasn’t done enough to protect jobs. And French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg makes clear in reports today that he isn’t satisfied with how the company plans to secure the future of its R&D site in Toulouse.

Montebourg has been a thorn in the side of Sanofi. Early this week Sanofi softened its stance on job cuts in France, saying the company would seek to shrink its work force in the country by 900 jobs through early retirements and voluntary moves and transfers in the next few years, as opposed to the 2,300 to 2,500 jobs at the company previously estimated to be on the chopping block. Yet the minister and others keep harping on Sanofi’s unresolved plan for its Toulouse site, where 600 additional jobs hang in the balance.

Sanofi wants to part ways with research in Toulouse, and said earlier this week that it would work with stakeholders in the coming months to solidify plans to keep the operation alive, Reuters reported. That too fell short with Montebourg and unhappy Sanofi workers and labor officials.

“Trade unions are right to say this is too much,” Montebourg told BFM television, as reported by Reuters. “The government thinks this is too much and we want guarantees for Toulouse.”

Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher, who has reportedly met with the industry minister, has found resistance in his strategy to double down on productive R&D centers while making cutbacks at those that fail to meet expectations.

You know, if Chris Viehbacher wanted to preserve the company’s most productive sites, maybe he should have kept the US scientists on their tree-lined campuses instead of keeping them in a high state of suspense for several years, terminating their projects and then stupidly laying them off and closing the site.  No wonder the French Ministry doesn’t believe a single thing he says.

So, there you go, folks.  If you want to stand up to the bonus class and save your jobs, you need to get a union and the government behind you.  Or maybe just the government behind you.  You don’t need to work 24/7 like a maniacal drone on crack, cranking out work and trying to impress everyone working like crazy, singing, “I really need this job.  Oh, God, I need this job” to guys on Wall Street who don’t give a shit anyway.  No, you have your union representatives negotiate a contract that makes it extremely painful for the company to drop its commitment to you.

Not only that, but the union has to be very, very active and visible, like standing outside the cafeteria, handing out grievance pamphlets and making its presence very known to the management.  Imagine going to lunch to eat your company subsidized baguette, custom prepared omelet and glass of red wine and being greeted at the door by a union person dissing the management and getting away with it.  (Oh, yes, it really happens, I saw it with my own eyes.)  Take a look at that picture.  Does that look like a bunch of broken human beings, cowering under the whip they’ve been forced to kiss, cringing in fear of being fired for speaking up or fighting for their rights?  Damn straight it doesn’t.

That’s why I keep saying that drug discovery will survive in Europe. They’ll have an infrastructure in France and Germany and the expertise that is acquired from having stability and continuity of uninterrupted research.  They’ll be able to keep pace with this rapidly changing explosion of biological discoveries while thousands of US scientists will be trapped in routine, unchallenging CROs or having their expertise rotting from disuse.  Maybe they won’t be as productive as the US researchers used to be or as ingenious as possible but, by golly, they may be all the world has left unless and until the Chinese and Indians can stabilize their business environment and take the lead in research.  It’s not easy and it will take some time before that happens.  The finance guys are going to have to take an old, cold tater and wait, not something they’re good at.  They’re going to be mad that they can’t transform our salaries into their bonus gold, but such is life.  The French government is finally standing up to them and saying “Non”.  In this case, the unions are actually doing them a favor, giving them an excuse to keep the technological expertise in the country and giving it an edge when the recession finally eases up.  The government will soak the corporations for salaries, not the workers for absolutely everything.

The bad news is that now that Sanofi has been forced to scale back their cutback plans in France, they’re going to have to take it out on their remaining employees elsewhere, like their site in Cambridge, which is already tiny, and their exploratory facility located in Tucson, Arizona.

So, for those of you professionals who are watching in horror at what happened to the scientists in this country, take note: get a union.  The problem of unemployment among us is not structural.  There are plenty of us and many of us are willing to relocate or work from home.  The problem is that the big guys don’t want to pay us for our expertise.  So, they’re going to keep spreading this lie that they can’t find enough qualified workers.  The real problem is that OUR government is not on OUR side.  The Obama administration would rather this country lost its technological edge and make precariats of us all than to stick up for us when the finance guys calculate their bonuses based on how many R&D bodies they can chop.

Sad but true and this story is proof.

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