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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.

Thursday: Jim DeMint makes my ears bleed

Last night, Jon Stewart took apart Jim Demint’s worldview piece by piece.  It’s a thing of beauty.  Unfortunately, you have to listen to Jim Demint’s irritatingly folksy South Carolina drawl speaking nonsense right wing talking points during the segment.  By the way, why is it that Stephen Colbert, a South Carolina native, does not speak in the same drawl?  I lived in SC as a kid, in Charleston, and EVERYONE down there had a southern accent.  So, what gives, Stephen?  And is it possible that Fox type viewers respond to the drawl in a hypnotic sense? My natural speech pattern is more like Stewart’s.  It’s rapid, a bit throaty, punctuated.  Demint’s is slower, more musical, even a bit soothing and against it, Stewart sounds harsh, like a splash of uncomfortably cold water on the upper arms.  When you listen to these two go at it, you can’t help but pick a side.  I’m on Stewart’s side but I imagine that Demint’s southern siren call is hard to resist.

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

I love Craig Crawford.  He’s one of the more honest pundits on TV (that I don’t watch anymore).  Check out his blog Craig Crawford’s Trail Mix for interesting observations on the campaign.

However, I did find his recent post on the effect Ron Paul will have on the Republican primary and nomination to be a little weird.  It’s a short post, here’s a lengthy excerpt:

GOP bosses talking about winnowing the field so that Mitt Romney doesn’t face a lengthy nomination battle against multiple foes ought to consider the alternative: Ron Paul goes to the convention with 40 percent of the delegates. That could happen if he’s the last rival standing sooner, rather than later.

With fewer winner-take-all primaries and caucuses, and Paul already proving an ability to garner up to 25 percent of the votes in a crowded field, it’s not a tough mathematical challenge to conclude that he would capture even more of the anti-Romney vote and roll into Tampa next summer as a trouble maker.

It’s not that Paul could threaten Romney’s nomination, but he could steal the coverage, much as Jesse Jackson did to Michael Dukakis, and Pat Buchanan to George H.W. Bush. (Reminder: Both nominees lost the election).

At the very least Paul would want a prime-time speech, and probably a whole lot more. Chairman of the Federal Reserve, perhaps? Just kidding, but …

Ok, here’s the weird part.  Obama and Hillary Clinton went to the convention in Denver in 2008 in a dead heat.  Actually, if the DNC hadn’t busted Florida and Michigan to half votes and reapportioned Michigan votes by giving 4 delegates from Hillary and all uncommitted delegates to Obama, Hillary would have been ahead.  According to Crawford, Ron Paul would deserve a lot more than a prime time speech if he only had 40% of the vote, not even a dead heat.  So, why is it that Hillary only got a prime time speech, no floor debate, and not even a legitimate roll call?  How come Jesse Jackson and every other candidate from the Democratic primary system prior to 2008 got treated as legitimate politicians and their delegates accorded a voice but not Hillary’s?  How do we explain a discrepancy like this?  We should all be asking ourselves this question until we get an answer that makes sense. Oh, sure, the superdelegates all moved like osmosis to Obama’s column, pulled no doubt by a hypertonic money solution.  But the elected delegates should have counted for something.  And they didn’t.

So, either the Republicans are going to be a lot more honest about their convention than the Democrats or they will adopt the Democrats’ model from 2008 and negate the primaries altogether so that they don’t have to accommodate Ron Paul’s constituency.  And if that’s the way the parties are going to go, why go through this expensive and painful process every 4 years?  If the money guys are going to pick the male party nominee anyway, why bother with the façade of electoral legitimacy?  We all know what our preisdential campaigns have boiled down to in the past 12 years.  The preferred candidates get the nod.  It will either be a money wing candidate with social conservative tendencies or a money wing candidate with socially moderate tendencies.  Them’s the choices.  Pick one.

If you don’t like your choices, and that’s all you’re going to get, you HAVE to go outside the parties and pick a different flavor of politician.  Yes, it takes effort to find them on a ballot.  No, there’s no guarantee your candidate is going to win, although it will be easier if as many people as possible show up to vote for the same person.  That’s usually how it’s done.  But at some point in time, enough of us have to decide that we have no other alternative and decide to pick someone else.  It can be done.  Just say no to both parties this year unless they give you a choice you can live with.

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

For a different take on the 2-party system, check out Virtually Speaking Susie’s interview with Mike Patterson from Occupy DC.  Mike spells it out for the occupy doubters: the Occupy movement is not interested in becoming an arm of the Obama campaign.  It doesn’t like Democrats any more than it likes Republicans right now.  Both parties have let the American people down.  What Occupy will turn into is a different question but it’s not there to support Obama, that’s for damn sure.

By the way, tune your bat channels for Virtually Speaking tonight when one of my favorite bloggers, Lenore Skenazy of FreeRangeKids is on to talk about what happened to American childhood.  I’m convinced that there is a connection between fearmongering and strict behavioral controls of both parents and children and the goals of the right wing.  I hope Jay Ackroyd and Lenore explore this connection.  The one thing you can count on is that Lenore will bring her horror stories from modern day parenting.  The fact that she is not exaggerating makes it all the more frightening.  That’s tonight at 8:00pm EST.  Virtually Speaking A-Z with Stuart Zechman and Virtually Speaking with Lenore Skenazy.

Here’s a little taste of Lenore:

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

This headline says it all: “SOPA Sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith to SOPA opponents: You don’t matter.

Ok, good to know.  I hope he’s not doing anything important when the internet giants decide to pull the plug temporarily for system maintenance.

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

For those of you who have made a resolution to be less of a slob this year (moi!), check out ApartmentTherapy’s homekeeping tips.  Think of it as housecleaning for people who have better things to do with their time and less “impeccably fresh” Martha Stewart-esque attention to obsessive detail.  Like, is it ok to clean your jeans in the freezer.  Or, if your house is really messy, where do you start?  It’s so overwhelming.  Start with the bedroom.  Here’s the list for deep cleaning your bedroom, step-by-step.  You can do this.  Er, *I* can do this.

Just do it.

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

Another one bites the dust: Sanofi closes its Bridgewater, NJ site.  This happened faster than my former colleagues anticipated.  I’m very sorry to hear this and hope that they’ve all been preparing for their Plan B’s.  I’ve been getting a recent flood of LinkedIn invitations in the last week.  It’s nervewracking, guys.  All I can say is get out of NJ if you can.  The money has dried up.  You need to decide to not to live a precarious existence.  Pack up the family and head west or at least mid-west.  Scale down, regroup, renew and reclaim your dignity.  To those of you who didn’t get an invitation to Cambridge, don’t beat yourselves up.  I know how good you are.  It’s nothing personal.  It’s mostly politics and, unfortunately for Cambridge, it will *not* be getting all of the “best of the best”.  One final thing, you will feel so much better once the shoe drops.  I sleep a lot better these days.  Good luck to all.

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

And now, a thing of beauty to relieve you of combat fatigue.  This is a ballet of the seasons from a new version of Cinderella.  The company is Belle Etudes in Arizona and the dancers are pretty young.  The choreography is exquisite:

More layoffs in Pharma

Yeah, yeah, I know, lefties would care about us except we’re *pharma*.  Your (lack of) concern is truly touching.

This latest layoff is from Sanofi-Aventis in Bridgewater, NJ.  Hundreds of scientists will be losing their jobs.  20-30% may be transferred to the Cambridge facility.  Looks like NJ just lost a bunch more taxpayers.  There’s not a lot of upside to the layoff of more of my friends and colleagues.  There are a lot more of us biomedical researchers on the market now.  With the recent announcements of layoffs from Merck, Novartis and Amgen, it’s almost as if the spigot was opened full force again.  What is happening to pharma right now would have someone like Steve Jobs spitting nails.  The entire focus has been on extracting every last dollar out of the company and abandoning the product line.  It’s hard to predict what comes next but pharma can’t be bled dry forever and the Chinese are not ready to take over yet.

Geeks are people too and we have caloric and shelter requirements like everyone else.  I would say I am surprised that the Obama administration is not paying greater attention to this problem but by the time the effects of so many unemployed researchers finally hits the American consciousness, he will be out of office.  What might have happened if he had taken Christina Romer up on that suggestion of $100 billion for a jobs program?  We might all be working our butts off in some mothballed lab somewhere, carrying on with the research we were doing, living on decent but unspectacular salaries and paying our taxes.

But since we are not all male construction workers, Obama isn’t worrying his pretty little head about us.

No one is entitled to a second term.