March 1998

Workplace Labor Update - The Camembert Liberation Movement – March 1998

2 min

According to The Wall Street Journal, a Normandy cheese-maker has reached a new high (or low, depending on one’s philosophy) in France’s recent rash of volatile labor-management disputes. It seems that Entrepreneur Bernard Aubert doesn’t believe in coddling his employees or curdling his camembert. After workers at his factory staged a "sit-in" protesting "excessive" working hours, he became worried that 750,000 of his soft, creamy, ripening cheeses on the premises would spoil. So he took his problem to Fernand Loustau, the head of a security company.

Together, the two Fenchmen decided on the sort of decisive action that similarly hard-pressed executives in the United States might only dream about in their secret fantasies. Mr. Loustau, 45 years old and an ex-paratroops officer, formed a commando unit of 200 men, including 37 other former paratroopers, to liberate the aging camemberts from the occupied factory located in the small Normandy village of Isigny. In the early morning hours the commandos laid down a tear gas barrage, stormed the factory gates, subdued the strikers, and loaded 39 tons of the delicate cheeses (valued at $500,000) on 15 trailer trucks headed for designated markets.

Gerard Albengres, the Socialist mayor of Isigny, claimed that the raid was an "intolerable" act. "The entire town was under the control of some vicious paramilitary group for six hours." And the Confederation Generale du Travail, a Communist-dominated labor union which represented the employees, blasted the attack as a "Fascist blow against the workers." Other sympathetic unions called for legal proceedings against such radical right wing "vigilante" action.

For his part, Commando Leader Loustau voluntarily appeared before an investigating magistrate to explain the sortie. He denied the charge that his posse was armed with clubs or revolvers, and reasoned that the tear gas was merely intended to "neutralize" the illegal strikers. Cheese-maker Aubert also remained unrepentant. The raid was simply a "salvage operation," he told the magistrate, adding: "My customers don’t want curdled camembert and I only took what belonged to me."

The Magistrate's verdict: "Vive la fromage fraîche!"