Nortel's French Revolution

French workers typically celebrate Bastille Day every July 14 by setting off fireworks and getting bombed -- not getting laid off and setting bombs.

Workers at the French arm of telecommunications manufacturer Nortel Networks ( NT)threatened to blow up their factory this week unless they received better severance pay. French daily Le Parisien reported on Wednesday that the employees had placed gas cylinders in front of the Chateaufort plant in the Yvelines area near Paris, where 480 jobs are set to be slashed following bankruptcy proceedings.

Turns out the gas cylinders placed around the plant were empty. But still, that's a far cry from liberte, fraternite, egalite in honor of the founding of the first French Republic. Sounds more like anarchie to us, with a real desperate need for securite.

In fact, it was the second threat by French workers to blow up a factory in a week. Fired workers at a bankrupt auto-industry supplier on July 13 threatened to blow up their factory unless clients Renault SA and PSA Peugeot Citroen paid the company's 366 employees 30,000 euros ($42,000) each, according to Bloomberg. And those violent outbursts come on top of a wave of so-called "boss-nappings" sweeping the country as unemployment rises.

Reinhard Dammann, a lawyer for the Nortel workers, said the meeting between Nortel management and the workers was canceled at the last minute, and "they were furious about it." Dammann added, "These employees have been laid off, and they've been told there is no money to pay what is usually given in France."

French workers at the plant went on strike July 6. They are asking for 100,000 euros each in addition to their standard severance pay. Nortel filed to reorganize under bankruptcy protection in the U.S. and Canada in January after losing $5.8 billion last year as telecom suppliers cope with the slowing economy.

"We are advancing in our efforts to find a positive solution for all parties," Nortel said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.

That's good news. We can only imagine what would have happened if he said "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche." (Translation: Let them eat cake.)

Dumb-o-meter score: 95 -- How can you blow up a company that's already blown itself up?

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