Hostage takings, vandalism and attempted assault sound like charges on a rap sheet for a hardened criminal. But they're the collective crimes of people who've been laid off recently.
Workers in the French factories for 3M and Sony — enraged about the size of severance packages for laid-off workers — held their bosses captive last month. The captured CEOs actually ended up bargaining with the kidnappers, while the police — not wanting to incense the workers even more — promptly responded by doing ...nothing.
Just last week, workers at a Caterpillar plant in France held their bosses captive as well. They, too, were looking for better treatment for laid-off coworkers. In another incident, workers at the French luxury retail company PPR surrounded their CEO's car and blocked roads so he couldn't escape. This time police did intervene and escorted François-Henri Pinault to safety.
Across the Channel in the United Kingdom, people are outraged with the multimillion dollar pension package given to former Royal Bank of Scotland CEO Fred Goodwin. One group was so upset that it vandalized Sir Goodwin's house and car.
An ominous e-mail from the vandals threatened more attacks:
We are angry that rich people, like him, are paying themselves a huge amount of money, and living in luxury, while ordinary people are made unemployed, destitute and homeless. This is a crime. Bank bosses should be jailed. This is just the beginning.
Joining in the spirit of protest, as many as 5,000 protesters gathering in London's financial district on the first day of the G-20 summit, expressing discontent over the financial crisis, climate change and war. Several demonstrators threw projectiles and forced their way into an RBS branch through broken windows.
Bert Klandermans, a professor of applied social psychology at Amsterdam's Free University, offers a psychological explanation for why some people are expressing their frustration in this way.
Anger is an emotion that spurs collective action ... [It's] an emotion that results from feeling that somebody is responsible for something, and could have acted differently ... [For many] the bankers did it wrong, and they did it wrong because they were greedy. That's what makes people angry.