Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
For corporations, government is just another arm of business. It has always been thus, and corporations have had no compunction about using the instruments of the state to spy on or suppress their more uppity workers. Some corporations, of course, are more sophisticated about it than others. In France at the moment there is a bit of a flap on over revelations that the Servier chemical company has utilised former secret agents to keep the company's global operations white, Christian and union-free. Servier is one of Europe's largest drugs companies. It has 13,000 employees spread around some 120 countries, but half of them are in France. None of the company's labs or other operations are unionised, a state of affairs the company works very hard at maintaining. According to disclosures in the British paper The Observer of Sunday, January 23, 2000, the company spends some L40 million [$100 million] a year to keep itself union-free. That's a prodigious amount of money, and indicates just how much extra profit a company must be able to make if it can keep its workers unorganised. A unionised drugs company would probably have to concern itself with such tiresome matters as safety for its employees and the environment — even in Third World countries. Quelle horreur! So how does Servier do it? They employ former senior officers — colonels and the like — from France's internal and external espionage and national security organs, DST and DGSE, to vet all prospective employees. The company tackles this matter seriously, and the fact that as well as possible "Reds" they also weed out Jews, non-whites and homosexuals, indicates that it is motivated by a well-developed right-wing — even fascist — ideology. According to The Observer, "the vetting system is run from the company's headquarters in the Paris suburb of Neuilly by a woman who formerly worked at Arco, the French government agency responsible for finding civilian jobs for retiring servicemen". Like I said, business and government are flip sides of the same coin as far as corporations are concerned. Been a government minister? Become a "consultant" to various corporations. Been a high-ranking civil servant or military officer? Become a director of a company doing business in the same field as your old Department or arm of the service. Been a secret service agent, spying on the left wing? Become an intelligence officer for a big corporation. Servier has over 30 former French secret agents in its employ, apparently, and pays them between "L50,000-L60,000 each a year to travel the world vetting candidates from secretaries to chief researchers". Every applicant for a position with the company has to fill in a very detailed form that includes information about their parents and their siblings, and their parents' and siblings' employers. The Observer's informant offered this insight: "If any of the brothers or sisters or parents are teachers, for example, that could indicate leftist sympathies." You can't argue with logic like that. The Observer also notes that "Candidates are asked for three professional and three personal or character referees" who are questioned "minutely but tactfully", until the agent is satisfied that he or she has got a clear fix on the candidate's politics. The Observer quotes some examples of unfavourable information: "One Frenchwoman was rejected for a job in the marketing department for the reason, underlined in red on the company's Candidate Analysis Sheet, that `her father was a production worker at Renault', the French carmaker known at one stage for its militant workers. "Another dossier seen by The Observer concerns a Polish woman turned down for a job as secretary at Servier's Warsaw subsidiary because her father had served in the chancellery of a former Polish President", so the daughter was thought likely to be Communist. On the other hand, the dossiers that approve an applicant read like they were written for a TV skit on big business: "In another case seen by The Observer, involving a Cambridge-educated Englishwoman applying to the company's UK offices in Staines, Middlesex, for a post as chief doctor on an international project, the investigator's verdict was favourable. "`The candidate's political convictions are clearly conservative', the conclusion states. `Elitist like her entourage, her style and opinions are incompatible with socialism ... Her devotion to the company is assured.'" This arrogant company that won't employ people whose thoughts it doesn't like, also won't hire ones whose faces it doesn't like. A former agent told The Observer that when hiring staff for the company's new Russian branch he was instructed "not to hire Jews, and if possible only Russian Orthodox Christians". The Observer also noted that "a Swiss woman was rejected because `her environment does not correspond with company interests'. It is clear from her file that the objection was that her husband was African. "The report states: `This black, who was able to enter Switzerland thanks to the marriage, has not been marked by civilisation'." And would presumably be an embarrassment at company functions. Talk about racist! The company keeps a database of 50,000 personal dossiers. It is now being taken to court by France's National Commission on Freedom and Data over alleged breaches of the laws on privacy of data. But what about its anti- working class employment practices?