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Fury as Air France 'lynch mob' to face trial

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Fury as Air France 'lynch mob' to face trial
Demonstrators try to enter Air France headquarters during their protests last week. Photo: AFP
17:52 CEST+02:00
Five Air France workers will appear before court next month over the 'almost lynching' of two Air France execs. But should they really be punished by the law?

When two half-naked Air France chiefs were seen running from a mob with their suits and shirts having been ripped off, condemnation quickly followed.

While Prime Minister Manuel Valls labelled the perpetrators as “thugs”, President François Hollande denounced the violence saying it was bad for the image of the country.

Even traditional left wing unionists thought those protesters who had ripped off their suits of HR director Xavier Broseta and Pierre Plissonnier had taken traditional Gallic protest methods a step too far.

Laurent Berger, leader of the CFDT union, “condemned the undignified violence witnessed… without reserve and in the strongest fashion possible.”

Jean Claude Mailly the head of the Force Ouvriere union deplored the violence saying “we can fight against management without being violent. It’s not in our traditions”. 

But those same unions were outraged this week when police swooped early on Monday morning to arrest six men, whom they believed were behind the shirt ripping. Five of the workers will go on trial before the criminal court in Bobigny at a later date charged with group violence.

Normally when French workers take radical action to protect their jobs – like kidnap their boss or burn tyres across roads - it is rarely followed by any criminal proceedings.

Five Air France staff held over suit ripping gate
(Pierre Plissonnier is led away to buy a new suit. Photo: AFP)

It’s just seen as part of a labour dispute where almost anything goes – until last week it seems.

Even the French press talked of a line having been crossed when it emerged the six men had been lead away by police in front of their families;.

And the move has only worked to poison the atmosphere between staff and Air France as the company tries to work out how it will cut 2,900 jobs.

On Monday around 100 workers turned up at Charles de Gaulle airport to denounce the arrest of their colleagues.

“These are not yobs, they are not violent people. We have to stop saying that,” one protesting Air France staff member called Eric told Europe1 radio.

Politicians on the left were also furious.

“Arrested at home at 6am. Why? Just to humiliate them in front of their families,” said former housing minister and member of French Greens Cecile Duflot.

Many believe the five should be dealt with internally and not be sent before the courts as common criminals would be.

There is a view that authorities and particularly the government felt the need to act once the images of the execs made headlines around the world.

Most French 'understand' actions of strikers
(Air France's human resources director, Xavier Broseta, trying to escape Air France employees. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP)

France’s image is at stake after all, as Hollande said.

But magistrates have said there was nothing remarkable about police making early morning arrests, which is the normal and most practical procedure for police.

Philippe Marliere, professor of French politics at University College London, says any punishments handed out should take the wider context of the labour dispute into account and "the symbolic violence" being meeted out to thousands of employees faced with being jobless.

“It was just a lot of pushing and tearing off suits. I don’t think it was that serious. They have to take into context the wider situation, which is extremely bad for employees,” he told The Local.

“Instead of condemning or condoning the act we should try to understand why these workers resorted to this kind of thing.

“Almost 3,000 of them are about to be made redundant.”

So should the culprits be punished or should the law go easy on them given what was at stake?

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