Air France protests: six workers arrested after shirt-ripping scenes

Suspects reportedly working for airline’s cargo and freight business detained a week after violent demonstrations against 2,900 job losses

Six Air France workers have been arrested on suspicion of attacking company directors, a week after staff ripped off executives’ shirts in a protest over job cuts. Police arrived at the homes of suspects on Monday morning after allegedly identifying them from footage of airline staff forcing their way into a directors’ meeting where 2,900 redundancies were being announced.

Police and judicial sources said five Air France staff, all members of the CGT union, were arrested at their homes in the Paris region and would be held in custody in the capital.

A sixth person was placed in custody later in the day, CGT said in a statement in which it accused the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, who condemned the violence, of helping the airline management undermine union activism.

Pictures of strikers storming the meeting made headlines around the world last Monday. As members of the executive committee met to discuss plans to restructure the loss-making airline, furious staff set upon two human resources directors, shredding their jackets and shirts and leaving one scrambling over a wire fence bare-chested apart from his tie.

A total of seven people – five Air France staff and two police officers – were injured, one of them seriously, in the unprecedented scenes at the airline’s headquarters near Roissy/Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris.

At least 10 legal complaints have been lodged by six security staff, three company directors and Air France.

Striking Air France employees demonstrate in front of the company’s headquarters.
Striking Air France employees demonstrate in front of the company’s headquarters. Photograph: Jacky Naegelen/Reuters

As well as the judicial inquiry, Air France has launched an internal investigation to identify the attackers.

Didier Fauverte, a senior union leader at Air France, confirmed suspects worked in the freight department and were members of the powerful CGT union. He said another four or five staff could be disciplined after singing “no shirts, no trousers” during the attacks.

“If it wasn’t so serious, it would be laughable. To be disciplined because you sing a song … they could punish half the world for that,” Fauverte told Le Figaro newspaper. “I’d very much like to continue negotiations but if it’s on this basis, I think these negotiations will be over quickly.”

The CGT union said the arrests were designed to frighten and intimidate staff. “It’s not going to help matters,” Fauverte told Europe 1. “I think there’ll be other staff belonging to other unions accused, and all this will just keep the pot boiling.”

The arrested men are accused of “wilful violence in a meeting and hindering the conduct of a works council”, an offence that carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. Air France is also suing for damage to its property.

Workers were planning a demonstration of support at the Air France headquarters on Monday afternoon. A spokesperson for the airline said the company would not comment on the ongoing legal inquiry.

An opinion poll by Ifop for the newspaper Sud Ouest found that the majority of French people surveyed – 54% – said they could understand the workers’ violence, even if they did not approve of it. Poll findings divided along predictable lines, with company bosses less sympathetic.

French political leaders including the president, François Hollande, have described the violence as unacceptable.


Kim Willsher in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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