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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La colère sociale va bien au-delà d’Air France

by Olivier Morin

Social Anger Extends Well Past Air France

Translated Saturday 31 October 2015, by Gene Zbikowski

French workers are angered by the way management, the Valls government and some media are treating the airline’s workers.

Minister of the Economy Emmanuel Macron was not hit by the tub of yogurt thrown by a participant at the round table conference on the theme “new economic opportunities” in Lyons on Oct. 14. She also shouted “You’re murdering the jobless!” and “You shouldn’t be here” at Macron before being firmly escorted out by security guards.

Demonstrators were waiting for Macron at the entrance to the conference, as had been the case in the department of the Lot when he went there on Oct. 13. He was not hit by the yogurt, but did he sense the anger?

That same Oct. 14, Sébastien Benoît, the secretary of the CGT union local at the STX shipbuilding company, wearing work overalls, refused to shake hands with French president François Hollande and reminded him that “those who today are fighting to defend their livelihoods are fighting against increasingly impressive violence on the part of the bosses.” Benoît was referring not only to the Air France workers but also to the struggle waged by the shipyard workers against 40 layoffs at the Lorient site.

Pierre Laurent called it “a rather courageous” gesture. The national secretary of the French Communist Party stated that “lots of workers in France feel concerned by what has happened at Air France.”

The growing anger seemed to rise a notch following the arrest of five Air France workers at their homes at dawn on Oct. 12. The Air France workers, whose time in custody was extended on the morning of Oct. 13, will be tried on Dec. 2 for acts “of collective violence that caused a work stoppage of less than one week,” the general secretary of the public prosecutor’s department stated. They risk up to three years’ imprisonment and a 45,000-euro fine.

The judicial proceedings have triggered indignation, which French citizens notably expressed on the social networks. For example, they compared the absence of legal sanctions for the vandalism committed by members of the National Federation of Farm Owners (FNSEA) in recent demonstrations to the brutal and summary way the CGT workers at Air France have been treated.

A double standard that is also illustrated by Manuel Valls’ words concerning the Cahuzac affair in 2013: “Ordering enquiries isn’t my prerogative.” This contrasts clearly with the prime minister’s haste, these past few days, in demanding “heavy sanctions” against the “louts”, which is what Air France workers who are defending their jobs are to him.

Labor solidarity with Air France workers

In the work places, the workers often feel solidarity with the Air France workers. Thus, at Peugeot-Citroën (PSA), the autoworkers, through their CGT union, are demanding “a halt to the judicial proceedings and disciplinary proceedings against Air France workers.” In doing so, they have adopted the demand made by the twelve organizations that make up the inter-trade union committee at Air France.

On Oct. 14, even French ecology minister Ségolène Royal, while saying that labor organization criticism of the conditions in which Air France workers were arrested is inappropriate, asked Air France management to include the workers in planning the airline’s future, which, according to her does not necessarily involve a wave of job cuts.

Will the timid request for suspension of the planned redundancy scheme, made by Minister for Labor Myriam El Khomri, suffice to calm the anger and the feeling of injustice that is legitimately rumbling in the world of work?

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