Oct 26, 2015
A few workers from a crowd of 2,000 stormed a meeting of their Air France bosses on October 5, leaving two executives with their shirts practically torn off. It’s hardly surprising, since these bosses were proposing to lay off 1,700 ground crew, 900 cabin staff, and 300 pilots over the next two years.
Some French politicians called the workers “gangsters” and worse, but as the workers put it: “It’s not our shirts we’re defending, it’s the skin off our backs.” They are referring not only to the proposed layoffs but to 20,000 more job cuts that already took place at Air France over the last 15 years.
The police showed up at the crack of dawn a week later to arrest five of the Air France workers, treating them like they were dangerous criminals. They were threatened with charges that carry sentences of three years in prison and a possible fine of more than $50,000.
The Air France bosses wanted to divide the workers, pitting mechanics against cleaners, stewards against pilots. Instead, the pilots refused the bosses’ plan to force them to fly 100 more hours per year. The Air France bosses had hoped to blame their layoff plans on the pilots.
Workers scorned the chief executive who called the plans “voluntary departures, not layoffs.” And workers understand very well that the Air France bosses are backed up by government officials, from left to right. Even if the prime minister called the Air France workers names, public opinion was with them. One militant working at the naval yards in Saint-Nazaire refused to shake President Hollande’s hand, to show “solidarity with the Air France workers.”
The politicians condemn the workers for a couple of torn shirts, but they say nothing about the real violence: the bosses’ plans. The real criminals are the bosses who propose ever more work from ever fewer workers, on wages that don’t allow anyone a decent living.
Despite the attacks on workers in the media, despite legal threats, despite warnings of continuing layoffs, the work force is angry. What’s needed is for this anger to become the basis for a general mobilization. Since the bosses want to test their ability to push the workers backward, what matters is how the workers respond.