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Fifteen people go on trial Tuesday over rowdy scenes a year ago in which an Air France executive had his shirt shredded as he fled a mob of workers angry over planned job cuts.
Images of the incident in France hit screens around the world, showing bare-chested human resources chief Xavier Broseta trying to scale a fence after being chased out of a meeting about restructuring proposals at the troubled airline.
Another executive, Pierre Plissonnier, also had his shirt and jacket ripped in the incident on October 5, 2015, which arose from a dispute over the aviation giant’s plans to cut 2,900 jobs.
After crashing through the fence outside Air France headquarters on the outskirts of Paris, dozens of workers had broken into the conference room where management was unveiling the restructuring plan to the firm’s works committee.
Some company guards were also injured in the melee.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the men, whom he branded “rogues”, should be dealt stiff sentences.
Five of the defendants face charges of “organised violence”, punishable by up to three years in prison and a 45,000 euro ($51,000) fine if convicted.
Another 10 face lesser charges in the two-day trial.
Air France unions have called for a strike and a rally outside the court on Tuesday demanding that the charges be thrown out.
The hardline CGT trade union, which spearheaded sometimes violent protests seen this year against France’s controversial labour law, will also lead Tuesday’s rally.
Air France’s lawyer, Dominique Mondoloni, said the defence would seek to “transform the perpetrators (of the violence) into victims and the victims into perpetrators.”
Speaking to AFP, he added: “Air France will be there to support workers and reiterate that violence can never become a way to resolve labour disputes.”
The bigger picture
The defendants’ lawyer, Lilia Mhissen, said she hoped the her clients would “not be judged on the basis of video clips that last a fraction of a second” but on the bigger picture.
At least two of them “clearly acted to protect Mr Broseta and Mr Plissonnier”, she said.
“If they had retrieved all of the video images… the story would have been different.”
Air France, which employs around 55,000 people, has scrapped the restructuring plan but still faces tensions with pilots and flight crews that staged strikes in late July.
Air France-KLM returned to profit last year after seven years of losses, but faces stiff competition from Asian and Gulf airlines as well as new low-cost long-haul alternatives.
The airline also faces a downturn in bookings, notably by Japanese, Chinese and American customers, because of the string of jihadist attacks that have hit France over the past 21 months.