I couldn’t believe my eyes this week when I saw Air France managers who were forced to flee a meeting about mass job cuts while having their clothes ripped from their backs. Proposed cuts are believed to include 1,700 ground staff, 900 cabin crew and 300 pilots. Airline human resources and labour relations chief Xavier Brosetahe and and Air France Chief Executive Frederic Gageys had their shirts ripped off and had to battle their way through angry crowds. The airline said shortly afterwards that it planned to take legal action over ‘aggravated violence’ carried out against its managers.
The reaction from French politicians has been unequivocal; while the right to strike is sacrosanct in France, violence is pas acceptable. Former French President and hopeful for the next round of elections, Nicolas Sarkozy, referred to the incident as la chienlit (lah she-n-lee), or havoc, mayhem. Curiously enough, it literally means “dog bed.”
Sarkozy was borrowing a page from Charles de Gaulle who denounced social protests in May 1968 as “la chienlit.” Current Prime Minister Mauel Valls was left to walk the line between defending the right to strike and protest and condemning violence. He and other politicians objected to Sarkozy’s use of la chienlit pointed out that in 1968, the streets were full of violent student protests but that, although reprehensible, the Air France protesters represented an isolated group. Ugly, ugly, ugly.