Air Rage - Air France execs flee employee mob
CHARLES DE GAULLE AIRPORT, October 6, 2015 -- I came to Charles de Gaulle airport on Monday expecting to take the run of the mill pictures of Air France employees protesting management's cost-cutting plans for the struggling airline.
As management was to present its latest proposals to cut 2,900 jobs from the carrier to union representatives inside the airline's headquarters in the middle of the airport, employees planned to stage a protest outside the gates.
Nothing unusual there -- just the latest demonstration in France over job cuts. Air France has had its share of troubles.
The loss-making airline is struggling in the face of fierce competition from global rivals. On this day, management was due to unveil a revamped restructuring plan after pilots rejected a plan to work longer hours.
But what may have started out as a typical demonstration quickly turned into something surreal -- a mob of employees setting upon senior company officials, tearing at their clothes and chasing them so that the men had to scale a fence to get to safety.
Later, a union representative would tell AFP that one of the executives had been "almost lynched."
I got to the airport well ahead of time with the other members of AFP's team. When we got to Roissy, as the airport is called, dozens of Air France employees were calmly heading toward the building where the management meeting was due to take place. A few policemen stood watch nearby.
Air France's headquarters are located at the heart of the airport, one of Europe's busiest, which allows us photographers to take interesting pictures of demonstrations, with planes taking off and landing in the background.
For a while, the demonstration is peaceful.
Then at one point, I see a small group of protesters break away from the main crowd and circle the building, heading toward the parking lot. Sensing that something was about to happen, I follow them.
They enter the building by a back door, head toward the reception area, come out by the main entrance and end up in front of a locked fence that's barring access to the building.
They pull and tug on the fence, forcing it open and allowing the bulk of the demonstrators to stream inside the building. The handful of policemen at the scene seems powerless to stop them and lets the crowd rush past.
I follow the crowd until I find myself in the hall where the management meeting is taking place. Confusion reigns.
The protesters seem to have entered the building spontaneously and don't appear to have a leader to direct their actions.
Some get up on tables and start to yell slogans "Resign!" "Management resign!" At this point, I can't see any Air France officials.
Then all of the sudden, there is a commotion at the front of the room. I see two men pinned against the wall. Some of the protesters are screaming at them, others are trying to shield them and are calling for calm. The tension and anger soars in the room, which is much too small to contain the number of people filling it. Some are shoving. Others are screaming.
Security guards and some of the union people try to extricate the two men trapped by the crowd. They push the duo through the jeering mob. The most aggressive of the demonstrators grab the men by their necks and collars, rip at their shirts. "Resign!" scream some. "Strip him!" yell others.
A door opens and the scrum -- the chased duo, the security guards and the baying mob -- spills outside.
The two set-upon members of management are Xavier Brosera, head of human resources, and Pierre Plissonnier, in charge of the company's long-haul service.
Security guards herd them, running, outside. A group of demonstrators follows, continuing to scream insults.
The melee finds itself at a dead end -- the area outside is surrounded by a high fence. There are police on the other side, but the gate is locked.
So the two men don't have any other choice but to scale the fence one after the other, helped by some in the crowd, as others continue to lunge for them.
The scene is surreal. It is the typical scene of a mob, spontaneous and uncontrollable, a group of human beings that within moments degenerates to depths no doubt unthinkable to those participating only minutes before.
Except we're smack in the middle of Paris's chic airport.
Kenzo Tribouillard is an AFP photographer based in Paris. This blog was written with Ronald de Courson and translated by Yana Dlugy. You can read the French blog here.