Ripping shirts off people and spitting on them are unacceptable ways of making your point

EDITOR'S BLOG: The Air France and Manchester mobs both need to remember the rule of law when it comes to political protest.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 06 Oct 2015

Few people had heard of Xavier Broseta before this time yesterday. This is because he worked in HR. In France. HR folk don’t tend to get much of the glory or the headlines in the business media, or anywhere else for that matter. Now familiar to millions the world over, Monsieur Broseta was attending a meeting to discuss restructuring of his airline Air France at Roissy when the room was stormed by protesting staff angry at proposed compulsory redundancies.

Both Broseta and the airline head at Paris’ Orly airport, Pierre Plissonnier, were confronted, in classic Gallic, ‘direct action’ fashion by the sans culottes trolley dollies and Dartagnans from the cabin crew. Doors to manual, indeed. There may even have been some pilotes involved.

The pair were so violently manhandled that their clothes were torn from their bodies and they only escaped by scrambling over a wire fence with their ragged threads dragging behind them. Dressed just in his tie and trousers Broseta looked like he was auditioning for The Full Monty. For your average UK HR guy clad in a cost-effective Next shirt plus suit combo this would be bad enough, but these guys probably had over 750 euros worth of clobber destroyed each.

We have, of course, been here before. Back in January 2014, workers at a Goodyear factory in northern France prevented two senior managers from leaving the building and said the pair would be held until the company gave a 'satisfactory response to requests'. They kept their suits intact, however.

We can smirk and congratulate ourselves that we’re not dans le merde like the French, but these episodes aren’t very funny at all. If you look into their faces the Air France managers clearly feared for their lives. And it’s easy to see why desperate staff behave in this way. They know very well that Air France is in a death spiral. They have pretty good jobs for today’s France and - with mandatory redundancies of 300 pilots, 900 flight attendants and 1,700 ground staff proposed - they also know there’s little chance of getting anything halfway decent if they are chosen to receive a P45.  

Compare this with easyJet of the UK. EasyJet has had enough with Rome’s airport Fiumicino airport, which is a dreadful mess. So the boss Carolyn McCall went down to The Eternal City herself in the summer to explain to the 300 staff why they were closing the base there. It says something about Italian fatalism that there were no mass protests. But she also said that everyone losing a Rome job would be offered something elsewhere in the airline. And, with employment prospects currently so dire in Italy most are taking up her offer.

It helps of course that easyJet is growing and makes fat profits 9it announced today its passenger numbers grew 7.6% to 6.6 million last month). It has a future, whereas Air France, thanks to successive bungling French governments who will never grasp a nettle if they can chuck money at it, will almost certainly not exists in five years’ time. It lost 200m euros last year.

The hard left in the UK doesn’t rip clothing, but it does spit on its foes when it’s angry. And it is unremittingly angry. Because it never gets its way.

The hard left’s default setting is fury accompanied by moronic yelling of ‘Tory scum’ at anyone who walks past its ‘direct action’ protests. It was heartwarming to see that those protesting and propelling sputum outside the Tory conference in Manchester are so undiscriminating that they also yelled ‘Tory scum’ at their very own Owen Jones, cute posterboy of the Corbynistas. His little tank top wasn’t covered in spit, though.

We should all despise political violence. While there may have been due cause for violent resistance of the Romanovs, the Stasi, the Black Shirts, there is no justification whatsoever for doing so in the UK in 2015. We live in a functioning democracy and if you don’t like the freely expressed will of the electorate you can lump it. (Or join the Liberal Democrats and try and probably fail to get proportional representation voted in.)

Dan Hodges in the Telegraph notes that the shadow chancellor John McDonnell used to be fond of statements like the following: 'There’s three ways in which we change society. One is through the ballot box, the democratic process and into Parliament. The second is trade union action, industrial action. The third is basically insurrection, but we now call it direct action.'

While ‘insurrection’ currently amounts to little more than a bunch of Class War crusties spitting at journalists and other ‘Tory scum’ we can rest relatively easily in our beds. But it would be interesting to know precisely how far Mr McDonnell is willing to go with his Third Way when, inevitably, his party is trashed in the election of 2020 as UKIP mops up scores of its Northern post-industrial seats. If it isn’t careful Labour will become a marginalised protest movement.  

The bit I most enjoyed about the Manchester protests was the comment from Natalie Bennett, leader of the Greens that, ‘We are the many, they are the few.’ I wonder which part of achieving a mere 3.8% of the popular vote last May Ms Bennett doesn’t understand. Democracy was something worth fighting for and many in this country perished trying to bring it about. Those who would go supra-democratic when it comes to getting their way need to be come down on hard.

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