Fifteen Air France current and ex-employees have gone on trial almost a year after two company executives had their shirts torn off as a meeting on job cuts descended into chaos.
A hundred protesters broke down a fence and invaded a boardroom, forcing the executives to flee.
Five of the 15 have gone on trial near Paris accused of organised violence and the rest of damaging property.
Protesters outside the court at Bobigny called for the charges to be dismissed.
How the violence erupted
The 5 October meeting at Air France headquarters in Roissy took place amid a febrile atmosphere over Air France-KLM’s plans to restructure a business struggling against stiff competition.
Almost 3,000 jobs were being cut and pilots’ working hours extended in the company, which is 17.6% owned by the French state. The restructuring plan was later shelved.
Around 100 demonstrators broke into the meeting less an hour after it began,
Xavier Broseta, then human resources vice-president, had his shirt torn off and was filmed fleeing over a fence with demonstrators in pursuit. Another manager, Pierre Plissonnier, endured similar humiliation.
Weeks before Tuesday’s trial began, a government minister intervened personally to fire a union member who had been filmed pushing strikers towards the executives.
Vincent Martinez, who is among the 15 defendants on trial, said his sacking had been a political decision and he questioned whether he and his fellow defendants would be judged as citizens or thugs. Amid all the media and political hype, he argued that it was above all a political trial.
As the trial began, members of the left-wing CGT union demonstrated outside court, accusing the airline and government of pursuing employees relentlessly. Prime Minister Manuel Valls was singled out for saying those responsible should be made examples of.
A lawyer acting for the airline said that while union freedoms were vital, “nothing excuses violence towards innocent people”.
The court rejected calls for the trial to be postponed and split into two, involving those accused of violence and those charged with causing damage.
If convicted, the five defendants accused of violence could face jail terms of up to three years.