BOBIGNY, France – A French judge postponed a trial Friday against Air France workers accused of tearing the shirts off airline executives in a violent protest, apparently fearing it could enflame tensions amid nationwide strikes over France's labor system.
The shirt-ripping incident last October, caught on camera and viewed worldwide, came to epitomize the extreme end of antagonistic French labor relations. It came at a meeting where the executives announced further job cuts after years of belt-tightening at the airline, prompting a rampage by a small group of union members.
Air France lawyers decried the delay in the trial, arguing that the exceptional violence should be punished as soon as possible, and not linked to the larger protest movement currently under way.
Defense lawyers argued the case was too important and complex for a single day of proceedings. The trial will resume over two days in September.
Union activists staged a rally outside the courthouse in support of the defendants, putting the Air France incident in the context of a wave of protests in recent months against a controversial labor bill. The government wants to give employers more flexibility to hire and fire; unions say the bill erodes fundamental worker protections.
Five Air France workers stand charged of assault, and have since been fired. Ten others face charges of property damage for tearing down a fence.
Air France has shrunk its workforce over years of restructuring amid competition from low-cost and Mideast airlines. The incident last year shocked many and embarrassed the government, a big Air France shareholder.