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Visiting France

Left leaders shocked by Air France arrests, why saga is mirror of French Revolution

media French member of the European parliament and Left Front (Front de Gauche, FG) President Jean-Luc Melenchon gestures as he delivers a speech during the Left Party (Parti de Gauche, PG) summer university in Toulouse on August 30, 2015 AFP PHOTO / REMY GABALDA

Five Air France workers, arrested following last week's violent clashes, remained in police custody on Tuesday, despite numerous calls for their release. Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon has hit out at their detention describing it as "shameful."

Hours after the five Air France employees were arrested; their friends and colleagues staged a solidarity demonstration almost immediately, to show their support.

Many are baffled by the treatment being meted out to the five, who are all members of the CGT labour union.

They were protesting last week, along with hundreds of others, against imminent job cuts, before two bosses had their shirts ripped off, and were sent running for dear life.

Seven people were hurt in the attack, including a security guard who was knocked unconscious and required hospital treatment.

Although 38% of French people condemn the violence, 54% say they understand the workers' anger.

Interviewed by French channel BFM TV, far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon was categorical: "What is a shirt, when you have whole lives being ripped apart!" he challenged.

"These workers should not be in custody. What have they done wrong? They are not drug traffickers, and yet they're being treated like criminals!" said Melenchon scathingly, in response to French Prime minister Manuel Valls' previous label of "thugs".

The government has threatened those responsible for the violent protest with heavy sanctions, meanwhile the main Opposition party, the Republicans, told RFI that the violence presented an "appalling image of France abroad."

Regardless, Melenchon has called on the government to free all five workers. A sixth employee was released on Monday, after failing to appear on CCTV surveillance cameras.

"I propose to go to prison in their place." Melenchon boldly announced. "These workers risk up to five years in jail and a 45.000 euro fine. It's an embarrassment for a government that calls itself Socialist!"

The violence at Air France has shocked the world, but what's more shocking for French people is the sympathy shown to the company's bosses, when it's potentially 3.000 members of staff that could get the axe.

French and Belgian writer Eric Emmanuel Schmitt phrases this quite accurately, in reciting a quote by novellist Marcel Proust: "The indifference shown to the suffering of workers is the worst form of cruelty possible."

Schmitt marvels at the lack of media attention accorded to the plight of the striking workers. "These men and women, pushed to financial brink, who stand to lose their jobs because managers are indifferent to anything that doesn't involve making money," he says sadly.

In a country, where the spirit of rebellion and injustice fired up the masses and took off the heads of profiteers, indifference to suffering- illusory or no - will not sit idly.

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