French pilots' strike heads for showdown

THE AIR France pilots' strike hardened yesterday into a battle of wills which could make or break the state-owned airline.

The company is expected to impose a disputed pay cut on its pilots, and withdraw a compensating offer of shares, at a special board meeting tomorrow. The largest pilots' union warned that, if this happened, they would "stay out of our aircraft... until the bitter end."

The dispute is also developing into one of the defining moments of the administration of Lionel Jospin. After slithering towards a classically French appeasement of the strikers last week, the Socialist-led government has now decided to back the hard line taken by Air France managers.

If this stand is maintained, it would be the first clear example of any French government, of right or left, holding the line against a malcontent special interest group in recent years.

In the middle of last week the government, under pressure from the Communist Transport Minister, Jean-Claude Gayssot, hinted that it would find taxpayers' cash to subsidise a compromise deal with the pilots. It emerged yesterday that such a subsidy, in the form of reduced employment charges, ran into adamant opposition from the Finance Minister, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

At the end of the week, with the pilots holding out for even more, Mr Jospin decided to back his Finance Minister against the Transport Minister, a decision which could ultimately cause strife within the Socialist-Communist- Green coalition.

This was one reason why Air France was unable to meet the pilots' demands, sending the negotiations skidding off the runway on Saturday. There is also, however, a growing sense among other Air France employees that the largest pilots' union, the Societe Nationale des Pilotes de Ligne (SNPL), has dangerously overplayed its cards. Four smaller unions representing pilots broke ranks with the SNPL yesterday and put forward a possible compromise settlement.

The fact that the eight-day-old strike has dragged on into the week of the opening game of the World Cup is intensely embarrassing for Air France and for the French government. But it has also removed the controls of the dispute from the pilots' hands. Little more damage can be done to the reputation of Air France - or France. The management and government have therefore decided to tough it out with the pilots.

This new situation explains the SNPL's offer - accepted by management - to provide unpaid pilots for flights for World Cup teams and fans. It also explains Air France's decision to stop talking and impose a unilateral pay cut tomorrow.

By imposing a settlement, the government and the airline might at least rescue the planned partial privatisation of the national flag-carrier next autumn. The danger is that the airline will be left so weakened by a prolonged dispute that both an ambitious investment programme and the partial sell-off will be wrecked. If so, the whole future of Air France might be threatened.

Air France had asked pilots to take a 15 per cent pay cut in return for shares in the company. It agreed several concession last week, including the restoration of the pay cuts after a number of years and the abolition of the separate pay-scales for new, and long-serving, pilots introduced a year ago. Talks broke off after the pilots insisted that the higher pay scale, not a compromise between the two, must be the basis for any agreement.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
News
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 Teacher needed in Peterborough a...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain