Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Air France Caterers' Strike Largely Ignored Management Puts Sell-Off Plan on Hold, but Says Employees Are Not Well Informed

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Air France Caterers' Strike Largely Ignored Management Puts Sell-Off Plan on Hold, but Says Employees Are Not Well Informed

Article excerpt

AMID the squat cargo depots and service stations behind Paris's Orly Airport, one building has the marks of a frontier outpost. Two blackened garbage cans bear the remains of the fire sentinels kept burning on rainy nights. And a row of Air France trucks, festooned with banners and angry graffiti, barricades the entrance.

In the tense atmosphere following October's massive strikes at Air France, the continuing job action by employees who prepare the meals aboard Air France, Delta, and other flights is being ignored. Yet the 32-day occupation of the catering headquarters is the most radical job action in the history of the national airline.

At stake is "subsidiarization," the sale of non-core activities to a private or semiprivate affiliate. In this case, Air France's meal-preparation activity and the 500 employees who perform it are to be transferred to a newly created subsidiary.

The repercussions of this sale extend beyond its effects on one isolated segment of the heavily indebted Air France group. "Its wider significance," says Olivier Real, one of the leaders of the "Committee of Ten" elected by striking workers, "is that it's the beginning of the subsidiarization, the privatization, of other company activities - with the result of undermining the contract conditions won by workers in those sectors."

In fact, the importance of such transactions extends well beyond Air France. "A back-door means of privatizing large public-sector industries," is how Jean-Pierre Jobard, professor of corporate financing at the Sorbonne in Paris, characterizes subsidiarization.

According to Air France spokesmen, the move has "nothing to do with privatization." Still, one of the primary motivations cited for the transfer is that it will allow an influx of fresh capital.

At Air France, meal preparation was one of several activities on line to be subsidiarized, as part of the major belt-tightening plan that touched off October's strikes. …

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