France: Massive high school mobilisations against government attacks

May 17, 2008

An expanded form of this article first appeared in Revista Corriente Alterna. The translation of this extract is by British group, Socialist Resistance.

French youth continue to show their potential for mobilising against education reforms. This time it is the turn of high school students, who, during the last weeks, have been on the streets against the suppression of teachers' jobs.

Everything started with the announcement by the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy of the elimination of 11,200 high school teacher jobs during the next year. In doing so, the government has gone one step further in its policy of frontal attacks on education rights and reducing public expenditure.

Consequences will include the elimination of "optional" subjects (arts, Latin, foreign languages) and increases in student-teacher ratios and in teachers' working hours.

The first to mobilise were the teachers. On March 18, thousands of teachers went on strike. There were around 2000 on the Paris demonstration, accompanied by 3000 high school students who gave the first sign that a mass youth movement was rising again.

Since then, the dynamic of the teachers' struggle has been overtaken by that of the students, who have started organising themselves and taking the initiative. Methods of action reflect the experience acquired by French youth during the strikes against anti-worker laws last year — blockades and strike pickets, speeches during lessons in order to interrupt them and mobilising for massive demonstrations in Paris.

This time it is the high school students in the most working-class areas that have taken the initiative and formed the majority of demonstrators. In this way, massive demonstrations and the capacity of organisation of the French students' movement has begun to converge with the combativity and radicalisation of youth from Paris's suburbs.

The movement has spread like wildfire. First in Paris, where hundreds of high schools went on strike spontaneously. it is not only high schools, middle schools (involving 11-15-year-olds) have also blocked lessons and have massively mobilised for demonstrations. Up to 50,000 people in Paris have demonstrated twice a week.

In Toulouse, Lyon and Grenoble, the mobilisations have also achieved a historically unprecedented scope. On 22 April, 15,000 students demonstrated in Tours, 2500 in Toulon, 500 in Lille and 3000 in Strasbourg.

To achieve this level of activity, it is essential that the movement organises itself and adopts democratic structures. Coordination is beginning between the high schools that are involved in the struggle, with the first national meeting taking place in April and the second on 3 May.

Various teachers' unions have called a strike for May 15. May promises to be a month of action.

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