News of the world
New strike wave breaks in France
By Paul Mcgarr
SOME OF the biggest strikes and protests seen in Europe in recent years took place last week, though you wouldn't know about it from any of the British media. Some 800,000 teachers and education workers struck in France on Thursday of last week, and almost a quarter of a million joined demonstrations across the country.
The protests marked a new stage in a revolt which has been simmering in France's schools in recent weeks. A new wave of education strikes and a national demonstration in Paris were set for Friday, despite concessions by the government. The education revolt grew out of issues familiar to teachers, parents and school students in Britain.
A Socialist Party led government came to office in France in 1997 on the back of the massive strikes and protests which had broken the previous Tory government. The new government talked of making education one of its key priorities. But the reality has been very different. Education minister Claude Allegre has embarked on a programme of "reform". Allegre attacked the education system as a "mammoth" which needed "slimming down" and has sought to scapegoat teachers for the failings of the school system.
Despite promises of extra money the government last year spent a smaller proportion of national wealth on education than the previous Tory government did in its final year in office. Allegre's "reforms" are based on the same drive to impose the market in education that we have seen from New Labour. The revolt grew first and strongest in the south of France, in the areas around Nimes and Montpellier, some of the areas with the worst shortages of teachers. Protests then spread to other areas of the country before all coming together in last week's monster protest.
"The school is in the street" was the slogan of many of last week's demonstrations, which saw teachers, parents and school students march together. Some 25,000 marched through Paris, with demonstrations thousands strong in almost every major town.
A sense of the scale of the movement can be gleaned from the coverage in France's main papers. Le Monde, a paper roughly equivalent to the Guardian, last Friday ran four whole pages of strike and demonstration reports on the schools protest. On the Thursday evening prime minister Lionel Jospin announced his government's budget for the coming year, in which he offered an extra �100 million to schools. That was rejected as insufficient by teachers' union leaders. Strikes continued in many areas at the start of this week, and all major teaching unions backed Friday's planned national protest to keep up the pressure on the government.
THE schools revolt is the sharpest of a series of movements rattling the French government.
- Tax workers have been on strike over government "reforms" which will hit them hard. Tens of thousands marched through Paris on the same day as the education march.
- Some 10,000 health workers marched two days earlier, despite government concessions in the face of earlier protests.
- Some 13,000 engineering workers in Belfort, eastern France, marched last week over job cuts announced by the giant Alstom company.
- A rash of other strikes-by aluminium workers, refuse workers, postal workers and others-have also been taking place.
"The general strike of everyone who is fed up," was how one French paper summed up last week. Continued protests could win the immediate demands from the government and deepen the radicalisation to the left which has marked the whole of French society in recent years.