A French education union has called a national strike for next Tuesday to enforce coronavirus safety in schools.
It follows days of local walkouts organised by rank and file activists and courageous student actions, in the face of police repression.
The SUD education union said, “Since Monday 2 November many colleagues have been on strike across the country.
“Everyone on strike on 10 November—for classes cut by half, for an emergency plan!”
Schools returned after a two-week break on Monday. But they found that hardly any new safety measures had been implemented, even though the number of Covid-19 cases in France has soared.
Classrooms were still packed. And in many schools there weren’t even basic supplies, such as enough hand gel and masks.
There were no extra staff. Workers reported that at one Paris school a cleaner was expected to clean 14 rooms in two hours. This included tables, chairs, floors, door handles and other surfaces.
In response teachers held general assemblies—mass meetings along with elected parents’ representatives—to organise. In many schools they called for stoppages.
Mari, a Paris teacher, told Socialist Worker, “My school is in the 93rd department of the capital, a very poor area. We never have enough resources, but it is even worse now.
“All the issues such as lack of space and lack of staff come back with a big hit on whether you can teach safely.
“We have taken action. On Tuesday, for example, there were strikes at 16 schools or nurseries in the 93 alone.
“I think next week will be a big strike. Some teachers think the demand should be to close the schools. Others that we fight for measures such as splitting classes and teaching each group on alternate days for the coming weeks.
“Whatever teachers think more generally, we know we can’t go on as we are.”
In Caen in the north of France teachers at the Malherbe school walked out.
"The worry is the canteen. There are 1,900 children eating in the canteen. Outside it's OK, but as soon as they enter the corridor, the children queue up one against the other. It's not manageable," parents' union representative Christophe Lajoie told the media.
School students are taking action themselves.
Several schools in Paris saw blockades, walkouts—and police attacks on young people.
At Paul Eluard school police violently arrested five school students, throwing some to the ground. One was quickly released, but the other four were held all day. They were let go only after a demonstration by parents, students and teachers at the central police station.
At Colbert school police used tear gas and riot shields against students.
Students at Saint-Exupery school in Lyon barricaded their school and were met by a brutal police assault. Six students were arrested.
Several hundred students blockaded the Les Bourdonnieres school in Nantes in western France. They held up traffic and burned rubbish bins.
In Tours in central France students blockaded their school using rubbish bins and pallets.
At Paul Valery school in Paris a student said, “My mother has health problems. I don't want her to end up in hospital because of me. It’s not just about my health at school, it’s my family.
“The pandemic is already bad in this area because a lot of people work in frontline jobs where they cannot work from home.”
There is a tense and bitter atmosphere in many schools. Enhanced state repression and even worse systematic Islamophobia has followed two recent murders.
In Strasbourg two 12 year old children are under investigation for “justifying terrorism”. They are alleged to have said something during a tribute to murdered teacher Samuel Paty last week.
Two other incidents were also reported to the courts involving children of eight and nine years old.
The revolt by teachers and students has the authorities worried. After the wave of strikes the government conceded the demand for half-sized classes and rotas in some schools.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo asked the national government on Thursday to allow libraries, theatres and gymnasiums left empty under lockdown to be used as classrooms.
But despite the concessions the strike is set to go ahead, for proper measures in all schools.