Giving them the measles

Submitted by AWL on 20 March, 2008 - 9:02 Author: Ed Maltby

A large teachers’ strike has been called for Tuesday 18 March in France, with teachers in many schools voting to strike indefinitely. As the preparations for this are underway, the JCR (the LCR’s youth wing) has been mobilising to get word out to lycée (roughly equivalent to post-16/FE college) students, at a time when the organisation has identified expansion into that age group as a priority. I spent a day touring lycées in the south east of the city with two other comrades from my branch, handing out an A4 youth bulletin called La Rougeole (The Measle: online archive of PDFs here: http://jcr-red.org/spip.php?rubrique19). It was an instructive experience, for me and all student members of the AWL.

I was used to leafleting universities, and picket lines during the postal strike — but this was bad practice for leafleting colleges. The students time their arrival very tightly, and all arrive within a ten-minute window. Very few hang around outside before or after the bell sounds, even to smoke, so you have to be much more punctual. This also requires a certain amount of research and preparation beforehand, finding out the start times and break times of colleges in your area, and planning a route. We all had the morning off work or study, so we found two colleges that started an hour apart, and then dropped by the LCR local to do some photocopying before going to a third for morning break and lunchtime.

The reception of the bulletin was positive. People were especially eager to read it, naturally, because it carried news of a day off lessons. But more importantly, there was a lot of political awareness about the strike and the central complaints and demands in it, which the bulletin drew out well and elaborated on — around classroom overcrowding, teacher layoffs, and course cuts or dumbing-down, in vocational courses especially. Patient work by local comrades meant that both the organisation and the bulletin itself were recognised by many students. This isn’t just significant as a measure of success — the familiarity of the LCR made it much easier for us to strike up conversations, take a few emails, and sell papers.

Of course, in this respect, the French have two important advantages that we don’t — firstly, the massive public profile of the LCR. They stood Olivier Besancenot for President and recently stood numerous lists in municipal elections in Paris, polling around 5% in both elections, and the LCR and Besancenot maintained a very high media profile during the strikes and the LRU movement.

Secondly, the political culture of students in lycées was already quite high — a lot of the young people who spoke to us had taken part in blockades of their college during the autumn strike wave, and some came over to boast of their exploits. But nevertheless, organisation in lycées has been neglected by the JCR. The organisation, dominated by university students, seriously missed a trick in failing to relate properly to the lycée blockades and student walkouts of 2007 and is now trying to capitalise on this radicalisation before it’s too late, by recruiting members in post-16 education.

The outing wasn’t in itself anything special, although we did get a few contacts. We didn’t single-handedly organise action committees in any colleges — we just carried on long-term work.

But this kind of work is model practice for comrades here, and if you have a free morning the same time every week, it’s really very easy: establish a route between different colleges and a timetable of when people will be outside, and print some materials.

The part that is harder to get right is producing a leaflet that chimes with students’ situation — which is where I think La Rougeole and back issues of our own Bolshy can serve as inspiration. If we in the AWL are serious about expanding into further education “from a standing start”, rather as the JCR are trying to do, then it would be worthwhile for us to consider launching one national or several local youth bulletins.

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