In France, students and teachers are continuing a huge strike against the Sarkozy government’s planned attacks on education which threaten to demolish state education, and open the way for a Blair-style “choice agenda” and private-sector expansion into education.
French teachers and students, especially in lycées (equivalent to FE colleges), have been striking since February. Although the major teaching unions have been trying to “exhaust” the movement, calling occasional “days of action” over a long period, and holding back from sustained strikes, teachers and students have been organising discontinuous strike and blockades.
The action is sporadic and patchy, because the unions haven’t organised a network of support for local actions. But the strikes, co-ordinated by workplace meetings of teachers, and neighbourhood meetings of teachers’ and students’ delegates, have regularly brought out thousands of strikers demonstrations through Paris — growing to 50,000 in mid-April.
Nor is it limited to Paris — major actions have been underway since mid-April — in Toulouse, Le Mans, Tours and Grenoble.
Montrueil, a suburb of Paris, is a good example of how the strike operates. Students and teachers from the different lycées hold regular meetings. Teachers and students agree on strike dates, based on their assessment of the strength of the movement. The only way that the strike can avoid the dangers of victimisation and economic pressure is if the students blockade the school. Students do this each morning of a strike day, using planks, bins and where necessary human chains. Students, hall monitors (surveillants, generally part-time HE students) and teachers then picket the school, handing out leaflets, and often organise for students from that lycée to march off and visit other striking schools to offer support to pickets there.
Members of the (Trotskyist) LCR youth, the JCR, are supporting the mobilisation by publishing a regular newsletter on the mobilisation, complete with tactical advice, as well as political articles. They send activists to the gates of lycées every morning to leaflet and discuss politics and tactics with students.
Given the lack of serious support for local mobilisations from the teaching or the student unions, these local co-ordinations are obliged to try to constitute themselves as the leadership of the movement, holding regular regional and national co-ordinations. But because many lycées involved in the mobilisation don’t have regular general assemblies to elect delegates, because of poor organisation or repression from the administration, the delegate structure is weak, lycées are often represented by whoever turns up, and channels for reporting back from the co-ordination are limited and patchy. Nevertheless, the regional and national co-ordinations are challenging the leadership of the major unions, and attempting to give a formal infrastructure to largely spontaneous strikes and blockades by the grassroots. Unlike in 1998, the lycée student unions are incapable of boycotting or ignoring the co-ordinations, and are obliged to participate in the demonstrations and actions they call. But the balance of forces within the movement will not swing decisively in favour of the grassroots if activists do not succeed in organising more general assemblies and the election of strike committees, to give real muscles and nerves to the rank-and-file network.