French students are uniting with workers to organise a mass opposition to President Sarkozy’s offensive on health, pensions, asylum seekers, the right to strike and education.
Since the end of October mass meetings have been held at more than twenty universities all over the France. Almost all of these meetings have voted for a programme of direct action in support of workers on strike against the government’s reforms. Students are calling for the repeal of recent laws on education funding and foreign students.
Numerous universities have been occupied, including Paris-Tolbiac and Rouen, with administrative offices blockaded at Dijon.
The movement is calling for the repeal of the Law on the Autonomy of Universities (LRU), which is the government’s agenda of privatisation-
by-stealth in Higher Education. The LRU concentrates power in the hands of university directors, encouraging them to operate like CEOs, and increases their power to bypass the elected university council on issues like hiring and firing staff, opening and closing departments and laboratories, and deciding on sources of funding. Democratic bodies in universities are reduced in size and undermined
by the law. At the same time, the government is encouraging universities to compete for funding from private enterprises.
Finally, the government has increased the emphasis on universities being first and foremost providers of skilled workers for industry. The law was voted on and passed very quickly over the summer holidays, to try to avoid student mobilisation against it. Unfortunately the largest student union, UNEF
has essentially agreed to everything in the law. The bureaucrats in charge of UNEF are terrified of another mass struggle like the CPE movement breaking out, and are determined to nip grassroots student activity in the bud. The organising work has therefore been left to radical activist networks, smaller unions and
revolutionary groups like the LCR. Even without involvement from UNEF, the national student co-ordination in Toulouse on the 30 October attracted delegations from 21 universities.
Even at this early stage in the movement ordinary students are attending mass meetings and voting for radical action in their hundreds. But the government is on the offensive too. Many universities have been pre-emptively shut by ministers, and student activists are subject to more arrests and more aggressive
police intervention than was seen during the CPE.
The movement which is currently underway in universities is unlikely to be an isolated student affair. The need for student-worker unity is at the forefront of the minds of students, who are turning out in droves to support picket lines and union demonstrations, in particular the last big one on 18 October. “This is not just us revolutionary socialists being optimistic”, a young member of the LCR told me, “in the general assemblies, students with no activist background are talking about the need to support the strikes. After the CPE, people understand how important it is.”
It looks like student general assemblies directing actions, of university occupations and blockades of the transport system, could now be used to support a major strike wave which is brewing for the coming month. For the first
time, a “reconductible” strike (where workplaces hold general assemblies every evening to vote on whether to continue the strike the following day) has been declared by the union leaders in transport on 13 November, and in several other industries, including teaching and local government unions for 20 November.
Labour movement activists are talking about 2007 being a replay of the events of the 1995 strikes and the 2006 student movement all in one go, with students and railway workers leading the way!