A huge teaching strike has been going on in France since yesterday. It covers elementary schools and middle plus high schools, with both teaching and service staffs taking part together.
Why are there no reliable figures on the school strike in France?
School strike in France. Teachers' demonstration in Bayonne yesterday.
There has been a continuous dance and battle of striker counts between government and unions, due not only to their relatively clashing interests, but also to the poor sources of both. On the one hand, middle and high school staff do not need to give advance notice of no-showing up for work.
On the other, unions have been using facebook polls and other tools to get "indicators". But as of today the most reliable gauge is the journalistic tally of centers closed or affected by the strike. And what it tells us is that this strike is being actively followed on a large scale, with over a thousand centers affected in the cities and over 600 closed completely according to our count on the @huelga channel.
Was this a surprise? Where is the teaching strike coming from? What are their demands?
School strike. November 2020.
There already happened a big strike in November 2020 in French schools which managed to wrest concessions from the government, and this strike is on a considerably larger scale. As expected from the pandemic groundhog day, the slogans are basically the same as in 2020:
"Despite the unprecedented explosion of the epidemic, the school still lacks the protective organization that would be necessary to ensure the safety of pupils, staff and their families," adds this other teacher. The fragmented return of pupils, which requires pedagogical adjustments, makes teaching conditions very difficult. The shortage of replacements and the management of exams and student absences have a serious impact on working conditions.
"The management of replacements by contract staff, too few and poorly paid, is a scandal, there are thousands of absences without replacement, it is unsustainable," says Clément Pottier. "Today, hundreds of classes are closed for lack of teachers", said Nicolas Domet, deputy mayor of Tarnos.
The fact is that the last big strike managed to wring some concessions, but was aborted by the unions before achieving the main objective, which wasn't about demanding measures to weather the Covid crisis but about reversing the effects of the cuts and systematic attacks by all past governments on the education system.
This time it will all come down to the same thing. If French workers let the unions do what they want, they will bring the struggle to a "good port"... good for the state, that is. Only if workers manage to assert themselves on their own will they be able to wring more than concessions and patches for the pandemic situation.
How have parents reacted to the strike?
School strike in France. Parents and students demonstrated yesterday alongside teachers.
During this strike, even more than in the previous ones, parents support the struggle of all the workers in the school environment. This support is vocal to anyone who wants to listen:
The educational staff is not alone in this mobilization: it has the support, in particular, of parents, as in Caen, where a majority of them expressed their approval of this movement.
"For the moment, everything is legitimate on the part of the teachers. The health protocol is very restrictive and changes often. We are all saturated," explained a mother of a pupil to our reporter.
The same is true in Falaise, in the Calvados region, where Michelle, mother of six, says: "For us it is complicated, so for them it must be horrible. The rules change every three days, how do you expect us to manage? We understand how fed up the teachers are."
January 13 strike, update. Ouest France.
They also didn't bring children to school:
"Since the back to school campaign, I see that some parents keep their children at home for a week instead of subjecting them to three tests," continues Olivier Tytgat. In any case, with the time it takes to take them and get the results, it's about the same. I had to close a fifth grade class on Friday and half of the parents told me they'd rather wait a week.
In the Orne, parents understand the mobilization of teachers. Ouest France.
And even demonstrating alongside school staff, as in several schools yesterday.
Why are the unions focusing on Minister Blanquer?
Blanquer, the union's scapegoat and scarecrow used as a means to divert the water of discontent to the election mill.
As the press correctly points out, Minister Blanquer is the scapegoat towards which the unions and parties are redirecting the workers' rage against the abysmal state of the educational system and the management of the pandemic.
Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, like his predecessors, is the scapegoat of the parade and crystallizes the criticism. On the doors of the sub-prefecture hangs his portrait, with this slogan: "50 shades of protocol".
"The responsibility of the minister and the government in this chaotic situation is total due to the incessant changes, the unsustainable protocols and the lack of means given to guarantee the functioning of education," explains a trade unionist.
All the left wing, on the front pages of allied newspapers and in the declarations of its panoply of candidates, from Mélenchon and his insoumis to Jadot for the environmentalists, try to divert the flood of discontent to their electoral mill - we are already in the middle of the presidential campaign - and accuse the Minister of Education of bearing all the responsibility for the mismanagement of the pandemic.
Instead of banners calling to counter the attacks on the education system, workers are encouraged to demonstrate against the minister and to hang masks with written messages against him.
The resignation of Jean-Michel Blanquer was also one of the messages carried by the unions, as well as by all those present. And it was the slogan that was most successful when the demonstrators gathered outside the rectorate, after having occupied its square.
Blanquer's role as a tool to derail the strike is so blatant that it was even suggested by members of the government and his own party, when yesterday Blanquer quarreled with minister Véran and the delegate minister of Health accused him of causing the mobilizations.
¿Will the unions accept the cosmetic measures announced by the government?
Yesterday afternoon, the government presented a series of measures in response to the strike.
The minister announced that he would resort to 3,300 supplementary contractual agents, "resorting to the supplementary lists, to the people present on the opposition lists", in particular for elementary schools.
He also mentioned the "hiring of educational assistants", as well as "administrative support staff for school principals". Details on the number of people hired will be announced later, but "several thousand people will provide support" to deal with the crisis.
In total, the Education Minister said that "5 million FFP2 masks will be distributed in the school system," especially for kindergarten teachers, who teach children who do not wear masks.
As for CO2 sensors, the issue was discussed, but Jean-Michel Blanquer recalled that this is "a competence of local authorities". He also said that "the State has created a fund to support communities that have difficulties in obtaining them". The Minister of Education sent the message to the municipalities, the departments and the regions that the State can be at their side for this important equipment".
In short, the offer is to temporarily hire a handful of precarious workers, preposterous when compared to the total number of schools on strike, with paltry salaries which are not even discussed and a certain number of masks.
Five million masks may seem like a lot, but there are 1,163,000 workers in public schools, and private schools also went on strike. Less than 5 masks per head when they need to be replaced every four hours.
Classrooms are still overloaded and an increasing number of classrooms are being closed for good. And this will not be addressed, even though it is one of the main reasons for this strike and its predecessors. The temporary employees will leave when the term of their contract has passed and public education will continue on its downward slope.
However, the unions are already feigning acceptance of these meager concessions, saying that "solid answers" had been "obtained" and that the strike had been vindicated. Union leaders emerged pleased from the meeting with the government, with a promise from the latter that there will be meetings every two months.
Union leaders, as always, aspire to convert the organization of which they are professional cadres into one more monopolist within the great game of capital that determines prices and wages, and this "recognition" by the state already pays them... even though it is worthless to us workers.
Today, Friday, strikes will be repeated in French schools and high schools, and everything depends on the struggle going on and on the workers not allowing themselves to be silenced by the gestures that the unions and the state are making to stifle the strike before it really takes hold: from the old trick of burning a minister as a fuse to the acceptance of cosmetic, precarious and temporary "improvements" as if they were a great victory.