University World News - FRANCE: Academic strike action may end
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John Mullen, a lecturer at University Paris 12, comments:
Although last Thursday's day of demonstrations was significantly smaller than previous days of action, this was partly because most Paris universities are on holiday.
As well, some unions did not really mobilise, preferring to save their strength for a big day of action next Thursday. In only one or two of the 70-odd universities affected by the strike are there significant moves to start teaching again.
The majority of strikers remain determined to get more concessions from the government, to such an extent that the biggest trade union, the SNESUP, refused even to attend a meeting called by the Minister last Friday.
The number of "alternative workshops" replacing university classes with discussions and films about social protest and democratic rights is still on the rise. For the moment, the movement is not slowing down, though it is impossible to say what will happen in a one or two weeks.
Every 10 days or so, a national strike committee holds a day-long meeting with several delegates from each striking university. The next will be held on Friday at my university and it is extremely unlikely that the strike will end before that.
The govenrment's latest proposals are viewed with considerable scepticism. Many lecturers believe the government's promise to "completely rewrite" the proposed decree on lecturer-researchers' working conditions remains vague. They would prefer the decree was simply withdrawn and the time taken to consult all concerned on any reforms.
As for the proposed reform of teacher training, again, setting up a review commission, including representatives of universities, is not a major move since the minimum demand is a moratorium of a year or two to allow consultation.
The demands of the lecturers might seem rather technical but the fundamental objection is to the idea of putting universities into competition one against another, controlling lecturer-researchers by setting up management structures and foremen in the universities, and depending more and more on private funding for research.
The government has preferred to give major tax breaks to companies that invest in research and development rather than find more funding for public sector research. We feel that if funding becomes even more private sector based, big companies will not pay researchers to write books on history, archeology, mathematics, literature and so on.
As for the autonomy of universities, we prefer the present collegial organisation. The government has promised to effectively double the salaries of university presidents when their universities become autonomous.
We believe the presidents will become businessmen and that academic independence will be under threat. In other countries such as Britain, the end result of such neo-liberal-inspired reforms has been the charging of high tuition fees for students: In France the fees are still "only" a couple of hundred euros a year whereas in Britain they are EUR3,000 and this has led to a reduction in the number of young people from poorer families going to university.
We are defending a whole idea of what a university can be as a public service. It has to be said that a national strike of this type has never been called before by university lecturers in France.