Wednesday, May 20, 2009
We're officially fucked. Teachers in our university have now voted to go back to the work. After 7 months of industrial action and 4 months of strike, they resumed teaching yesterday. They had been threatened with a 30% pay-cut, and most of my camarades are blaming this for their caving-in. I can't say for sure, not having been in their meeting (not invited) but if it's really that, it's a bit bloody low. Due to the independent status of French universities, teaching staff can strike without any significant cut in pay for long periods as long as they fulfill certain provisos- attendance at university, continuation of research, office hours etc. (Beautiful thing about university systems, even independent-ish ones- they couldn't give a shit about teaching as long as research keeps bringing in the cash). Minister for Higher Education Valérie Pécresse is trying to attack these rights with great difficulty. But she's trying to attack a whole lot of university rights, and in a lot of her other nasty little plots she's succeeding. Anyway, from this month teachers at Tours would be taking this pay-cut in order to carry on industrial action, and clearly there were just too many members of staff in the meeting who will only support industrial action if it doesn't affect how long they spend at the beach this summer. Maybe I'm being ungenerous- maybe they are trying to give students a chance to catch up on this lost semester. I'm guessing the same pressure is being put on teachers across the country as only between 6 and 10 faculties are still bloquées, down from 50 at the climax of the strike. University presidencies have panicked at the thought that the exam-diploma-job machine might grind to a halt and put the boot into what is now the weakest part of the strike- the teachers. It's the worst possible time to cave in. We were in a fight to automatically give people a pass mark for the semester, and we might just have won it. They couldn't make everybody repeat the year, and as long as exams were properly blocked, they would have been forced to pass everyone. Why strike all year then stop striking two weeks before the end of the already lengthened semester? It just doesn't make sense. I've passed the term. Not altogether honestly, but that's not really my fault. But my French friends are currently trying to learn a semester's syllabus in two weeks, having had about three weeks of class since Christmas. Usually they would already be on holiday. It's so unfair. I'm actually wasting valuable dissertation time worrying about their plight. This has effectively decimated the student side of the movement as well- no one can attend meetings or demonstrations now that they're suddenly under such exam pressure. The LRU or Pécresse reforms are set to go through now anyway, and have already been passed in the National Assembly. No one really still thinks we're going to have any kind of significant victory there. My major criticism of the movement all along (apart from that we didn't go far enough in our actions) was the lack of communication between staff and students. I think we got more and more divided, at least in Tours. We all started out in November fighting the masterisation of the CAPES and gradually we developed different priorities. Students went on to make demands for better benefits, grants, etc, whereas staff became caught up on the job losses and status changes alone. Students were generally a lot more radical in thoughts and actions as well, although there were certainly some very 'engagé' staff... Now basically the presidency has capitalised on this division. Even students who didn't particularly support strike action are completely against going back to school at this point, because it's such a travesty of a semester that it's completely worthless as an academic marker, and therefore represents nothing but a demonstration of power by university bosses and the government. I've been so excited all term to be part of such a huge movement- it seemed like in this country things actually got done, and the people had some kind of power. Now I'm completely deflated and miserable. No one takes my suggestions for bringing the great French tradition of boss-napping into the university. And no one seems to realise how badly they might be fucked- when students lose their power, the road is open for French universities to become English universities. If we lose the fight over masterisation, the next fight will be over marketisation.