Going on strike in France

There has been a large social movement in French priority education in the past couple of weeks. It didn’t change much as far as my schedule was concerned: when I should have been in class, I was marching outside with the demonstrations that attempted to fight the future budget cuts in our schools (without success for now, unfortunately). Going to school in the morning was a different experience than usual…

After a couple of days, students joined the movement and decided to block the entrance to the school, by piling litter bins from the street in front of the main gate. On the first day, I arrived to find a student standing with his back to the wall, his head completely covered in a hat and scarf. He greeted me cheerfully. I had no idea who he was, but I said hello all the same. He asked if I had recognised him. I had to admit I hadn’t. He removed his scarf so I could see him; he had a huge grin on. The excitement and motivation of the first few days hadn’t worn off yet.

We spent most of the morning freezing our noses off in front of the school. The first half of January was quite cold, for once, and there is no sunny spot at all in the street, so it soon became uncomfortable to stand there without moving. A couple hundred people showed up for the demonstration. We marched through the street chanting, and received no answer at all. So we repeated the process, again and again, all through the month. We even took a train to Paris to join with other people from the local schools. We meant to arrive at the Ministry of Education, but were greeted on the way by the special police forces, all geared up to face a fully-fledged riot, with body armour, shields, helmets, pepper spray, everything. I don’t even know why. Did it look like we were going to start a riot? We only wanted to ask for the necessary funds to teach in decent conditions. Or half-decent. I mean, there are rats in the school gym, cockroaches in the teachers’ common room, we have to wash our dishes in the toilets because there is no other place to do it and the electricity is down for maybe ten days every year, so it’s not like we can’t adjust to the circumstances. Anyway, none of this seemed to matter to either the minister or the Robocop squad that blocked the street for half the afternoon to make sure we wouldn’t disturb anyone. So we travelled back South.

France is famous for having workers who go on strike every other week. Right-wing politicians and journalists who don’t know better love to make it sound like we’re too lazy to go to work. During the past few weeks, it was obvious to all of us that the problem was the exact opposite. We had to go on a prolonged strike because most teachers chose to go to class anyway: they cared too much about their students’ exams to let them miss a single class. How can you stage a general strike in those conditions? Eventually, the movement lost steam. But at least no one can say that we took advantage of the spring to have a party outside. It was freezing cold out there.

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