France: 160,000 school students in strikes and protests

Just two days after the half-term holidays ended for all school students the streets of France filled with school students striking and demonstrating against the education ‘reform’.

In more than 150 cities, across the length and breath of France, school students marched. They poured out of the "lycées" and on to the streets demanding the withdrawing of the ‘reforms’ proposed by the minister of education, François Fillon. The reforms are aimed at limiting the number of students who can get into higher education, reinforcing selection and churning out a bigger number of skilled and unskilled workers as a fast track to exploitation.

A combative working class in waiting

In Rouen we met some of the organisers of one of two school student demonstrations of the day at 8 o’clock. Standing around quietly at the entrance to the school they talked about the general assembly of school students organised the day before. The most articulate students, mostly young girls, get up to speak and start to organise the start of the demonstration. Slogans ring out and everyone is invited to explain why they are against the Fillon reform. The stewarding of the demonstration, planned in the general assembly the day before, is of extreme importance. Everyone is aware of the importance of the demonstration and the risk that any incident, however minor, will be used against the movement by the media and politicians.

The 4,000 strong demonstration in Rouen started in its suburbs and passed through the working class districts. The bridge over the river Seine was the rallying point before heading into the rich city centre of Rouen. This demonstration was, just as the others reported in the newspapers this morning, just as much about class as it is about reform of education. The editorial in Liberation (a French daily) this morning states that the "popular make-up of the demonstrations show that the schools from deprived areas have mobilised better than those who welcome a more privileged public". While the media and politicians never cease to mock the intelligence of the school students, the fact that more pupils of deprived school came to the demonstrations shows how well they grasp the immediate consequences of the education reform. If this law passes a degree obtained from a poor school in a working class area will be worthless while the same piece of paper handed out by a privileged school will guarantee entrance to higher education.

Riots in Paris, expected and convenient

The demonstration in Paris was called to a halt by the organisers with only two thirds of the route completed. Violent groups who attacked participants in the demonstration, passers by and broke shop windows infiltrated the 9.000 strong demonstration. One can only make educated guesses about the cause of this descent into chaos and who organised it. Rumours circulated the day before the demonstration that the demonstration would be attacked. In fact the police, always quick to deny responsibility, had issued a statement saying that they would react with force to any "irregularities". As the events unfolded the police did not react with great force. It seems the intervention of these hooligans was effective enough to wreck the demonstration.

The only other noteworthy incident seems to have been in Lyon where supporters of Werder Bremen football club attacked the school student demonstration.

Even these relatively small-scale provocations are used by the establishment to taint the school student movement. The reaction of some on the Parisian demonstration shows that this might not be enough. Although some of the interviewed were severely shaken by the violence the prevailing mood seemed to be one of defiance and the promise to join the day of strike action on 10 March.

Full report of the strikes and protests called on 10th March coming soon.

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