FRANCE: Universities exploding in anger
John C Mullen
26 April 2009
University World News
For more than 10 weeks now, French universities have been disrupted by strikes, mass meetings, demonstrations and occupations as a daily occurrence in an unheard-of wave of protest by university staff and students against President Nicolas Sarkozy's neoliberal reforms of higher education. A dozen mass demonstrations with tens of thousands of people have been held, motorway tollbooths have been occupied and university council meetings invaded. Parallel university lectures, in streets, shopping centres or on trams have been used to help popularise the movement that shows no sign of stopping.
In a spectacular action known as "The springtime of the chairs", all the chairs were removed from many universities to stop classes and used to build protest sculptures. "University all night long" events were organised while in front of the Paris town hall there is a permanent march, 24 hours a day, that began three weeks ago.
When Sarkozy mocked the idea of studying "old literature" such as The Princess of Cleves, the movement reacted with public readings of this work (considered to be the first true novel written in French, in 1678) across France and a parody of it lampooning Sarkozy circulated on the internet. One group of researchers produced a movement rap song and hundreds of staff have resigned from their administrative responsibilities.
Though some of the trade union leaderships and many trade union activists have played an important part, the movement is independent of any particular organisation, and is impressively democratic. There have been eight, day-long national delegate meetings to decide on strategy and tactics, and the movement is far from over yet.
University lecturers had previously been moderate and 'sensible' in the extreme and had not had a national strike for at least 30 years. They tended to follow mass student movements with a tolerant but very distant gaze. The stereotype of hordes of Marxist lecturers in French universities, if it ever was true, is at least 25 years out of date and many were more used to dusty seminars than to noisy demonstrations.