Education International
Education International

France: Union addresses economic and social challenges in education

published 16 April 2012 updated 19 April 2012

EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, took part in the national congress of one of the largest French EI member, UNSA-Education. The topic of the UNSA Education congress, “Taking up the challenges of the education system”, served as the core issue for the discussions held from 28-30 March 2012 in Angers.

Two round tables devoted to “reconstructing teacher training” and the search for ways to a “democratised, fairer and more efficient school” were held on the occasion of the 41st UNSA-Education congress which was attended by more than 500 people.

In connection with the presidential campaign under way in France, UNSA Education has set “Five priorities for education”. These are to: rebuild an ambitious public education in terms of efficiency and social justice, implement real territorial projects, invest in higher education and research for the future, provide life-long training, and capitalise on and develop non-formal education.

The national board of UNSA Education elected Laurent Escure as General Secretary of the UNSA Education federation to succeed Patrick Gonthier, a member of the EI Executive Board.

Teachers present in spite of deteriorated conditions

In his keynote speech, Escure pointed out that in a context “that makes the hopes and expectations of our fellow citizens, especially the more vulnerable segments, weigh even more on public services, our colleagues do not give up, do not let down their guard, but continue to step forward.”

“Their purchasing power has diminished, their working conditions have deteriorated and even their professionalism has been regularly contested, not to say denied,” he said.  “And when they were not simply forgotten or ignored, all too often they were spoken of with disdain or, worse still, singled out for censure.”

Teaching is a state responsibility

As regards the status of teaching staff, Escure restated a demand for clarification expected from the candidates for President: reaffirmation of the school, from kindergarten to university, as a state responsibility, and that this responsibility requires that all the staff of this educational community who are government officials continue to be so.

“Being recognised and respected,” Escure pointed out, “means also being entitled to initial and continuing training, having career prospects, the assurance of an objective evaluation, not being constantly threatened about the amount of one’s pension or legal retirement age.”

Possible actions at European level

On a European scale, with the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), UNSA-Education calls for support for employment and the launch of stimulus policies to stop the vicious circle of austerity that affects almost exclusively salaried employees and pensioners.

“Imposing a change of course will be no easy task, nor will convincing people that the poison of austerity cannot possibly be a remedy,” Escure conceded. “But if there is a framework for such an educational method, it is the inter-professional framework with UNSA and with ETUC.”

For secularism and gender equality

He reiterated that UNSA-Education is forcefully committed to the struggle for secularism and for gender equality. “These are two fundamental rights for us, and respect for them is a yardstick for determining whether a society is on the path of a successful and humanist democracy!”

Invited to give a speech, EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen recognised the significant contribution that UNSA-Education has made to international teacher unionism. “Your fight for quality public education for all has led you to conclude partnerships with trade unions in developing French-speaking countries,” he said. “You support them in their democratisation efforts so that they can be better equipped to defend public education, human and trade union rights in their countries.”

He also paid homage to the role played by Patrick Gonthier on the EI Executive Board. “At a time when you relinquish your duties as General Secretary of UNSA Education, I would like to remind your Congress that, during the 12 years that you been on the EI executive board, you have managed to take your place with due pertinence, to move the discussions in our ranks forward, and to impose the values of UNSA Education.”

Van Leeuwen continued by asserting that the current context is made difficult by the worldwide economic crisis, where the only solutions recommended by the neo-liberal governmental policies are austerity measures that stifle growth, delay the recovery and reduce the quality of public services.

For quality teachers

He regretted that the public education service is affected by massive redundancies, unemployment for teachers in certain countries, positions without job security, wage cuts and the disappearance of teacher training, without which quality education is not possible.

“Isn’t it a shame that the profession on which the future of our children depends is given so little consideration?” he asked. “Isn’t it a shame that most of our colleagues whom we represent here, in this congress, can no longer make ends meet at the end of each month? We are in the process of becoming the sans-culottes of the education revolution!”

Returning to the second international summit on the teaching profession, he regretted the absence of French representatives: “We had hoped for a French presence, but your minister refused to take part in the summit! I do not know the real reasons, but I fear that this decision has to do with a difficult relationship with certain French trade unions. His refusal to participate is a mistake, because I think that only dialogue can give any glimpse of hope in our profession which is under attack from all sides!”

Van Leeuwen concluding by calling on the union to use “the strength of our unity in Education International to get mobilised massively and to succeed in getting the leaders of this world to understand that the solution to the current crisis is quality public education for all, everywhere in the world!”

For more information, go to www.unsa-education.org