France: united trade union action protesting cuts in education

published 13 November 2018 updated 16 November 2018

For the first time in seven years, the main French education trade unions have put out a united call for a strike on 12 November to voice their deep dissatisfaction with the government’s plans to cut 2,650 teaching positions and 400 education support personnel positions in secondary schools by September 2019.

Teachers and school staff have been called on to strike by the Fédération syndicale unitaire (FSU), the Union nationale des syndicats autonomes-Education (UNSA-Education), the Syndicat national des enseignements de second degré (SGEN-CFDT) and the Syndicat national des lycées et collèges (SNALC).

The SNUipp-FSU, a primary education trade union, estimated that a quarter of all teachers did not teach on 12 November, and the SNES-FSU, a secondary education trade union, estimated the number of strikers at 50% in middle and high schools.

In their joint statement, the trade union organisations recalled that the government has planned to cut 4,500 positions in the civil service; 40% of those cuts being made in National education.

A lack of recognition and the questioning of teaching staff’s professionalism

Noting that “these cuts have been decided at the same time as the Minister is presenting his bill for “trusted schools”, the trade unions emphasized that “the end of the budgetary priority for education combined with a constantly changing educational policy, the vertical governance model and the questioning of schools’ results are seen as a lack of recognition and a questioning of teaching staff’s professionalism”.

“Acts and words have meaning”. The Minister cannot claim to be pursuing the objective of improving the overall level of students and social justice without giving himself the means to do so.

The unions believe that “the 2019 Finance bill marks the end of the priority given to National Education by linking the new approach to job cuts, a model that will continue to expand in the coming years until the announced 50,000 job cuts in the civil service have been achieved”.

They have also warned that along with redeployment in primary education, the cuts to 2,650 teaching positions in secondary education which will affect middle schools and the general, technical and vocational streams in high schools. 400 administrative positions will also be eliminated. The unions stressed that , “the learning conditions for students and working conditions for staff will deteriorate as of the start of the new school year while the administration of the system will be placed under heavy stress with regard to students and their families as well as the management of staff.”

The trade union organisations have called on their members “to express their concerns regarding the future of the education system, and their exasperation”, and “to strike and take part in the demonstrations and gatherings scheduled for 12 November in order to ask the government for a new budget for public education and an educational policy that responds to teaching staff’s concerns.”

UNSA Education: youth education is no longer a priority

Noting a “clear and significant” cut, and a budget “incompatible with the ambition of achieving quality education”, UNSA Education emphasized that “even higher education is affected. The increase to its budget is misleading: the 500 million Euros will not be enough to meet the challenges with which we are faced: support for students, creating the necessary places, recognition of staff.”

“Undressing the one to dress the other seems to be the compass directing the Ministry of National Education’s policy”, the union deplored, adding that “this budget is a symbolic break in government policy. Youth education is no longer a priority.”

According to Stéphane Crochet, head of the SE-UNSA, member of UNSA Education, this is the first time since 2011 that a call to strike on an educational topic has brought together all trade union organisations, from pre-school to high school, in both the public and private sectors.

SNES-FSU: deep dissatisfaction

For its part, the SNES-FSU emphasized that “the fact that close to one out of every two secondary education teachers was on strike on 12 November 2018 reveals a deep dissatisfaction”, and that “the extent of the attacks against the civil service and national education in particular explains this strong reaction.”

“It is time to change policies in order to maintain a public education service that is respectful of staff and which guarantees training and a qualification for all young people”, argued the secondary education trade union.

SNUipp-FSU: a pseudo-priority given to primary education

For its part, the SNUipp-FSU was particularly annoyed with a “pseudo-priority” given to primary education, stating that the positions created will not cover the needs created by CP and CE1 classrooms in priority education areas doubling in size. More generally, the trade union criticised Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer’s policy which is “confusing” and creates “an education system of mistrust” rather than the “trusted education system” that the Minister intended.

SGEN-CFDT: a foreseeable increase in teaching staff’s workloads and a deterioration of their working conditions

The SGEN-CFDT also mobilised, arguing that the “2019 draft budget does not signal an ambitious educational policy and marks the end of the priority given to national education. The job cuts and failure to fill vacancies, despite there being many and important missions, will increase teaching staff’s workloads and deteriorate their working conditions.” It strongly deplored the fact that “the cuts to 400 administrative positions will weigh heavily on the daily workloads of colleagues whose working conditions have already been significantly deteriorated”, warning that “repeated reorganisations, previous job cuts and constant solicitations lead to dysfunctions that are detrimental to all staff in national education and the users of the public education service”.

The teaching staff “do not understand” the job cuts in secondary education considering the demographic growth expected in middle and high schools, emphasized SGEN-CFDT General Secretary Catherine Nave-Bekhti. For his part, the General Secretary of the CFDT confederation, Laurent Berger, told of the “extremely deep” exasperation felt by teachers who “have had enough”.