As British teachers are mobilising for a historic strike, their French counterparts are engaged in a bitter struggle of their own, in the face of a ferocious government attack and a scandalously timid union leadership.
The Sarkozy government recently produced the Pochard Report, which represents an acceleration of the neo-liberal educational reforms of the past decade. It recommends greater autonomy to local educational authorities to hire, fire and re-allocate staff; individual contracts between teachers and the local authority, rather than collective statutes upheld by central government; and the elimination of 11,200 teaching posts as of September 2008, and a further 80,000 (not a misprint!) by 2012.
New teachers will be hired on insecure temporary contracts. The “suppression of posts”, as it is referred to, will see class sizes increasing dramatically, the elimination of vocational courses, and teachers being required to teach an extra 71 hours a year, for which they will be paid substantially less than the current hourly rate.
In all, the attacks are a clear prelude to British-style privatisation and private-sector involvement in state schools, the breaking of the teaching unions’ strength, the “casualisation” of teaching, and the creation of a two-tier system for pupils, leading either to academia and management or to deskilled McJobs.
The government is throwing down a political gauntlet to the union; workplace assemblies of teachers, unsupported by the union itself, are taking it up.