French pupils’ strike spreads

Schoolkids On the Block

Frustrated and angered by repeatedly absent teachers and inadequate or non-existent resources, students and schoolchildren in France have taken to the streets in demonstrations that began in Paris and have now have spread across the country. On Thursday 500,000 people marched in different locations, proclaiming themselves ‘on strike’

Demonstrators in Paris clashed with the police with bottles, window-smashing and car-trashing. 122 people were arrested. Many students appeared to be as frustrated by the way the demonstrations had gone as what they were about “It’s inevitable,” said Marcel, 16, “they treat us like idiots, we’ll behave like idiots. Everyone has the right to demonstrate and if the police block our route, this is what happens.”

Education minister, Claude Allegre, conceded that the school system needs reform and promised to present plans next month. However, pupils are aware that this will not bring about immediate change or remedy the injustices done to them personally. “It’ll take years,” said Rachid, 17. “My exams are this summer and I don’t have a teacher in three subjects.”

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Thousands of school pupils walked out of classes in 30 towns across France this week, complaining about overcrowded classes, long hours, crumbling schools and a shortage of teachers.

The leaders of the protests, which began in Nimes, have called for a nationwide strike next week if their demands are not met. The Education Minister, Claude Allegre, met a representative of the main union of lycee pupils yesterday to try to defuse the crisis.

In a sense, he brought the problem on himself. Last year he circulated all 1.5 million lycee pupils, asking for comments and ideas on the future of the state school system.

He was inundated with replies, many supporting his own arguments that the curriculum was too heavy and fact-based, that the hours were too long and the schools ill-equipped and badly organised to meet the demands of modern education.

In summer he admitted nothing could be done to improve the pupils’ lot in time for the new school year, which started last month; it would be another year before effective reforms would be in place.

The Nimes protesters said they had to study demanding science and language courses with up to 39 pupils in a class; that constant repair work on their schools made studying impossible; and that a shortage of teachers had forced the cancellation of sports and some subject combinations. Pupils in the southern town are also upset about the presence of neo-fascist National Front members on school governing bodies.

At some schools, especially in the Paris area, protesters complained that their lives were being made impossible by violence and protection rackets.

13th October

[...] Chanting “solidarity,” the students set off at midday from squares in the east and south of Paris, and headed for the Education Ministry, where two separate marches across the city centre were to meet a rally in the late afternoon. Police did not cut off traffic, leaving the children to maneuver dangerously in and out of passing cars.

“Through strikes you can dream”, said stickers the children slapped on lampposts and telephone boxes along the way.

Students have been protesting in a number of French cities over the last 10 days, just weeks after starting the new school year. Monday’s demonstration was the first in the capital.

The protests began after children returned from summer vacation and found little change from the year before. Classrooms remained too full, and instruction materials, including lab equipment, was often in short supply.

Protests were held in more than a dozen cities on Monday, with as many as 10,000 demonstrators in Paris, 8,000 in Bordeaux and 7,000 in Toulouse.

Police intervened to disperse hundreds of students who were running through a shopping center in Montparnasse, in southern Paris. Dozens of others, their faces masked, stole empty CD boxes from music shops and took food from bakeries, police said.

The trouble began as demonstrators gathered in the Place de la Nation to march on the education ministry in western Paris.

In Paris, where 30,000 turned out, 150 children overturned cars after a 15-year-old girl was seriously injured (*) when hit by a truck, smashed telephone booths, set a newspaper stand ablaze and looted stores and cafes on the Place de la Nation. Four people were injured and 82 arrests were made. Police blamed the trouble on roving “commando style” bands of masked children from troubled suburban areas, who they alleged used mobile phones to co-ordinate a two-hour looting spree.

After the trouble flared, police demanded the students call off their march before it reached the ministry. Instead, the marchers turned around and broke up into groups that dispersed throughout the city. (*) the girl later died.

13th October

[...] Several children were detained in Thionville, a town in eastern France, after dozens of students smashed shop windows and turned cars over.

Eighty children were detained for questioning in Paris and 10 in Rouen, police said.

In Bordeaux, an estimated 20,000-25,000 students packed the streets, while in nearby Toulouse more than 12,000 turned out.

In Lyon, some 15,000 protesting students joined with a second demonstration by angry farmers accompanied by 2,500 sheep.

There were about 9,000 marchers in Rouen, 3,000 in Mulhouse and an estimated 7,000 in Montpellier.

There were also protests in Avignon, Clermont-Ferrand, Grenoble, Marseille and Nice in southern France, Le Havre in the north, and Besancon, Metz, Nancy and Strasbourg in the east.

[...] up to 10,000 students walked through the streets of Bordeaux in the south-west, while 2,500 were on the march in the southern city of Toulouse, 1,500 in Lyons, 2,000 in the western town of Vannes and a similar number in Grenoble.

“They are not doing this for the fun of it,” Mr Daniel Bach, a headmaster in Seine-et-Marne outside Paris, said. “With high unemployment, they know they need the best education they can get – good teaching, an atmosphere that’s conducive to work, modern equipment. They’re not getting any of that.”

The marches, sit-ins and protests seem to have begun at a public lycee, or high school, in the southern city of Nimes and spread rapidly, in a self-organised ‘wildcat’ manner.

In France, where education is a responsibility of the central government, officials were caught napping at the onset, but now are paying attention. In 1968, discontent among students was the catalyst for near revolution that brought tanks onto the streets.

17th October

122 held in Paris pupil protests

French police were holding 122 students and schoolchildren in detention yesterday, including 75 minors, after Thursday’s protests and riots in the centre of Paris.

As many as 500,000 children are estimated to have taken part in Thursday’s demonstrations, which thugs in Paris used as a pretext to smash and burn cars and loot shops.

In the wake of the massive nationwide demonstrations by secondary pupils, Claude Allegre, the Socialist Education Minister, renewed promises yesterday to provide more teachers and meet other demands. Paris, meanwhile, braced itself for more trouble as pupils’ leaders said they planned another day of protests on Tuesday. Some teaching unions are also balloting members on joining the protest.

Across France yesterday, several thousand children kept the protests going. In the Basque city of Bayonne, about 500 paralysed train services by occupying the railway station for much of the morning. Others took over toll booths on the Pont de Tancarville bridge spanning the Seine estuary in Normandy, allowing motorists to drive across for free.

After meeting M Allegre, a delegation of the National Lycee Union said the minister had repeated promises to meet pupils’ demands.

21st October

Paris police staged a highly aggressive show of force on the second nationwide day of children’s demonstrations yesterday.

In the French capital, where an early police estimate put the number of children in the city at 25,000, armoured police coaches carrying the notorious CRS riot police and paramilitary gendarmes brought 5,500 extra officers. From around 8am, with sirens blaring, they pushed through the rush-hour traffic towards the city centre.

Police vehicles swung across side streets to form barricades and towed away those cars the owners of which had not taken heed of police demands to keep away from the demonstration.

Two hours before the march began yesterday, police said they had arrested 53 children. Plainclothes police arrested suspected offenders along the route. Teachers’ unions, which had joined the protest, and university students’ unions provided marshals to defend children from police provocation.

By mid-afternoon, police said protests had brought out a total of 275,000 children all over France. 4,500 police checked identity papers of students who streamed out of the subway to join the protest, and conducted thousands of body searches.

“We’re here because we’ve got 40 people in one classroom that’s falling apart,” said Ablo Tham, from the working-class suburb of Trappes. “If the government doesn’t listen, we’ll make sure it does.”

Six weeks after the school year began, some students are still without teachers. Many schools, especially in disadvantaged neighborhoods, badly need modernizing.

Many students wore yellow-and-black stickers calling on Education Minister Claude Allegre to resign. Others waved banners with colorful slogans reflecting their anger.

Allegre is scheduled to meet today with students for the second time, and new reform measures are expected to be announced.

Some students were skeptical their demands would be satisfied.

“I would be very surprised if the government can do anything,” said Spresa Mamud, 15. “It costs a lot of money. We won’t see anything, but we’re fighting for those people who come after us.”

The Interior Ministry said that more than 80 young people had been detained by mid-afternoon, including those arrested before the protest began.

Police spray tear-gas at students, Paris.

October 21st

Sixteen-year-old Lucas sat on the pavement in the Boulevard Raspail. The designer boutiques of the sixiÅme arrondissement looked inviting with several shattered plate glass windows. At Kenzo, across the street, a sales assistant hurriedly undressed the mannequins. “Too many cops,” Lucas sighed with a nod towards the Boulevard St Germain, where hundreds of riot police charged on the students. The son of West Indian workers, Lucas told of why he had come to yesterday’s demonstration. “We live badly,” he complained. “There’s no money.”

Water gushed from hoses into the gutter in front of us. Among dozens of shattered facades were the Pronuptia bridal boutique, expensive Le Raspail brasserie, two spectacle shops and a Renault car dealership — last week a 15-year-old girl died when hit by a truck while marching, because the police had not stopped the traffic for the first march.

The marchers have a variety of complaints. Emilie, 17, said: “We have a teacher of Spanish who speaks no Spanish, so it’s difficult to make much progress – especially when he’s away every other week. In English, we’re 38 in class. It’s chaos and the teacher refuses to take the course.” For El Hadj, 16, the problem was still more basic: “My school has 2000 pupils. Some days you are lucky if you even find a chair to sit on.”

The Paris prefecture deployed 5,500 police for an expected 25,000 demonstrators. Police said 85 people were slightly injured in Paris. About 110 young people were arrested nationwide. In all of France, 275,000 students and teachers marched, compared to 500,000 last week.

Polls show 88 per cent of French people support the school students.

22nd October

Students will wait and see if French reforms work. French school students could call more protests if they aren’t satisfied with steps announced Wednesday to solve funding problems and improve the country’s overcrowded high schools, a student leader said.

The students’ frustration has clearly not dissipated despite government promises to hire more teachers, buy new equipment, and reduce the heavy course load.

“It’s not yet a victory,” Loubna Meliane told France-Info radio. “We’ll have to see.” A weeklong vacation begins at the end of the week. Meliane said the vacation will give students time to examine the measures.

The strikes continue…

Half a million high-school pupils demonstrate in France

ARIS (AFP) — Thursday 15 October 1998 — 7:35 p.m. Paris time – On Thursday, some 500,000 pupils across France, according to the police, took part in demonstrations, with sporadic violent incidents in Paris, demanding more study resources.

“We’re not hooligans. We just want some teachers.” chanted the demonstrators in Paris, in a procession of 28,000 people, according to the police. In spite of police warnings, a few hundred very young rioters, often with their faces covered with scarves, smashed up and looted several dozen shops and some cafÄs. They also turned over and damaged about a hundred cars, including about ten vehicles between Place de la Nation and the Ministry of Education (Rue de Grenelle, 7th Borough), which were set alight, according to the Police Department.

Five people were hurt, including a police sergeant with head injuries and a young man who was stabbed, during these incidents. They are in a stable condition. The police have revealed 110 people were arrested.