Movement against pension reforms in France : an example of mobilization in a rural school district

Original in French : Un exemple de mobilisation dans une cité scolaire rurale

In 2020 the President Macron / Prime Minister Philippe government tried to privatize our pay-asyou- go pension system. At that time, in a school district in the Gers (rural province in the south west of France), several teachers, tired of the high points of the joint-unions (intersyndicale) demonstrations, had tried to radicalize the struggle by participating in a collective with other teachers in the department. This collective was named « les black profs » (the black teachers, by analogy with « the black blocs »). A habit of general assemblies bringing together union members and non-union members, with a turn to speak and the attribution of precise mandates to prepare actions decided collectively, had been established.

However, this collective had not succeeded in becoming interprofessional (to extend toward workers of other branches of activity). Then came Covid and the confinement… The lid had fallen back on, work had resumed. As soon as winter 2022 arrived and a new socalled « reform » of pensions was announced, that is to say an umpteenth attack on our social benefits, general assemblies resumed at our workplace: they will soon take place every Monday at noon in the form of a picnic in front of our school campus, weather permitting. The habits contracted with the « black teachers » are being revived. From then on, a variety of actions were set up according to the ideas discussed during the Monday general assemblies. This relies on about twenty committed workers who, unlike in 2020, are no longer counted only among the teaching staff. Soon, a sort of internal collective bringing together unionized and non-unionized staff, teachers, AESH (accompanying person for students with disabilities), maintenance technicians, AEDs (education assistants), and amdministrative workers was set up.

The creativity of each one enriches the struggle, thus a banner workshop gives place to the realization of five big banners « Total withdrawal, general strike » which will mark the spirits during the demonstrations in Auch. Some events take place in our workplace like « the school of the future » or the display of photos of aged staff representing a school with staff aged 64 and more.

Picket lines every day of the strike in front of our workplace with banners, coffee and strike fund to invite our non-striking colleagues to join us and/or support us financially and symbolically block the access to the school campus. A « dying » in front of the school complex, the morning after the use of the 49.3 article to adopt the text postponing the legal retirement age. This action, which saw twenty-five people on the ground with signs « 49.3 democracy assassinated », restricting the entrance to the school, allowed us to challenge the students and invite them to join us. This opened up discussions and in fact, we then went on a demonstration to occupy a traffic circle with them, without really blocking traffic but visible and audible to all the people going to the market that day.

Unauthorized strolls in the small town, so often very quiet, to call on its inhabitants to join the interunion demonstrations and the information meeting organized by some colleagues.

Faced with the deafness of the government, blocking actions are taking shape in the Gers, at the call of a joint-union group that is less cautious than usual. Of course we are present. During the general assemblies, two recurring subjects came up: the decision of a renewable strike and the constitution of a strike solidarity fund. Neither one nor the other is unanimous. Several colleagues (about fifteen out of eighty) are very quickly convinced by the necessity to launch into a renewable strike, the only way to have the time to prepare actions different from the classic demonstrations. In fact, about twenty people went on a renewable strike three days out of five for three weeks in a row…

Of course, the strike is not totally renewable but the reality of the Gers is that we are the only school to be so strongly mobilized. The Gers is a very rural and sparsely populated department in which schools are far from each other. Striking teachers are often isolated and may feel that « it is useless » to mobilize because alone we cannot change much. Hence the idea of going to meet our colleagues on the days of a renewable strike.

The strike solidarity fund was first launched by selling cakes on the market. Then, via a website. Its management has been evolving. Initially created to support the staff receiving the lowest salaries, it was gradually extended to all staff and gave rise to the following motion to clarify its operation.

Principles of the strike fund voted unanimously on Tuesday 21/03/2023 in general assembly.

This strike fund will not compensate our loss of salary but aims to support the strike movement so that it lasts until the withdrawal of the pension reform.

For the precarious workers (AED, AESH, and contractual teachers), we can contribute for all the days of strike from 19/01/2023 to Friday 24 March 2023. As for the noncontractual teachers (tenured), the days of strike will also be counted from 19/01/2023 to Friday 24/03/2023, but the sum retained will be half of that given to the abovementioned categories. This is to ensure the greatest equity.

Everyone is free to accept help from the strike fund or to put it back into the common pot if they feel they do not need it.

It is to be noted that if certain trade union centrals (CGT, Sud Solidaire) have contributed to our strike fund, recognizing in this the intensity of our mobilization, other confederations on the other hand have not felt concerned! The horizontal aspect of the struggle meets a form of solidarity or not…

The strike fund allowed for the establishment of a solidarity that modified the class relationship between teachers and AEDs or maintenance workers. Since then, the class relations that existed and the artificial division between workers in the same place have cracked, giving way to real solidarity.

At the time of writing, the struggle is not over and it is difficult to know if our determination will prevail. However, it is to be hoped that the shared struggle will have anchored in people’s minds that the preservation of social gains will indeed be the work of the workers themselves deciding the forms of their struggle.

— Some CNT-AIT militants

Published in AIT-IWA Bulletin : IWA External Bulletin May 2023. (A4 Version)

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