Academic activism flier, september 2010

I confess I’m not sure this will really interest anyone besides me, but on the off chance… this is a quick translation of the higher education flier that accompanied the street demonstration I wrote about a few days ago. It’s useful if you want to get a sense of what oppositional faculty are talking about. I’m attending the OECD conference on higher education management this week, and something else at the French Ministry of Higher Education, so I should shortly have lots to say about the political contrast between official and oppositional discourse. Plus I’ll get to feel fair and balanced.

Mobilize together!

Working and studying conditions in research and higher education

As this school year starts, staff and students are seeing no improvement in their working, studying and living conditions. The government’s reform of teacher education [mastérisation] is showing all its negative effects: there are former job candidates who can’t apply twice, candidates who pass the hiring exam but still don’t get jobs [reçus-collés], acrobatics aimed at creating [new] “teaching MA” programs after a parody of accreditation, interns put in front of classes without any real professional training, whose secondary school colleagues have refused to tutor them… The university and research map has been profoundly modified by the accelerating restructuring of research organizations (new Instituts at the CNRS, merger between the INRP and the ENS-Lyon) and of universities (with processes of inter-campus “fusion”), which have lurched into being through bidding on the government’s recently borrowed infrastructure funds [Grand emprunt]. The multiplication of individualized research grants (PES, PFR, …) threatens teamwork, essential in our sectors. Precarity is rising among the students, under the combined effects of rising fees set by the government (tuition, student health insurance [sécurité sociale], campus dining halls) and rising housing expenses.

Job cuts

We have already seen a freeze in government workers’ salaries for 2011, cuts of 36,000 public sector jobs, and a drastic fall in the number of teaching jobs up for hiring (11,600 jobs versus 15,125 the year before, with a 55% decline for primary school teachers). Under the cover of “deficit reduction,” the latest government announcements presage new public sector blood-letting, further falls in our purchasing power, accelerating degradation of the services offered to the public, and accelerating degradation of staff working conditions, with an ever-rising growth of precarity.

Xenophobic and securitarian attacks

During the summer, the government has stepped up its xenophobic interventions and expulsions, especially of undocumented foreign students. Foreign professors and researchers have been frightened in France or been prevented from coming here. More and more unionists or social activists have been taken to court. To push back against these attacks, a citizens’ petition has been set up: “against xenophobia and the politics of pillory: liberty, equality and fraternity,” which the undersigned organizations ask you to sign:

Pension counter-reform

The government’s pension “reform” project, which exacerbates the effects of the 2003 Fillon Law, will be brought before the National Assembly on September 7. It involves major benefit reductions for everyone. It means:

  • Obligations to work more for smaller and smaller pensions
  • Major increases in already massive youth unemployment
  • Falling net salaries for public-sector workers [fonctionnaires]

For research and higher education, it also involves a refusal to give pension credit for the years spent on education, writing a thesis, working abroad (post-docs), professional service work, or late hirings.

A completely different pension reform ought to aim at improving pensions for everyone, as much for people on State retirements as for everyone else. It would especially allow:

  • The right to retire at 60 with a full pension, calculated as 75% of the average salary for the past six months for public-sector workers.
  • Maintenance and improvement of women’s rights.
  • Indexing the pensions according to reimbursement rates themselves indexed by the cost of living [indexé aux prix].
  • Taking into account the structurally short careers of research and higher education staff.
  • Taking years of higher education into account in pension calculations.

This calls for other financing, based on a redistribution of wealth more favorable to workers [plus favorable au travail]. Exemptions to employers’ contributions must be revisited, and corporations’ financial products must be made to contribute. This requires an employment policy, especially a public employment policy, that’s equal to our needs.

While young people are having such a hard time finding jobs, we refuse to see old people forced to stay at work longer in hopes of a decent pension — which will augment youth unemployment even further.

Opposing this policy

The undersigned organizations call on all university staff and on the whole university community to massively react:

  • Respond to the petition “Against xenophobia and the politics of pillory: liberty, equality and fraternity,” by participating in the demonstrations of September 4th.
    Paris: September 4th at 2pm from République to Nation under the Higher Education Research balloon.
  • Participate massively in the September 7th day of strikes and public-private sector protests over “Pensions, employment, salaries.
    Paris: September 7th at 2pm from République to Nation under the Higher Education Research balloon.
  • And throughout September, we’ll be amplifying our mobilizations in order to make the government back down.

Signatory organizations: FSU (SNESUP, SNCS, SNASUB, SNEP, SNETAP), CGT (SNTRS, FERC’Sup), UNSA (Sup’Recherche, SNPTES), Solidaires (Sud recherche EPST, Sud Etudiant), CFTC INRA, UNEF, SLR, SLU.

(I should note that a few of the French expressions in square brackets are ones that I’m not 100% sure of knowing how to translate. Corrections welcome.)

I won’t give much of an analysis of this text, except to note that it seems to revel in a certain political eclecticism, drawing together immigration policy, pension policy, public-sector job cuts, and the arcana of university policy into a sort of buckshot critique of the government at large. This political eclecticism, moreover, apparently gets knit together largely through a sort of temporal rhetoric designed to instruct the reader about the state of the political present, to predict the bad future ahead, and to conjure up the optimism of a political mobilization that might avert the worst of what’s to come. In other words, a major implicit project of an activist flier like this, I would argue, is to say to the reader: this is the moment in history where we are now; here’s how we can intervene. I know this point is totally obvious, in a sense, but it seems to me that it’s worth thinking, as analysts, about the fact that political practice involves trying to alter people’s sense of time, to make them realize that they are in a political present, backed up against the wall of the future… And again, it’s banal to observe that political mobilization involves creating a sense of urgency, but it’s worth thinking twice about the fact that urgency involves a whole relationship to time and crisis.