A question that has interested me since my arrival in France has been the following: how do participants in last spring’s university protests sustain their political hopes in light of the seemingly limited success of their actions last spring? I asked around last June about this and got some nebulous answers about how you just have to keep trying, as if hope was normative even when dismay was the real political feeling of the moment. It would I suppose be exaggeration on my part to say that last spring’s strikes “failed”; certainly they may have slowed things down, and they caused an immense ruckus and drew attention and majorly developed critical analysis of the university and put a major thorn in the side of the education minister — who is still Sarkozy’s Valérie Pécresse, in case you wondered. But they didn’t manage to get the government’s university reforms withdrawn and neither did they manage the radical transformation of universities that many said they desired.
“We have even more cause than last year to be angry and to keep fighting.”
This declaration was placed at the start of the communiqué of the National University Coordinating Committee*, which met at Paris-8 on September 30. It perfectly summarizes the feelings of everyone who was there — the representatives of 29 establishments of higher learning and research. We all know that it’s not possible to have a strike comparable to the one we had last semester; we all know that there’s no single form of action that alone would manage to make the government give in; but we all know as well that doing nothing would end up giving the government free reign to impose the worst on us.
For we must not have the slightest illusion on this point: the passage to complete university “autonomy” will wind up threatening the status of ALL workers in higher education. A small cast of mandarins and their lackeys aside, this reform will, before the end of this coming decade, force us all to have to defend our jobs in terms of criteria that the government will wholly determine.
—Autonomous to manage our own fiscal destitution,
—Autonomous to inflict the costs on the students and raise their tuition,
—Autonomous to spread precarious working conditions throughout the educational system,
—Autonomous to impose permanent competition between ourselves.
Last semester’s strike led the government to slow down in its destruction of the public service. But let’s not get this wrong: if we let down our guard, our universities will soon become service stations working under contracts with the State. The State will then retain for itself the autonomy that we claim for ourselves: that is, the autonomy to set scientific programs and pedagogical methods. And given the way the minister acts towards our university today, as in the case of the IFU, we can genuinely fear the worst.