France: trade union calls for enhanced status for the teaching profession and education for all
EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, took part in the national congress of one of the largest French EI members, the Syndicat national des enseignements de second degré (SNES-FSU). This congress, held in Reims, from 2-6 April, focused on “(Re)constructing secondary education for all”.
The SNES-FSU Congress focused on four major discussion themes to promote the trade union’s claims: a successful secondary education for all; staff recognised and appreciated and focused on their work; economic, social and environmental alternatives; and the renewal of trade unionism.
This Congress concluded with a public “Call for secondary education,” presenting the SNES proposals to enhance the education system, crucial emergency measures, to be taken in the 2012 academic year, to restore secondary education, and, a decision to hold a general convention for secondary education in France in September-October, as part of the public discussion that SNES is pursuing in order to develop a renewed commitment to secondary education, underpinned by appropriate legislation for secondary schools.
Neo-liberal attacks on Education
In her opening speech, the Co-General Secretary of SNES-FSU, Frédérique Rolet, denounced the fact that attacks against education have been stepped up in recent years, which combined redundancies with budget cutbacks and reactionary reforms. The education authorities’ disinterest in curricular content and their determination to weaken academic disciplines, vital for the acquisition of knowledge, have been accompanied by a deterioration in working and learning conditions.
She also found that the neo-liberal offensive on schools has been waged on all fronts, setting-up multi-level classes, raising inequalities, seeking to undermine the unity of the education framework nation-wide and undermining education statutes.
“And yet,” she added, “staff never reduced their commitment; they fulfilled their responsibilities by putting in more work, and by trying to provide a public education service worthy of the name.”
To advance proposals for a more democratic education system based on better trained and better-paid teachers who have a say on how they practice their profession, SNES will step up the joint work with the other trade union and civil society partners who subscribe to this goal. Rolet also emphasised that alternative solutions to austerity measures and cuts in public spending for education must be produced, and “an alternative project must be pursued at European level and even beyond, through cooperation and collaboration, to counter the regressive policies encountered every day.”
A structural crisis in recruiting educators
Denouncing the crisis in the recruitment of educators organised by the Government, she added that the counter-reforms imposed have shown what the education system needs and have opened up opportunities to consider jointly the changes necessary to get all young people into appropriate education, restore equality throughout the entire national territory, restore respect and a high status for the teaching profession, and make it appealing again.
Addressing the Congress, the EI General Secretary reminded the attendees of SNES’s contribution in the charting of EI policies and strategies, as well as the organisation’s help in implementing fundamental EI responsibilities.
He thanked Odile Cordelier, EI Vice-President for Europe, and Roger Ferrari, SNES National Secretary, for their international work at SNES.
As regards the latter, he stated: “I want to stress, Roger, that you have done some marvellous work with the Francophone Teachers’ Union Committee. I have just come back from the Ivory Coast this morning, and our colleagues there asked me to thank this Congress, the SNES and yourself, Roger, for the support that they received during the crisis that wreaked havoc in the country. As you can imagine, that support helped save human lives.”
Investing in education for a sustainable recovery
“We must make all governments in Europe and around the globe understand that investing in public education and training is the key to a sustainable recovery and a healthier and fairer economy for the future. The fight against poverty begins in the classroom!” van Leeuwen underlined.
“France is the very example of a country that benefited from quality education – in terms of economic success, but also in terms of quality of life. Compulsory schooling for all children is part of the history of your Republic. I, therefore, have no need to warn you against the ‘fashionable’ trend towards privatising and even commercialising education by bringing in market principles such as competition, performance, selection and profitability – key words in the neo-liberal dictionary.”
Teaching is a vocation
Condemning a real de-professionalisation of teaching he stressed that “teaching is a vocation! Beyond the knowledge of the discipline, there is a specific skill which has to do with the transmission of knowledge and respect of values. Nowadays, this self-evident fact is disregarded.”
“We will either have to endure or go on the offensive. But we should bear in mind that we can only rely on ourselves to ensure the future we want for our profession. Nevertheless, under no circumstances are we simple spectators looking as to which way our governments will go.”
Pointing out that EI comprises 90 per cent of the teaching profession, and that this united front is a real strength, he stated: “Yes, together we are strong! But we still need more strength to face all the attacks against the public education service and against us, the trade unions.”
Public education and solidarity: two powerful weapons
Van Leeuwen closed his address by emphasising that public education and solidarity are two powerful weapons: “Ensuring solidarity between trade unions, solidarity between people, and quality public education for all – that’s our challenge”.
For more information, go to www.snes.edu.