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French teachers walk out in nationwide strike

The Local France
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French teachers walk out in nationwide strike
A protester holds a CGT education union flag during a demonstration in front of the rectorate in Toulouse, southwestern France, on October 18, 2022 (Photo by Valentine CHAPUIS / AFP)

Unions representing teachers in France have walked out in a nationwide strike, saying they feel disrespected by comments from the new education minister on the state schooling system.

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Unions representing teachers called a one-day nationwide strike on Thursday, February 1st.

The strike involves teachers at all levels - from primary school up to secondary school. Several of the largest unions are involved, including the FSU, as well as CGT, FO, Sud Éducation, and Unsa-Education and will likely lead to closures of entire schools or certain classes.

Teachers are protesting for against recent 'provocative' comments made by France's new education minister, Amélie Oudéa-Castera, as well as for greater recognition of their field.

According to a press release by the FSU sent out on Tuesday night - the main union representing primary school teachers - they expect about 40 percent of teachers across the country to walk out. 

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"With 65 percent of strikers in Paris, plus more than 50 percent in Val-de-Marne, Drôme, Ardèche and in Pyrénées-Atlantiques, the mobilsation will be large in certain départements," the union said, estimating that in Paris, at least 130 primary schools would be completely closed on Thursday.

 

Rallies will also be held across the country - in Paris, the protest will start at 2pm from the Jardin de Luxembourg (in the 6th arrondissement). It will move towards the Ministry of Education (in the 7th arrondissement).

What is the controversy related to the Minister of Education?

During an interview in mid-January, Oudéa-Castera referenced teacher absenteeism when explaining why she had chosen to send her children to private schools.

She said it was because of "loads of teaching hours without a serious replacement" teacher at her son's public school.

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Speaking to reporters on her first visit to a school as minister, she said she had been "fed up, like hundreds of thousands of families" across France.

All three sons of Oudea-Castera have instead attended the Stanislas school, a Catholic institution near her home in Paris. The minister later apologised for her comments.

Teachers have also expressed frustration over the fact that the new education minister is also the head of the ministry over sport and 2024 Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games. 

Guislaine David, the head of the FSU-Snuipp union, told AFP that the minister's comments "set things on fire". 

"The new minister has been abusing state schools since she arrived (in January), notably with lies. For some people, this was the trigger needed to mobilise," David told AFP, noting that a strike date had already been called in December prior to the appointment of the new minister.

A representative from the Unsa union, Franck Calmels told La Depeche that the minister's comments are "a contempt that we can't stand any longer."

"We can't say that we have a choice between public and private education, as the minister has said, because most families don't have a choice", Calmels added.

Many teachers felt the comments were disrespectful and inaccurate. Cyril Mazzon, a representative from the Sgen-CFDT union told French media that “It is not laziness that explains the absenteeism of teachers, as Amélie Oudéa-Castera seems to say, but a staffing problem that it is urgent to resolve."

Unions participating in the strike may not have agreed to a set of common demands, but they are all pushing for more financial and human resources in the National Education system.

Calmels told La Depeche: "This is the real problem to be resolved before establishing a common uniform or bringing back the Marseillaise", noting the policies announced by French President Emmanuel Macron during a recent press conference. 

READ MORE: Explained: Why is school uniform controversial in France?

"We can hide poverty and look for solutions in areas where there is no problem, but that won't solve anything," the union leader said. 

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