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French Students are Right to Rebel: Against an Order Based on Selection and Repression

An open letter in support of the current student revolt, the railworkers’ strike, and the struggles in defence of public services in France.

Verso Books20 April 2018

French Students are Right to Rebel: Against an Order Based on Selection and Repression

First published at Mediapart. Translated by David Broder. 

"Professional troublemakers." Such was the term Emmanuel Macron used on the ORTF news programme at 1 o’clock on Thursday 12 April. He was insistent enough to repeat it at prime time on Sunday evening. Fifty years after May ’68, or almost, the president is following right in De Gaulle’s footsteps. Macron has identified his own "chienlit" [literally "masquerade," but also a pun on "shit-in-bed" — a term used by De Gaulle to describe the protests]. Better still, he has sent in the CRS riot cops against the campuses that have mobilised, after having already deployed 2,500 gendarmes against the ZAD ["area to be defended"; occupied land and former airport site] in Notre-Dame-des-Landes. This is a full programme indeed for whoever wants to put the country back "'En Marche" ["on the move"; the name of Macron’s party]. Or rather, to bring it to heel.

The students stand strongly against the ORE Bill. It seeks to carve in stone a social selection process that is in fact already at work in today’s universities; it will permanently shut their doors to high-school leavers from working-class and poor neighbourhoods and backgrounds. Are these thousands of young people meeting in general assemblies — notably at Tolbiac, Paris 3, Paris 8, Nanterre, Nantes, Lyon 2, Strasbourg, Marseille, Rennes 2, Grenoble, Rouen, Poitiers, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Montpellier — really being manipulated by small cliques of "professional troublemakers"? Have these multiple university collectives, the staff from more than a hundred fields and departments, even including the presidents of several universities, and 8,000 people signing a petition, all of whom have condemned or already decided to boycott the Parcoursup [new university admissions system] and all that goes with it, been manipulated by so-called "professional agitators"?

Half a century after May ’68, the same arguments, or almost the same ones, are being used all over again, to ring in the moment of beating up on youth, with physical beatings as well as words. The government responds to the youth with lies, infantilisation, the abject blackmail of the exams, and brutal repression. This is a simple philosophy and not a very new one. It tells you revise for your end-of-term exams, let other people think for you, give in to the world of mass unemployment, precarity and super-flexibility even while you are still in high school, and most importantly, walk in line, look at your feet and say thank you.

But this mobilisation is not only something created by students, teachers or (now also) high-schoolers. It is also the achievement of administrative, technical and library staff and precarious colleagues at all levels — all these invisible "foot soldiers" without whom the university would not work, but who are always the first target of budget cuts and management becoming just as brutal as the one working away in the private sector. And who cannot go on like this.

In many sectors the anger is directed at "junk work" and low wages — from healthcare to old-age carehomes, Air France or the secondary sector. The railworkers have engaged a decisive test of strength against Macron, who wants to make the counter-reform on the railways the founding act of his first term. But for the government the prospect of the youth and the world of labour joining together is something to be feared like the plague. That is why the authorities have decided to break the students and the strikers: at Nanterre as at Lille, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Grenoble, Lyon, Nantes, the Sorbonne and Tolbiac. And when it is not uniformed police who are doling out the beatings, it is the far Right, as in Montpellier or Strasbourg.

For all these reasons, we fully solidarise with the current student revolt, the railworkers’ strike and the struggles in defence of public services. The collective response must be of the same dimensions as the violence of these attacks. We have to unite our struggles to secure the withdrawal of the ORE Bill, Parcoursup, the "Pact for the Railways," and the Asylum and Immigration Bill.

We demand an end to repression and the withdrawal of the police present on the campuses and the areas around them.

We demand the immediate release of the mobilised young people and workers who have been arrested since the beginning of the movement, and the dropping of all and any charges against them.

16 April 2018

Signatories (as of 11:40pm, 17 April)

Eric Alliez, Professor, Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint Denis

Etienne Balibar, Emeritus professor, Université de Nanterre

Loïc Ballarini, Lecturer, Université de Lorraine

Ludivine Bantigny, Lecturer, HDR [a post-doc qualification], Université de Rouen

Emmanuel Barot, Lecturer, HDR, Université Jaurès/ex-Mirail Toulouse

Christophe Benzitoun, Lecturer, Université de Lorraine

Philippe Blanchet, Professor, Université Rennes 2

Nicole Brenez, Professor, Université Paris 3

Fanny Darbus, Lecturer, Université de Nantes

Bruno Dauvier, Lecturer, HDR, Université Aix-Marseille

Marielle Debos, Lecturer, Université de Nanterre

Pascale Dubus, Lecturer, HDR, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

Alain Dutech, Research fellow, INRIA

Eric Fassin, Professor, Université Paris 8

Franck Fischbach, Professor, Université de Strasbourg

François Gèze, Editor

Boris Gobille, Lecturer, ENS Lyon

Franck Gaudichaud, Lecturer, Université Grenoble Alpes

Nacira Guénif, Professor, Université Paris 8 Vincennes - Saint-Denis

Véronique Hébrard, Professor, Université de Lille 3

Odile Henry, Professor, Université Paris 8

Gerd-Rainer Horn, Professor, Sciences Po

Richard Jacquemond, Professor, Université Aix-Marseille

Lionel Jacquot, Professor, Université de Lorraine

Chantal Jaquet, Professor, Université Paris 1 Panthéon -Sorbonne

Fanny Jedlicki, Lecturer, UMR IDEES, Université du Havre

Marianne Jover, Professor, Université Aix-Marseille

Razmig Keucheyan, Professor, Université de Bordeaux.

Jean-Luc Kop, Lecturer, Université de Lorraine

Claire Laguian, Associate professor, Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée

Sophie Large, Lecturer, Université de Tours

Wenceslas Lizé, Profressor, Université de Poitiers.

Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, Université d'Évry-Val-d'Essonne

Olivier Long, Academic and painter, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

Frédéric Lordon, Economist and philosopher, CNRS

Béatrice Mabilon-Bonfils, Professor, Université de Cergy.

Pascal Maillard, Université de Strasbourg

Lilian Mathieu, Sociologist, CNRS

Olivier Morizot, Lecturer, Université Aix-Marseille

Olivier Neveux, Professor, ENS Lyon.

Ugo Palheta, Lecturer, Université de Lille

Eugenia Palieraki, Lecturer, Université de Cergy-Pontoise

Irene Pereira, Philosophy teaching professor, UPEC

Romain Pudal, Sociologist, CNRS

Lissell Quiroz, Lecturer, Université de Rouen-Normandie

Olivier Ramaré, CNRS/Aix Marseille Université

Manuel Rebuschi, Lecturer, HDR, Université de Lorraine

Matthieu Rémy, Lecturer, Université de Lorraine

Emmanuel Renault, Professor, Université de Nanterre

Matthieu Renault, Lecturer, Université Paris 8

Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc, Professor, Université Paris 8

Alessandro Stella, CNRS research director, EHESS

Julien Théry, Professor, Université Lumière de Lyon

Jean-Baptiste Thomas, Lecturer, Université de Poitiers

Sylvie Tissot, Professor, Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint Denis

Marc Tomczak, Lecturer, Université de Lorraine

Jérôme Valluy, Lecturer, HDR, Université Paris 1 - Panthéon-Sorbonne

Sylvie Wharton, Professor, Aix-Marseille Université

Maud Yvinec, Lecturer, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

Caroline Zekri, Lecturer, Université Paris Est Créteil

Filed under: education, france, labour