I love the sound of strikes in the morning
Normally, right now I would be in class teaching cute little 2nd students the names of different articles of clothing. But I'm not. No, it's not that I'm playing hooky, or sick, but because my students are on strike. It looks something like this:
People holding banners.
Some students blocking the entrance to a university in Provence. (Both images copyrighted by Le Monde)
In my first class today, three girls showed up, out of 12 students. We went to the classroom where their teacher is and had an excellent discussion with the other 4 girls from the other half of the class showed up about the strike, privilege and racism in France.
The reason for the strike is something called the CPE, a new law that was passed through the assembly only yesterday. It basically gives young workers in their first job (so people 16 to 22 or so) a two-year tryout period in which their employer can let them go/fire them for little reason, minor mistakes, etc. What it essentially does is gives employers and companies more hiring and firing powers than they previously had. On the flipside, though, it screws over younger people because at the end of that two years when they are about to enter a normal contract with their employer, they could get fired and a new person hired in their stead. I tried to find an article in English on this, but without any luck because it's still too early in the U.S. for anybody to cover it and the Guardian, Independent, and AP don't seem to be covering it. If you read French, Le Monde is covering it pretty well. Once somebody else has more on it I'll post a link to that.
So, as of right now there are 37 universities that have students on strike, out of the 88 public ones in the country. Le Havre university is closed down because of this. The reason I don't have students is because they are out front of the school right now with signs and banners that say "Non à CPE", chanting, singing, etc. In fact, I woke up to "Non non non, à CPE" outside my window.
It's not as if this is only students, either, or just young people. I didn't have class on Tuesday either, because there was a general strike in all public sector jobs against the CPE, so my teacher that day was absent. As Sylvie, my "prof. responsable" explained, "It's easier for the students to continue demonstrating because they don't have jobs. It's cheaper for them, too."
In our discussion today with the students that showed up, all of them disagreed with the consequences of the CPE, yet thought that the protest was ineffective or a "lost cause". This also led to a discussion of whether their generation is spoiled (they all thought so), if they felt privileged (the two girls who had immigrant families were the only ones to say no), and the state of French society as not unified and discriminatory. In other words, it wasn't the most optimistic of conversations. They fear the CPE because it's already difficult for people to find and hold jobs in a country with almost 10% unemployment. They also think that politicians act out of ambition, rather than for the good of French people, and this one reason for the CPE.
It seems odd to me that Dominique de Villepin, the Prime Minister, is pushing this initiative, considering he will be running for President in 14 months. Sylvie explained that he doesn't really stand a chance against the beloved Sarkozy, the same Sarkozy who called people that live in the ghetto "racaille", or scum, back in November when they were burning cars all over the country. Thus, she sees Villepin as a puppet for business interests and a fall guy if this initative tanks. This article explains the strikes on Tuesday and the opposition to Villepin's initiative.
Today has been fruitful in learning about the French social model. You would never, ever see students in High School on strike in the U.S. against employment legislation. It's invigorating to see that these students care and are willing to act to protect their future. The government is passing laws that affect their lives, and they actually care and discuss these issues. Even those that didn't strike were well-informed and thoughtful about the CPE and the workings of their government. It's this willingness to react and fight to preserve or reform the system that they have going on that makes France fun. They're happy about working 35 hours a week, having vacation, good healthcare, etc., but they're also willing to take to the streets or get their pay docked from missing work to protect this.
As a side note, read this article on Imelda Marcos, the widow of the former Phillipine president Ferdinand Marcos. She was the one with all of the shoes and is still absolutely crazy. I want to make a powerpoint presentation about my life and philosophy incorporating Pacman. I heart her.
I was in Rouen yesterday visiting friends and got to watch about 15 min. of French television there. South Dakota made it onto the news because they banned abortion, and they even had an interview with Mike Rounds. Wow. I'm elated my state made the news in France as a conservative proving ground for anti-choice legistlation that may aid in turning back time for women 40 years. And it was just in time for International Women's Day yesterday! What better way to celebrate that, SD, than to take away the rights of women in your state. Way to go!