June 18, 2003 1 min read

French Strike

Some 600,000 French students who are in their last year of high school are wondering if they’re going to be able to receive their diplomas because of striking teachers.

In France, teachers are responsible for organizing “Baccalauréat” exams, which students must take and pass if they hope to go on to an institution of higher education.

Teachers, who have been on strike for almost a month, had threatened to boycott the exams. But the first exam, philosophy, took place with their assistance, as scheduled, on June 12. Teachers now warn that they might give high marks to every student upon grading the tests. Should they do so, the exams would be deemed worthless.

The teachers have several grievances against the government. But they are particularly concerned about having to work longer before they become eligible to collect their pensions.

Instead of working the current 37 1/2 years, they and other public sector employees would have to pay in to the pension system 40 years by 2008; by 2020, all French workers, public and private alike, would have to work nearly 42 years.

Teachers maintain that their jobs are particularly difficult, and they cannot see themselves in the classroom into their 60s.

The Ministry of Education has begun discussions with union leaders about the end of teachers’ careers, including the opportunity to work in jobs other than teaching after they turn 60.

Educators are also upset by a proposed law that would decentralize many nonteaching positions; they worry that teaching might be next.

Their last major issue centers on a government proposal to give more autonomy to universities and consolidate smaller and larger ones. Educators contend that the measure would dismantle a unified and comparable system of universities in France.

Action on the latter two proposals has been postponed until fall.

A poll released by French public TV early this month revealed that 63 percent of the people supported the strike.

Claire Guimbert