Archive for March, 2009

Protest In France By Michael Galvin

March 22, 2009

Protest In France By Michael Galvin

Also published at:


French Universities Occupied Against Neo-Liberal Reforms

March 14, 2009

French Universities Occupied Against Neo-Liberal Reforms

Also posted at:

The Money is the Matter – published Fall 2007

March 11, 2009

Note: This article was written shortly after a strike led by Students for a Democratic Society that attempted to shut down Macalester College for the Iraq War Moratorium.

Following the strike a couple Fridays ago, I was listening to WMCN [the college radio] and a kid was talking about what a success the strike was but simultaneously how he just didn’t understand why students at Macalester would strike.  He used the analogy of having an expensive magazine subscription and then just throwing out one of the issues in protest, to make the point that not going to a(n expensive) class at Macalester for the strike is just like throwing money away.  There we find a deeply rooted problem.  Time and education are seen in an apolitical light, in terms of the cents per moment, hundreds of dollars per hour, thousands of dollars per week that we pay for the privilege of educating ourselves at an elite private American college.  We are not here to make demands, we are not here to think about what things are done or how they are done, but rather, we are here to be grateful that we are granted private access – one of the select few to have a guaranteed future as a certified “global citizen-leader.”

Shift to France: In the last few weeks thousands of students have taken to the streets, shutting down classes, occupying buildings, massively resisting recent reforms by the newly elected right-wing government to begin privatization of the university system there.  Currently, the higher education system is almost fully funded by the state, open to all and almost universally free.  Students, teachers, and the supporters around the country have come out en masse to resist the new threats toward education as a public space – the educational commons.  Direct democracy, they claim, is a central tenet of the system that allows people to maintain their capacity to make demands, raise complaints, and demand educational justice to their government.

The new Pécresse laws which will massively reduce government funding to universities thereby encouraging private corporations to fill the gap (à la the American system), threaten this openness.  By allowing private corporations to pay for education instead of the public, universities will begin large scale competition with one another to attract the most lucrative offers.  Consequences include the institution of tuition fees, a significant decrease in access to all who seek education, a downsizing of departments considered less marketable, and a large gap emerging between funding for select Parisian schools and universities elsewhere in France.  In effect, there would be a fracturing effect in which access would emerge for a select few while leaving the rest of the population behind.

Yet, this system is not yet in place and thousands are mobilizing against it.  During the peak period of strike activity, a majority of France’s 84 universities were striking with students occupying and blockading more than two dozen.  High school students around the country are also mobilizing to resist measures rendering their futures more precarious.  In one of the hundreds of videos posted on the internet, thousands of high school and university students march and occupy the streets of Toulouse chanting “Students, Workers, Solidarity!” referring to the rail union strikes taking place around the country; however, through the American gaze, it seems as if they are highlighting their very possibility of solidarity with workers throughout the country.  This explicitly stated solidarity – and its tangible scale – is something unimaginable between students and workers in this country.  The ubiquitous democracy in the social and political resistance movements in France are obvious to anyone who cares to look.

Back in America, our education system is already fully and pervasively privatized and we are currently waging a disastrous war and occupation on a foreign country for the 5th year.  Yet, opposing the latter (or the former) seems an entirely overwhelming task – who do we talk to?  What do we do without a democratic means to express our discontent?  It is at this point that we begin to see the intersection of all of our problems.  If the French system facilitates democratic intervention on a mass scale against the beginning of privatizations, while our system allows an illegal war to begin and continue with ne’er a peep, how can we begin to sort out where one problem starts and another ends?  For one, realizing that STRIKING and stopping business as usual by disrupting your daily life in solidarity with millions of others around the country on the day of the Moratorium is more important than “wasting a couple hundred dollars,” is a start.

French Universities Occupied Against Neo-Liberal Reforms – Photos of Protests

March 11, 2009

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Marseille 23/2/09Marseille 23/2/09Marseille 23/2/09Marseille 23/2/09

My friend Pierrick calls me Tuesday afternoon with the news that the general assembly of students at his university voted for an occupation and blockade of academic buildings in reaction to the recent application of the Pécresse Law.  When we got to the auditorium of IEP (Institute of Political Studies, in Toulouse), students were mulling about, talking, chain-smoking and preparing the chains and barricades of tables and chairs for when the last classes of the day let out.  As soon as that happens, everything gets thrown up against the exits closing the institution off from the outside world while politicized students rule the halls of the interior, debating, holding meetings, eating and drinking as life goes on as normal on the outside.  According to Pierrick, this is only the third time that his university has ever been occupied – as it is adjacent to the right-wing law school – the previous time being in reaction to the passage of the Pécresse law last year when half of the universities in France were occupied and shut down by mobilized students for a period ranging from weeks to months.  Therefore, this is a movement that effectively began last year when the law was voted, went into a brief hibernation, and is now being revived in conjunction with the law’s application by the right-wing Sarkozy government’s minister of higher education Valéry Pécresse.  

Generally speaking, French universities are meticulously organized and highly democratic places.  For example, during mobilizations last year in only a two week period, there were over 48 general assemblies organized around the country with the vast majority having over 500 students in attendance.  Such massive organization of young people and ideas toward political ends is something that is unparalled in “public” institutions in the United States for example.  While the realization of such mobilization is largely due to the very open and militantly public and popular – in the literal sense – nature of French institutions of higher learning (in fact an often heard chant in protests is “For a critical and popular university”), many denigrate the fact that some French universities risk being blockaded for several months out of the year by certain ‘leftists’ preventing others from being able to attend their classes and actually get an education in the formal sense.  Yet the fact is that these occupations are organized and enacted democratically giving French students the possibility to understand how democracy works, take part in their system, and feel like they have a say in not only the democratic process that is higher education, but in the application of government policy as well; in other words, the experience is very educational.

This all may change however as the French government’s application of the Pécresse Law threatens the very root of these ideas.  In fact, the most amazing and scary thing is how strikingly American the changes appear.  Under the rubric of “Autonomy” and “Professionalization,” the Sarkozy government intends to liberalize the functioning of university administration and funding.  In terms of “Autonomy” the law calls for less funding from the state while pushing universities to take ownership of their own individual properties, and create foundations through which private money can fund or develop programs, which essentially means that the hand of the private sector will firmly take control of the current public system of education; and of course, these private funders could not go unrewarded.  By restructuring the university administration, diminishing the power of professors in choosing administrators and replacing these decision-making bodies with corporate board-like entities, the private sector interests will easily gain their foot in the door to affect not only the functioning of the institution but also curriculum.  This moves perfectly into the government’s “Professionalization” theme which strives to provide students with “orientation and professional insertion;” in other words, an education that will provide them with direct professional insertion into the marketplace, and preventing them from studying “unproductive” subjects like history or the humanities.  In fact, not only will there be large budget cuts in which less “useful” department and faculty will be axed, but there will be an increase in inscription fees, tuition, as well as increased competition between universities to create the best educational brand in order to attract the most desirable students.  All of this seems to foreshadow leaving the French in precisely the same predicament in which the American university exists today as even so-called public American universities are, on average, only 30% financed by the state with the rest coming from quintuple digit tuition for students, and “investments” from private corporations pushing their own research goals and profit interests, killing all possibility for an education that takes into account the situation of the society, its history and the collective interests that its individual citizens within it represent.  For me, the last few years has made this more and more clear.

Two years ago, while in the throes of the Bush administration and some of the worst moments of the war on and occupation of Iraq I wrote an article for an independent publication on the differences between American and French university protest movements entitled, “The Money is the Matter” (you can read the whole article up there ^), I was intensely frustrated by the insane discrepancy between the massive movement in France concerning the passage of a law that would begin privatizing the higher education system there, and the total lack of any movement within the already fully privatized higher education system in the United States after seven years of a bloody, imperialist and illegal war in Iraq.  However, the point of the article not only connected those two dots but argued that it was precisely this privatization and the social deformations that it engendered that allowed such exhorbatantly absurd atrocities to be committed without the slightest reaction.  The two went hand in hand; and in fact, no American universities were occupied due to the war. 

Nevertheless, the French seem to understand the American model and fortunately can learn from it – or rather, to avoid it.  The head of the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris recently wrote that “professionalizing higher education would be devastating.  Adapting to the needs of private corporations is not a good solution, because in a world of perpetual change, the needs of corporations are always changing thus leading to an education that after only a short time is outdated and useless.”  A major French newspaper Libération also recently ran an article in which four French professors with experience working in America commented on the neo-liberal American model and its application in France.  They write that such a system “claims to have confidence in the market but instead only serves to reinforce hierarchy.  The current reform, in reality, impoverishes the forms of solidarity that are effective in our societies.”  Thus, while the left is holding firm on the claim that the government should revoke the new law without any conditions, Sarkozy and his ministers are working to split the movement by seducing professors with compromises in an attempt to isolate the student movement.  While such backhanded efforts have succeeded in forcing past legislation and repressing popular dissent, the current atmosphere appears positive as more and more universities are erecting the barricades against the imported neo-liberal policies that strive to kill the very possibility to collectively organize to express dissent.



Original Quotations: ; The President of the Sorbonne:
« professionnaliser les études initiales serait dévastateur. S’adapter aux besoins des entreprises en travaillant à leur fournir une main-d’oeuvre hyperspécialisée n’est pas la bonne solution, parce que dans notre monde en perpétuel changement, les besoins des entreprises évoluent très vite, vouant à très court terme toute formation hypertechnique à être périmée. »
Quatre enseignants-chercheurs français travaillant en Amérique proposent leur regard sur le « modèle libéral »; « il prétend faire confiance au marché alors qu’il ne fait que renforcer la hiérarchie. La réforme actuelle entérine en réalité la paupérisation générale des formes de solidarité qui affectent nos sociétés. »