Pension Reform: Blockages, AG, Sacrifices… How Can Students Weigh in the Long Term?

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Can students protest against the government reforms on pension reforms

DISRUPTION: The mobilization against the government project of pension reform is also taking place in front of educational establishments blocked by garbage cans, chairs or barriers

  • Precariousness, and concern for the future, students and high school students have many reasons to be angry and want to join the movement against pension reform.
  • In Rennes, Lyon, Paris or Toulouse, the first blockages of establishments took place, while youth organizations took the date for Thursday.
  • Will young people influence the rest of the conflict? Under what terms? “20 Minutes” looked into the question thanks to the insight of sociologist Michel Fize and the president of Unef Lyon, Manon Moret.

Trash cans, chains, construction barriers… As the protest against the pension reform resumes on Tuesday, students and high school students are organizing their participation. The contribution of young people to the movement is often expressed through the blocking of establishments. The “blockade” is one “of the two ways of getting involved for young people, with the classic demonstration ”, notes the sociologist Michel Fize, author of The school at the pick-up.

On January 19th, during the first day of mobilization against the pension reform, a few dozen university establishments were blocked, notably in Toulouse, Rennes or Paris. Some high schools in the capital have followed suit, such as Turgot or Lamartine. The organization La Voix lycéenne claimed nearly 150 establishments were affected while the police mentioned 14 blockages. “This is not an unprecedented event”, recalls Michel Fize, a specialist in youth and education, who cites several movements such as that of 1986  against the Devaquet reform which notably wanted to establish a selection at the entrance to universities. Blocking a school or university allows young people to be heard.

“Concrete” consequences for young people

“Blocking is a mobilization tool but also a very strong political and symbolic tool”, underlines Manon Moret, president of the National Union of French Students ( UNEF ) in Lyon. But for the action to last over time, it is necessary to convince. As part of the reform against pensions, the mobilization of young people is questioned a lot. Many observers believe that the subject does not concern them. It’s “an imbecility”, sweeps Michel Fize. “It’s a long-term subject”, he admits, but “retirement will obviously concern them one day”. And maybe even faster than you might imagine.

“It seems far away but the consequences will be very concrete. With this reform, we will keep the oldest in employment, which will mechanically worsen youth unemployment, ”worries Manon Moret, recalling that the latter reaches 18% in France. It is also a “socially unjust” reform, considering the young activist who considers that it is “the last stone of a government which remains deaf to our demands and wants to lock us in a tunnel of precariousness throughout of our life”. Students have already started blocking the Lumière Lyon-2 University on Monday morning, causing the administrative closure of the establishment. And union organizations like mobilized students do not intend to stop there.

“Mobilize and raise awareness” of students

To continue to barricade the entrance to the establishments, it is necessary to convince. “As always, all the difficulty for the trade unions is to hook the mass to the protest”, underlines Michel Fize who specifies that it is not a question of a student particularity. “For the blockage to last over time, it is necessary to raise awareness and mobilize the students as much as possible, to do pedagogical work and to explain to them why it also affects them very concretely”, explains Manon Moret. Beyond the barricades, discussions are essential. “Students gathered massively in a general assembly”, welcomes the president of Unef Lyon, who puts forward a figure of 300 students.

“The general meetings are one of the ways to make the movement last. We continue to talk about these questions so that a blockage or a parade is not just a parenthesis, ”analyzes Michel Fize. Because the blockade is only one of the actions of a more global mobilization. “The morning to block, the afternoon to parade and the GA to discuss”, lists the sociologist. Enough to encourage students to continue to wonder about the reform. In addition, “we can clearly see that each time a GA meets, that a blockage is organized, the numbers increase”, notes Manon Moret. Mobilization leads to mobilization.

Spend your year or demonstrate

“Tuesday will be a test because the figures are important to convince”, explains Michel Fize. By blocking their campus, the students also give their comrades the means to mobilize. “The blocking tool makes it possible to bring students back into a mobilization: when we block in the morning, our objective is for the faculty to be closed administratively and, since classes are not taking place, the students then have the possibility of mobilize”, deciphers Manon Moret. Because students are not “workers like the others”, emphasizes Michel Fize. They have no right to strike and are subject to an attendance requirement, at least for certain courses. This makes attendance an “essential issue” of mobilization.

“In the context of social movements, students sometimes have to choose between failure and therefore the risk of not validating their year, and mobilization”, explains Manon Moret. A problem that is all the more significant for scholarship students whose aid but also sometimes housing and access to preferential rates on food depending on their attendance. Blocking the establishments thus makes it possible to force the administrative closure and to leave to all the students the choice of their commitment to the mobilization.

“All the good reasons in the world to be angry”

In the city of lights, “the blocking dates are not public but the students of Lyon will be mobilized every day of the week”, assures the president of the Unef of Lyon. The inter-union called for “France to stop” on Tuesday. Student and high school organizations have called for “hardening the movement” against the reform with a day of youth mobilization on Thursday, March 9th. ”  May 68, at the start, it was student demonstrations and there were all the elements for that not to happen, in particular, a flourishing economy”, explains Michel Fize.

“Today, there are all the good reasons in the world to be angry. Young people eat badly, find it difficult to find accommodation, don’t get treatment because they sometimes don’t have the money to do so, work because they don’t have a lot of means”, enumerates the sociologist. According to a study by the Linkee association on 4,000 students, two out of three students are in an extremely precarious situation and have only 50 euros per month to live on after paying their bills. “Except for war, general mobilization cannot be decreed,” slips Michel Fize. But with inflation and a reform to which 66% of French people are still opposed according to the political barometer of Odoxapublished last Tuesday, the government could be sitting on a powder keg.

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