Rising energy prices and the uncovered increase in index points promise to push the university even deeper into the crisis. These, marred by fifteen years of neoliberal reforms and chronic underfunding, are the scene of intense internal tensions, with each new reform emphasizing the precarious situation of agents and students. After the strikes of the Total and Esso-ExxonMobil refiners, some dream of a large-scale mobilization that will enable them to reshuffle the cards.
At the University of Lille, recently transformed into an experimental public body, a petition by the FSU, CGT, SUD unions last week denounced a return to degraded mode. To offset the explosion in energy prices as well as the non-government funded increase in the index point, the company plans to cut working capital and eliminate positions. Can this petition provoke a more global mobilization while universities seem sluggish? ” Mobilizations are difficult, they cannot be decreedadmits Thomas Alam, professor of political science at the University of Lille. This requires politicization work and this is what the petition enables: informing colleagues, knowing their problems, making them understand the injustices they have experienced… »
Several university unions called a strike last Tuesday, some marching with students, chemical or construction workers through the streets of several French cities, dreaming that the general assemblies held that evening would turn tremors into riots. Because the reasons for a university mobilization are not lacking: increased selection, increasing precariousness of the actors, mergers and restructurings that undermine university democracy.
Why hasn’t the explosion already happened?
” For the precarious as for the titular, the impression is of marching or dying, says Estelle, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Aix-Marseille and member of the Collectif Précaires. When I ask the incumbents why they don’t respond when they see that nothing is going well, they reply that they are afraid of losing such funding, such a position, at the expense of another department or entity. . The remarks of this researcher illustrate the competition of all against all, which is accentuated by the various reforms aimed at increasing the autonomy of institutions. ” We’re so busy dealing with little bits of nothing, trying to make it work, that we’re afraid. We feel the brutality of the reforms every day ‘ she assures.
Jean-Luc Schwartz, research director at the CNRS and member of the And Now We Do What collective at the University of Grenoble-Alpes, puts less emphasis on competition than on a general overheating of the university. ” We are inundated with calls for projects in both research and education; There are overwhelming situations where the same teacher-researchers who no longer have the resources to teach normally must simultaneously struggle to set up a new innovative training project to gain the spotlight for which they no longer have the resources. Colleagues are overwhelmed with stress and pressure to adapt to this very disorganized world, which is becoming less and less livable. For him, this very deep intellectual mobilization of agents undermines their ability to step back and politicize.
“ Most of my colleagues easily work more than 60 hours a week, every night, says Anne-Laure Amilhat-Szary, geographer and teacher at the University of Grenoble-Alpes. We work in jobs where people no longer know what free time is. Doing sports, something where you stop the brain, that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s not quite normal. For the teacher-researcher it is necessary to consider the university collectively as a place of suffering in the workplace. “ Everyone has pain at work. I don’t know of any colleague who is good at his job. We all like to mediate, we do a job with passion, and there are still many beautiful things. We don’t know what we would do anywhere else, but apart from that I see people crying every day. »
Attempt to combat systemic precarity
In the case of contract workers and agency workers, this suffering is compounded by great material insecurity. “ It’s hard to tell when you’re bac+8, but we spend our time getting small contracts here and there, getting holidays below minimum wage while we publish our research and look for a job. ‘ denounces Alex, who is himself in precarious condition and has decided to join the National Association of Candidates for Political Science Professions [ANCMSP]. The latter recalls that many temporary workers work in gastronomy alongside their studies: ” Some wait 4 years, with a little RSA, a little unemployment, before they get hired! Can you imagine what that means, 5 years without a postdoc! »
In order to fight against isolation and for better working conditions, precarious collectives are springing up all over France. “ The idea is to bind and hold together a political network that allows us to speak with one voice. », Details Antoine, also a member of the ANCMSP. A network that makes it possible to get to know each other and pass on information. ” We try as best we can to help the precarious people who legally need it. Few will go to administrative court for fear of being blacklisted later, Alex warns, but we give them marbles. We also do a bit of shaming, which means we point out universities that have bad practices. “Extremely difficult political work as the precarious are mobile and their statutes fragmented.
” If you’re Parisian and you go to Montpellier to give classes, you end up in a place where you don’t know anyone, you don’t even know what a work collective is, and besides, you never find yourself in special rooms with colleagues about the Thinking about the importance of what you doanalyzes Antoine. Organizing collective mobilizations is therefore light years away from your everyday life! » « We’d like to be more confident, says Estelle, but there’s a buffer phase… People who come to us have a great need to talk. Many come in with trauma, 50% of the time related to suppressive behavior by permanent staff – for example research directors against graduate students. Hence the need to mobilize between us, but of course we are thinking about how to make all this concrete in a real fight. »
Matching permanent and temporary workers remains a challenge
Because mobilization within precarious collectives is also a way of defending more radical forms of struggle, such as the blocking and occupation of universities by students. ” There is a lack of radicalism in the demands and mobilizations, especially among the counterparts, who are content with one strike day a year, if there is one. “, criticizes the postdoc. The latter denounces the lack of solidarity shown by teachers-researchers, who too often content themselves with signing texts and forums in the press. ” I want the teachers to go on strike to denounce the plight of the studentsstarts Estelle. I often want to ask my colleagues: How do you manage to continue your work knowing that some students go to food drives? How do you go to class and make the university work like nothing happened? »
For Antoine it is necessary to take into account the relationship to work and to structure the lack of fighting spirit on this issue. ” It hurts us to stop the machine. Academics, and especially salaried employees, have a “crappy” relationship with work. You have to work a lot all the time! If you stop working, that’s not normal. Telling people like that to go on strike is quite complicated. Another factor to consider, according to Anne-Laure Amilhat-Szary, is that the university is full of good alumni: They reflect, criticize, but they are quite conventional people in their own way and not at all politically combative. They and they are very unstructured, unionized, especially the teacher-researchers. These are people who never left school, where they’ve always been good, and then validated the same practices to get where they are. It will be a long time before they realize or even accept that they can no longer do it, and unfortunately they will have exhausted their physiological and psychological abilities. »
Which way for fights
In addition, those who organize and structure themselves in unions do very energy-intensive work in interest groups. But more and more, thanks to the factions that are breaking up what’s left of university democracy, they’re realizing that nothing is changing on the boards. Some respondents even speak of counterproductive work that can harm their colleagues. ” The scope for action and negotiation was greater before the experimental establishment, says Anne-Laure Amilhat-Szary. It has become so rigid there that it has become very difficult to negotiate from within, apart from some fringe battles over working conditions, but beyond that it doesn’t go. You could be reformist up until the EPE, but the harsh conditions of power in the EPE compel you to be revolutionary. And is not revolutionary, who wants. »
The government’s hostility, particularly in its relationship with intermediaries, further reinforces this notion. Antoine denounces in particular the policy of scientific excellence implemented in an authoritarian way in the territory, imposing mergers of institutions: ” Scientific excellence means financing the brilliant research of a few laboratories with a view to international competition. But that goes against students, against the precarious, and above all without bothering about the education of the middle and popular classes, without any interest in the general increase in qualifications, and that is powerful. It is difficult for him to imagine a discussion with a government that carries this grammar, since it is the grammar itself that should be changed.
The shift to more offensive action repertoires also raises the question of their preparation in an increasingly repressive context of social movements. “ Look what happens when universities shut down today, presidencies have no problem picking up the phone and involving law enforcement ‘ troubles Estelle, who nuances nonetheless:’ In Aix-Marseille it is much more complicated because there is a very strong solidarity between the student movements and the big trade union federations, especially the CGT, which can provide support. Hence the need to be part of a large social and political movement that had begun to create labor law. That was precisely the whole subject of this Tuesday, October 18th, the rest of which has yet to be written.