Large numbers of French teachers went on strike on Thursday, and the largest teachers union said half of primary schools were closed as staff demanded clarity from the government on measures against the coronavirus.
coming like FranceThe campaign for the presidential elections of is launched before the April vote, the strike is uncomfortable for the president emmanuel macrongovernment that has taken pride in keep schools open to relieve pressure on parents through pandemic.
While the Education Ministry said nearly 40 percent of primary school teachers had left, the main union SNUipp put the figure at 75 percent with one primary school in two closed for the day.
The strike “demonstrates the growing desperation in the schools,” SNUipp said in a statement Tuesday announcing the strike.
They complain that their members cannot teach properly, are not adequately protected against coronavirus infection, and frequently learn of changes in health precautions through the media rather than superiors.
“The government announces things, but no one thinks about what it means for staff on the ground,” Olivier Flipo, head of a Paris school, told AFP this week.
“They are asking us for hellish things and everything is going to shit.”
With many sick students and the difficulty of combining distance learning with face-to-face classes, “it is not the school that is open, but a kind of ‘nursery’,” SNUipp said.
Some parents AFP spoke to on the street supported the strike.
“I understand the teachers and their position … the classes are too big, they are not paid enough, their working conditions are not the best,” said Akim Aouchiche outside a school in northeast Paris.
“It’s his way of making himself heard,” said tax advisor Alexandra Stojek.
“I understand what they are asking for, it is justified, they are not doing this to annoy us.”
“Until now, the public thought that the government and President Emmanuel Macron had handled the crisis adequately,” Brice Teinturier of pollster Ipsos told AFP.
But if there is a significant interruption of the strike, “that balance runs the risk of collapsing,” he added.
Challengers to Macron’s presidential elections have seized on the strike, with far-left and socialist candidates Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Anne Hidalgo joining protesters in Paris.
The acting head of the far-right National Grouping party, Jordan Bardella, said the strike showed that “the problem above all is Emmanuel Macron.”
Motivated by long lines for tests outside of pharmacies, the government this week relaxed the rules on Covid checks for students who have been exposed to an infected person, and Prime Minister Jean Castex announced the changes on the news of Monday night.
“We listened and made changes,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, acknowledging “fatigue” between parents and teachers.
The change in the chain of command appeared to be a reaction to teachers’ anger towards Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer.
But Blanquer has not retracted the harsh words, saying on television Tuesday that “there is no strike against a virus.”