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France: Workers unite for mass rally

Coachloads of teachers, parents and students united on the streets of Paris last Sunday to demonstrate in support of youth employment - and to register a mass protest against slashed school budgets, the axing of thousands of posts and worsening working conditions.

An estimated 40,000 marched from the Place de l'Opera along the grands boulevards to Place de la Nation in a protest called by unions, federations and associations representing teachers and non-teaching staff from primaries and secondaries, parents and lyce and university students.

They were rallying against cuts for schools due to take effect in September, which will mean more class closures, overcrowding and the loss of 5,000 teaching posts. They are calling for urgent measures to improve the training of young people, record numbers of whom face unemployment.

More than 600,000 18 to 25-year-old s - a quarter of the age group - are currently without work. An added grievance is a decision announced in January to cut by 20 per cent the number of new posts on offer through the competitive exam for recruitment to the teaching profession. Another issue is the supply teachers - matres auxiliaires (MAs) - who lack tenure, and endure poor working conditions and high unemploymen t rates.

According to the general inspectorate of the Ministry of Education, of the 33,334 MAs, 5,249 are currently unemployed, though unions estimate the number at 10,000. Concessions by education minister Franois Bayrou, creating the equivalent of an extra 3,300 jobs for MAs, ended a spate of hunger strikes by teachers in Paris and some provincial cities earlier this year.

However, the position of MAs remains precarious, and Abderrahmane Abdellaoui, a maths and science teacher, last week entered the second week of a fast. Negotiations between the minister and MA representatives are continuing.

Sunday's demonstration follows a rash of local protests against the cuts throughout the country in recent weeks. Towns where action has taken place include Bourges, Limoges, Granville, Troyes, Aveyron, Auch, Toulouse, Belfort, Lille, Caen, Quimper, Carcassonne and Poitiers. In some, such as Angoulme and Besancon, protesters have occupied school inspectora te premises. At the College-Lyce Honor de Balzac, Paris's only state school with international sections, 36 teaching hours a week have been cut.

As a result, a number of options currently offered at the baccalaurat risk being withdrawn including some language courses of Russian, German, Spanish, English and Greek, and computer science and business studies. In protest, staff and parents voted to return symbolically to M Bayrou the commemorative plaque he laid in 1994 inaugurating the lyce's international status.

Teachers also turned out in force earlier this month for a day's strike by employees from all public service sectors against deteriorating pay, job insecurity and conditions of work. An estimated 100,000 teachers took part nationwide.

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