Seven weeks after the uprising of the Greek university students which began in the first week of May, 415 out of 456 colleges throughout Greece are still occupied.
This mass student movement came like a thunderbolt out of a clear blue sky. It was entirely unexpected by the government and took them completely by surprise.
Even more important it has stirred the working class movement and caused solidarity strikes. Last Thursday (June 22) the Greek public employees confederation (ADEDY) called a 24 hr strike to support the student movement and issued a call to take part in the student demo on the same day, and the GSEE, the private sector and public utilities trade union confederation called a 3 hr strike in support of the students on the same day.
The issue that brought the students out onto the streets has been a new bill proposed by the right-wing neoliberal New Democracy (ND) government which meant amongst other things that students would have to pay for their books (up until now they are given one basic book per subject, free), further cuts in cheap subsidized food in university canteens and an expulsion of any student who did not finish his or her studies two years after the normal duration of the course.
These measures represented another massive attack on students who come from working class families. Greek students have no grants (or even cheap student loans). The family has to bear the full cost of the studies, in the so called free higher (university) education sector. University accommodation is virtually non-existent (actually in negligible quantity and terrible quality) so students, who don’t study in the same town as where their parents live, have to pay private sector rent. As a result a huge percentage of students are forced to work at the same time as study, therefore it is absolutely impossible to finish courses on time (or even two years after the normal duration of the studies).
However there are deeper roots, and this is the massive pile up of resentment. This is caused by the fact that education has become more and more pressurised in the last 10 to 15 years, with anti-educational, anti-student laws being passed one after another.
For a number of years students tried to accommodate themselves to the logic that if they tried hard they might be able to have a better standard of living in the future. This of course is a direct result of the bankrupt policies of the Greek Left parties (KKE, the Communist Party, and Synaspismos, a left reformist party with Eurocommunist origins).
At the end of the day, however Greek students realised that even with their second degree and their post graduate studies, they could not save themselves from the claws of capitalism. Their degrees were worth very little or nothing, they would still face massive unemployment at the end of their course. Even if they found a job, it would be temporary, they would still have to start with the basic wage, 600 to 700 euros a month and work 10 or more hours a day without being paid overtime.
Once again, as always happens with the ruling class, they miscalculated. They believed that university students had become conservative, for ever, so they went over the top in the attacks they launched. When the occupations started, the student union organization of ND, which for many years won the majority in the student union elections, were having a good time on extended Easter vacations on the island of Mykonos…
Workers support students
The most important development of the last couple of weeks have been, on the one hand the development of links between the student movement and workers’ organisations, and on the other, the retreat of the government on two fronts.
Xekinima, the Greek section of the CWI, campaigned from the beginning for the student movement to call for the support of the working class. We actually set a specific date, 22nd of June, and campaigned for the calling of a 24 hr general strike by the two workers’ confederations, GSEE and ADEDY. This call was adopted by some other activists too, then by a number of occupied colleges and gradually it spread, finally adopted by the Athens coordinating committee.
In the end, strikes were called, on the 22nd, by both confederations, as mentioned above, though badly organized (completely unorganized is a better description).
This development made the government very worried that the student movement could act as a spark to set the working class into action. This was openly admitted by some of the most serious bourgeois daily newspapers.
So around the middle of June the government announced that it would not pass the bill through parliament in the summer, as was its initial intention. This was the first retreat. It did not, however, stop the massive demos and the further growth of the occupations. So one week later (Wednesday, 21st June) it announced further retreats, promising that books would continue to be free and that conditions for expelling a student would not be as strict as initially planned.
On the basis of the above, the government invited the students for a “dialogue”. However the bill will still be passed through parliament. One of its central proposals is to impose managers on every university, who will look for ways to finance the universities. This is a further attempt by the government to link education to the needs of the market and the multinational companies who will finance research and pay for “good” students.
The student movement replied that it refused to discuss on the basis of the government’s proposals, demanding that the bill, as a whole, be withdrawn.
The government’s retreats are important successes for the student movement but the battle is not yet over. We cannot speak of a victory, but of partial defeats of the government, which if correctly utilized can lead to a full victory. What is of crucial importance is that the student movement should gain time. But if this time is not utilised correctly, it can be to the advantage of the government. Actually this is the plan of the government.
The arrival of the summer period is something that should not be ignored. Contrary to many voices in the student movement who call for a continuation of the occupations throughout the summer, Xekinima has argued against this. The main reason for this is that the Summer vacations last two months and in most of this period the big cities empty out. At least half the students return to their parents because it is too expensive to live in their university towns and the other half leave the cities to go to get work on the islands during the tourist season.
Make use of the time gained
What Xekinima is arguing is that a well worked out plan is required in order to continue the struggle in the autumn. That the student movement should in an organised way come back in the autumn, start the semester with general meetings in the amphitheatres and reoccupy the colleges.
If attempts are made to continue the occupations through the summer, they will become isolated and the movement could be tired out and not able will be tired and it will not be able to make a serious come back in the autumn.
It is also important to allow the September exam period to take place and then go for occupations of the colleges, otherwise a significant percentage of students will be voting against.
A political counter offensive is necessary
What is also of decisive importance is to make use of the time until the next round of struggle, politically. This means that the student movement has to answer the government’s bill, point by point, explaining to Greek workers and society in general where and why they disagree. Because, it is a fact, that the government’s retreat has caused some confusion, as the media never get tired of echoing “the government is asking them for a dialogue, they refuse the dialogue and instead they occupy the colleges – therefore they are lazy”.
At the same time, the student movement has to explain their own proposals about what kind of education society needs, and encourage workers and their families to take part in discussions about these important issues as well as appeal to the working class for its support.
Xekinima intends to take up the new law and answer the points that it raises and also make concrete proposals about the demands that should be raised by students and workers (their parents, who pay huge amounts of money to educate their children). We intend to raise these points in the general meetings of the students and in the coordinating committees and thus contribute to the further development of the movement.
An all-education front
On the basis of these proposals we think that it is possible that the movement can take off again in September, and, what is more important, it could then unite with the school students and the teachers in primary and secondary education.
This is not an abstract idea, since education is being attacked as a whole and school students as well as teachers have indicated their support for the university students. Primary and secondary education teachers are openly talking about taking strike action immediately as the new school year begins next September.
It is possible to have a real movement engulfing education as a whole, next Autumn. If this is achieved it will represent an extremely important development that will inevitably push the national trade union leaderships (GSEE and ADEDY) into calling new general strikes. In such a case victory will be entirely within the grasp of the movement. Xekinima will invest heavily in this possibility while understanding that this will not come by it self, but that it requires serious planning. But if achieved it can mean a real breakthrough for the Greek youth and the Greek workers’ movement.