Greece: Mass education protests rock country

Demands for better wages and more resources for public education.

Yesterday the leadership of the teachers’ union in Greece decided to bring to an end the repeated 5-day weekly strikes of the teachers, and continue with weekly 24hr strikes. This is the result of the exhaustion of the teachers after a strike that was in effect indefinite and lasted for 6 weeks. But they still refuse to lay down arms. Their decision is to continue with one 24hr strike every week for the next two weeks, at least (on the 3rd and 9th of November).

Primary schools in Greece never opened this school year. From the first day of the new school year the primary school teachers decided to go on a 5 day strike, and then they renewed this decision every week.

They were demanding better wages but also more resources for public education. By the third week of the strike the primary school teachers were joined by secondary school teachers who have been calling three days of strikes every week.

A tremendous movement

This tremendous movement was then joined on the fourth week by thousands of school students many of whom have occupied the schools. Of 3,000 schools nearly 1,000 are currently under occupation.

Now more recently, since the beginning of this week, university students are set to join in posing the prospect of a national movement involving all sectors of education for the first time ever.

Many mass demonstrations have taken place, as Wednsday was the day for national mobilisations of teachers and students, every week. Last Wednsday, (22nd November) even as the teachers’ strike was coming to its end, about 20,000 teachers and their students marched in Athens and 5,000 in Thessalonika.


Although the primary school teachers are demanding an increase in wages of their 950 € monthly wage they are also demanding more resources for education. Amongst the demands is an increase in the education budget from 3% of GDP to the EU average of 5% and a reduction in class seizes from 30 to 20.

To these demands the secondary school teacher and university students are adding more. Secondary school teachers are also demanding the establishment of school councils so that the running of the schools is taken out of the tight control of Head Masters. They are also demanding abolition of entrance exams for university places. At present students who score less than 10 out of 20 in exam marks are refused entrance to university even if there are free places available.

A crucial demand of this movement is defence of article 16 of the Greek constitution which the right-wing New Democracy government is proposing to abolish. This article prevents the introduction of private education in the system. Disgracefully, the pro-capitalist social democratic PASOK did not oppose this but merely called for a postponement of the discussion in parliament.

Xekinima’s campaigning work in the struggle

The Greek CWI section, Xekinima, has been able to organise full participation into this movement fighting for a united education front. The central demands raised in thousands of leaflets and posters, given out in working class neighbourhoods, and amongst school students and university students, was, and still is, for an all out strike in education supported by a 24 hour general strike of all workers in support of this movement.

At the same time Xekinima supporters are campaigning for democratic control of the schools movement and the university students movement and the election of co-ordinating committees. Last Wednesday Xekinima members in Thessalonica mobilised 200 school students on the demonstration (compared to 500 mobilised by the Communist Party). This represented a breakthrough in the work of Xekinima in Salonica, following earlier similar developments in the cities of Volos and Athens.

A national conference (coordinating committee) of school students was attended by 200 delegates and individuals, last week. The coordinating committee of the school students, would up until now meet secretly, as it was set up by the Greek CP. Under the consistent campaign of Xekinima, calling for a democratic coordinating body, the CP youth was forced to have the meeting open.

At this meeting, 10 occupied schools signed resolutions supported by Xehinima which included demands for the schools students to march together with the teachers rather than separately which the Communist Party has opposed and the democratic election of a school students co-ordinating committee for this struggle. The CP was unable to win the majority, and refused to have a vote on the resolution. In the end they closed the meeting – this only exposed them even further and even sections of their membership were taken aback at the undemocratic tactics of their leadership.

Tasks of the day

At this moment the major campaign of Xekinima supporters is centred on university students, calling for occupations of all universities.

Unfortunately the exhaustion of the teachers undermines the possibilities of a generalized education front.

This danger was raised by Xekinima from the first week of the strike of the teachers. We of course greeted the militancy of the primary school teachers, who never in their history had shown such determination to fight, but at the same time we explained that it was a mistake to come out on their own . Particularly since all the sectors of the education movement were in ferment, after the two month long occupations of the university teachers, last May and June. Our fears have been vindicated – when the rest of the education sector is coming out the teachers cannot continue due to exhaustion.

Despite this, the attempt to get the university students out must be made. There is no other option open. If they come out, then the teachers could continue their strike action, even if this is milder than the one up to now. The attempt to build an all out education strike, is the only way to force the government to retreat.

The perspectives for the university students are still unclear. Every general meeting of students, in every university, turns into a war, as the ND youth fully mobilises every force available and by all means to halt the occupation movement. The next week could be crucial.

This movement is an important change in the situation in Greece and the struggle of the masses against the neo-liberal New Democracy government. If an all education front is built, this will be the first time such a development has happened. And there is no doubt it will have an effect on the whole of the working class movement in Greece.

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October 2006