Greece : Huge student movement kicks off an autumn of struggle

Rebellion against neo-liberal onslaught on education

The Greek government, and the Greek capitalists and international ‘troika’ that it represents, hoped that the tidal-wave of revolt and opposition against their brutal agenda would subside, at least for a period, after Greece’s hot summer. But the student movement which has exploded in the last days seems to have dashed these hopes to oblivion. Growing by the day, the latest reports (8 September) indicate that 283, out of a total of 420 higher education institutions in Greece, are currently under occupation. Exams scheduled for the beginning of the academic year have been postponed, due to the subsequent paralysis. After the mass movement of the “Enraged”, and the general strikes which shook the country only a few months ago, the current students’ rebellion should serve as a reminder to the ruling class that the mass of workers and young people will not be easily diverted from the road of mass struggle against their immiseration at the hands of the thieves in parliament and the markets.

Response to neo-liberal onslaught on education

These occupations are a response to the Diamantopoulou law, which implements a series of measures which substantially advance the process of the privatisation of Greek education. It institutionalises the chronic under-funding of the sector, and promotes the private financing of institutions through “use of their property, private donations…”. Thus, universities will virtually be converted into private companies, which fund themselves based on offering services and research to private companies for profit. Under such a regime, education, courses taught and research undertaken will be driven by the needs of profit-making institutions, rather than in the interests of genuine education or enrichment. Therefore, certain subjects and faculties deemed less “useful” for the profits of big business will be undermined. Other provocative clauses in the bill put an end to the “asylum” status of universities, which previously prohibited free entry of police onto campuses, after the bloody experience of then military dictatorship’s brutal tank-led attack on the 1973 Athens Polytechnic students’ uprising. This is an obvious anticipation of repression against student protests in the future. The basic line which runs across the whole bill is to make universities less democratic, more expensive for the students and more easily controlled by private capital.

But there are also wider reasons for this new youth revolt. Recent unemployment figures show that 1 out of 2 young people are unemployed! And more and more people understand that under these policies, this situation will not change in the next years. As a consultant of the Prime Minister, explaining from a capitalist point of view has said, a whole generation will have to be destroyed before Greece will begin to grow again. And it is this generation which fights back now.

The scale of the current struggle rivals that of the momentous occupation movement of 2006- 2007. It is also the first time that such a movement has been kicked off before the beginning of official term time, which reflects the determination to fight these attacks. Weekly mass assemblies are held in the occupied institutions, which have seen overwhelming votes in favour of continuing to occupy. Intimidatory warnings from authorities, that continuing occupations will result in the cancellation of the current semester have not so far been effective in preventing the growth of the movement. And secondary school students, who will soon be called on to return to classrooms, have indicated that their force will be added to the movement in the coming weeks.

Build an education sector-wide struggle to reverse the law!

From their point of view, the government and establishment did everything possible to prevent this movement. They passed the law during the summer holidays. They built a rotten consensus between the government and opposition capitalist parties (PASOK, New Democracy, far-right LAOS and the “Democratic Alliance”), in order to give the impression that the bill was widely supported and un-controversial. An element of the austerity strategy of the Greek government has been an attempt to attack different sections of society one by one, crucially attempting to avoid a direct confrontation with the organised working class, and the student movement with its rich history of struggle. However, while the separate implementation of the current law may have been an attempt in that direction, the recognition among students that their struggle is part of the resistance against a generalised programme of attacks against the working masses, is strong.

The drawing together of the current struggle with action by education workers and secondary students in a “pan-education front” to defeat this reform, is an important task for the movement, emphasised by Xekinima (CWI in Greece), which has participated in the current movement from the beginning. The power of industrial action by education workers, which under this bill will face worsening conditions and privatisation, will be particularly key to this. And the teachers have every reason to strike. Last year, 1,000 schools were either closed or “merged” because of under-funding, while this year, the books will not be ready, so lessons will start with photocopies given to every student! Teachers’ unions have already announced strike action to take place on 22 September. While generally a welcome and necessary development, such action should take place sooner, in order to build on the current strong momentum of the movement. Co-ordinated strike action across the sector, with escalating 24-hour and 48-hour strikes, combined with continuing mass occupations in schools and universities, could be decisive in forcing this weak government to back down.

Xekinima proposes that students engaged in occupation adopt a concrete plan to popularise their struggle and draw in the wider working class. Occupations should send delegations to workplaces, on a “sector by sector” basis (for example, science students to scientific workplaces) to explain the consequences of the current reform and propose a programme for a united struggle.

The assemblies through which the movement has been organised so far represent the basis upon which a genuinely participative mass movement can be built. However, this requires that they be further developed, linked together and democratised so that a serious plan and strategy for the struggle can be developed with the fullest possible input from below through mass participation. This could be achieved through the election of representatives from the general assemblies in all the institutions, to city-wide and state-wide co-ordinating assemblies where a unified plan and strategy can be elaborated.

Unite the struggles to bring down the government! For a political alternative to austerity and capitalism!

This attack on education comes as the government announced the escalation of their austerity plans, with mounting pressure from the Troika, in a desperate attempt to stave off the deepening crisis in Greece and the Eurozone. The fiasco of last week’s failed meeting between government and Troika representatives reflects a growing clarity about the inviability of the “bailout” framework. They have announced their intention to slash the public sector workforce by 20% and implement another swathe of privatisations and other measures. The entire capitalist political establishment is united around a programme to bleed the majority dry in order to pay back the crippling, un-payable debts to Greek and international speculators. The pro-market destruction of public education embodied in the Diamantopoulou law is just one reflection of the capitalist, profit-driven ideology which is the basis for the policies of all the right-wing parties.

Unfortunately, the mass left parties have thus far failed to counterpose a consistent alternative to this. The alternative with Xekinima fights to popularize is one of non-payment of the debt, and democratic public ownership of the banks and key sectors of the economy as the basis for a genuinely socialist government of working people, to implement policies in favour of the majority rather than the markets. The Communist Party leaders, continuing their sectarian policy of condemning every movement they do not control, outrageously failed to support the occupation of the universities, arguing that the students were “unprepared” (how wrong they have been proven!). Xekinima argues for the building of a mass, democratic political force, based on the struggles taking place in society which can channel the discontent radicalisation in society through a struggle to implement a revolutionary socialist alternative to the growing misery of life under Greek and Troika capitalism.

The movements and struggles currently developing, such as environmental struggles against incineration, the struggle of the taxi drivers against de-regulation, the inevitable mass response of public sector workers to the new measures and many others, must be brought together in a mass movement. Preparation for new general strikes, democratically controlled and part of a sustained plan of action, not just a one-day parade, is necessary. But as well as this, an international fightback, in which the immense economic and political power of working people across Europe is put on the table, must be begun against the ruling classes’ renewed attempt to make us pay for the crisis of their system.. Thus we could begin to build an international alternative to the European and world dictatorship of markets and the super-rich that could challenge and overcome their ruinous rule.

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September 2011