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Greek students' protests ignite solidarity action
SEVEN WEEKS after the uprising of the Greek university students began in the first week of May, 415 out of 456 colleges over the whole of Greece are under occupation.
Andros Payiatsos, Athens
The student explosion has taken the government by complete surprise. It has stirred the working-class movement and caused solidarity strikes. Last Thursday, 22 June, the Greek public employees confederation (ADEDY) called a 24-hour strike to support the student movement and take part in the student demo. GSEE, the private sector and public utilities union confederation, called a three-hour strike in support of the students.
The issue that brought the students out on the streets has been a new bill by the government which provided among 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 on subsidised food in university canteens and an expulsion of any student who did not finish her or his studies two years after the normal duration of the studies.
These measures represented another attack on students from working-class backgrounds. 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. University accommodation is virtually non existent so students who don't study in the same town as their parents have to pay rent.
As a result, a huge percentage of students are forced to work at the same time as studying, thereby making it almost impossible to finish on time or even two years after the normal duration of the studies.
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 set a specific date, 22 June, and campaigned for the calling of a 24-hour 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 co-ordinating committee.
In the end, strikes were called on the 22nd by both confederations, though badly organised.
Around the middle of June the government announced that it would delay the bill through parliament in the summer. This was the first retreat. It did not, however, stop the massive demos and the further expansion of the occupations. So one week later (21 June) it announced further retreats, promising that the 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 it is not taking back the bill as a whole. The student movement replied that it refuses 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.
Xekinima is arguing that the student movement should pause in an organised way and come back in the autumn, start the semester with general meetings in the amphitheatres and reoccupy the colleges.
The student movement has to provide its own proposals about what kind of education society needs, invite a general dialogue, and ask 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.
On this basis 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.
They 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 achieved it can mean a real breakthrough for the Greek youth and the Greek workers' movement.
In The Socialist 29 June 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party workplace news and analysis