Athens Students March Attacked By Police

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A section of last Friday’s Athens student march flying Palestine flags

Over 30,000 university students from all the main Greek cities, along with delegations of school students and some 3,000 secondary school teachers and university lecturers, marched in Athens last Friday.

It was a tremendous expression of their rage and determination to defeat the government’s Bill for private universities being debated in the Vouli (Greek parliament) that afternoon.

They chanted: ‘No more diversions – for occupations, conflicts, and demonstrations,’ ‘The Bill will go down in flames’ and ‘The government is breaching the Constitution – down with the New Democracy’ (the government party).

Students described ministers as ‘Fascist rubbish’ and called on Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis that ‘The people don’t want you – get your cops and off you go’.

The thousands of students holding red flags and very large banners stating ‘No to private universities – free state education!’, filled up the square in front of the Vouli building.

They faced armed riot police squads all ready for battle, with gas masks on and holding their large shields and truncheons.

Students started hitting the ground with their flag poles in unison and then, linking arms, stepped up towards the armed police line shouting ‘down with the Bill’.

They were first sprayed with tear-gas and then brutally attacked by the riot police who hit students on their heads.

Riot police then threw tear-gas and noise-smoke canisters towards the thousands of students in the square who retreated to side streets, while a few petrol bombs and stones were thrown at the advancing riot police.

Several students and a journalist were hit on the head and needed hospital treatment.

But faced with the mass of students, the riot police squads had to go back in front of the Vouli building.

The students were not intimidated by the riot police tear-gas and truncheon attack, just as they have not been intimidated by the threats and violence of the Mitsotakis ‘parliamentary junta’ regime.

As the very strong tear-gas was gradually diluted in the air, students re-occupied the square in front of the Vouli shouting ‘pigs guard your bosses’, but they stayed clear of the riot police lines. It became clear that the students would not battle again that evening.

Inside the Vouli, the Education Minister K. Pierrakakis, who holds post-graduate degrees from top private United States universities which charge $60,000 annual fees, admitted that the Private Universities Bill probably contravenes Article 16 of the Greek Constitution which prohibits private universities, but the matter will be resolved through a future ‘revision’ of the Constitution planned by the government.

Late last Friday night the Bill was passed by a majority of nine.

Stavros Stavrides, Professor at the Architecture School of the Athens Technical University (Polytechnic) said that over 1,300 professors and lecturers have signed a statement against the government private universities Bill and, along with their association POSDEP, they will ask the High Court to declare the Bill – now law – unconstitutional.

This week students’ unions will be holding general meetings to map out and decide their next step in the fight against the establishment of private universities.

For nine weeks every Thursday, university students all over Greece have carried out mass occupations of their Schools and Departments, staged massive determined marches, clashed with riot police and fought against university rectors who sided with the government.

The students’ mobilisations, political commitment and class hatred against the Mitsotakis regime of European Union-imposed Austerity Accords, is right in the front of the class struggle in Greece and very much part of the Europe-wide protests of workers and youth against unemployment, low wages and war.

In all the students’ marches in Greece there were many Palestinian flags and ‘Free Palestine’ and ‘Stop the Genocide’ chants.

Yet this tremendous and mass, almost insurrectionary at times, student movement did not succeed in forcing the Mitsotakis regime to withdraw the Bill, as demanded by the parliamentary opposition parties and the Greek Communist Party (KKE).

What was evident in all students’ occupations and mass marches, was the absence of workers’ trades unions and the refusal by the KKE-affiliated students, who won last year’s students elections by a clear majority, to call for a General Strike for the overthrow of the Mitsotakis regime.

Students did issue calls for trade unions to join them but no student delegation visited the Trades Councils nor the large factories in Athens nor the port and ships repairs workers in Piraeus.

Cadres of the KKE, who lead such powerful trade unions, refused point blank to participate in the students’ marches, instead issuing ‘solidarity with the students’ proclamations.

The students supporters of the KKE, in the majority of universities, schools and departments, cynically kept the students’ actions to protest levels and appeals to the Mitsotakis regime – first not to table the Bill, then to withdraw it, and finally to ‘throw the Bill on the fire’ at some time in the future.

There were calls by left-wing and radical students for a one-day General Strike, but these calls were made in the context of a protest fight to force the government to withdraw the Bill rather than as part of a programme to unite students and the organised working class for the overthrow of Mitsotakis.

The cynicism and betrayal politics of the KKE were clear when no further students’ mobilisations were proposed and students were asked to wait for the one-day General Strike planned for 17 April called by the GSEE (Greek TUC).

The GSEE strike is designed to take the steam out of the growing militancy of workers. The KKE see it as a step forward for a good European Elections result next June!

The students’ mobilisations in Greece won’t be pacified either by the Mitsotakis riot police violence or by the KKE’s betrayals.

Workers and students in Greece are full of hatred for the Mitsotakis regime, the NATO war in the Ukraine, and the Israeli Army’s genocide in Gaza.

Now militant students will have to carry on the fight for the development of a strong leadership to take on and defeat the Mitsotakis regime, together with the working class and poor farmers.

Students-Workers Co-ordination committees have to be set up issuing a call for a Workers and Students National convention to organise an Indefinite General Political Strike and bring down the hated Mitsotakis regime and the EU-imposed laws, and go forward to a workers’ government.

Students and workers in Greece, inspired by the heroic fighters of the Palestinian resistance, are now fighting along with the millions throughout the EU and Britain against the dictatorial barbaric austerity capitalist regimes.