MIGRANT WORKERS HUNGER STRIKE CONTINUES – but is forced to move to an Athens mansion

The banner of the Greek Secondary Teachers Trades Union on one of the rallies in central Athens on Thursday night
The banner of the Greek Secondary Teachers Trades Union on one of the rallies in central Athens on Thursday night

THE 250 migrant workers, on hunger strike since last Tuesday in Athens, have been forced to abandon the University of Athens Law School hall following a massive police operation on Thursday night.

They have been rehoused at an empty private mansion close to Athens Polytechnic, where they are continuing their fight demanding the ‘legalisation’ of all migrant workers in Greece.

Following a hysterical anti-immigrants campaign throughout the Greek mass media in the last few days, instigated by the Prime Minister Yiorghos Papandreou, cabinet ministers and the University of Athens authorities, on Thursday at 5.00pm police riot squads cordoned off a large area around the Law School, and placed police buses across streets, while thirty riot policemen, dressed in black rubber uniforms and wearing helmets, blocked the two entrances to the hall where the migrant workers had found refuge.

Journalists and university professors were not allowed access.

But two parliamentary deputies of the Coalition of the Radical Left were allowed into the hall.

Several thousand students and workers congregated in the area forming four distinct rallies encircling the police cordon.

They shouted slogans of solidarity with the migrant workers’ action and against the police and the Papandreou government.

Last Thursday morning the head of the University of Athens, Theodosis Pelegrinis, under intense pressure from the government, gave his permission for the riot police to mount an eviction operation against the hunger strikers.

Immediately afterwards he publicly announced his resignation as head of the University.

Under Greek law, established following the overthrow of the military junta in 1974, all university and college buildings and grounds are considered as ‘Academic Asylum’ which cannot be entered by security forces unless they have the permission of the university’s authorities.

On government orders the riot police threatened a violent eviction unless the hunger strikers agreed to be transferred, by police buses, to a mansion where they will be literally imprisoned.

The police insisted that no-one will be able to visit them, that the mansion will be surrounded by riot police and that everyone must give their names.

The assembly of the hunger strikers rejected the police terms but agreed to a move to the mansion which, according to Skai Radio, is the former home of the late opera singer Maria Callas.

Following all night negotiations, at 3.30am last Friday, the 250 hunger strikers, bedding under arm, left the Law School hall in a defiant and determined mood.

Outside they were joined by about 200 students and formed a demonstration which marched to the mansion through the Athens city centre.

Along the route of the march hundreds of youth and workers joined in.

At 4.00am on Friday they set themselves up inside, while riot police were stationed some distance from the building.

In an adjoining plot of land a large information tent was set up and a solidarity rally was organised for Friday evening.

Another 50 hunger strikers, all of northern African origin, are continuing their action housed in a hall at the Salonica Trades Council building in northern Greece.

And another 20 Afghani hunger strikers, demanding political asylum, are also continuing their struggle housed in makeshift huts outside the University of Athens central building.

The President of the Salonica Trades Council, Panagiotis Tsaramboulidis, has stated that they had refused shelter to the hunger strikers, but when the migrant workers entered the Trades Council building they were accepted.

It has also emerged that likewise the trades union bureaucracy of the GSEE (Greek TUC) also refused shelter to the hunger strikers.

The Greek Communist Party (KKE) and the Coalition of the Radical Left have both issued statements supporting the demand for legalisation of the hunger strikers, but criticised as ‘inappropriate’ the migrant workers’ action.

Both parties refused to mobilise their members and supporters in the demonstrations in support of the hunger strikers.

In 2008, fifteen ‘illegal’ migrant workers, as dubbed by the government and the capitalist mass media, carried out a 26-days-long hunger strike in Chania, a city on the island of Crete, and won the right to be ‘legal’ residents.

However, the majority of the 250 hunger strikers, currently in the Athens mansion, are migrant workers who lost their legal residence permits after successive Greek governments introduced strict rules that make impossible for them to gain permits, such as documents that show that they have permanent jobs.

University, judicial and government officials began talks with the migrants and their supporters, which include student and workers groups as well as migrant rights organisations, on Thursday evening after Athens University’s rector, Theodosis Pelegrinis, asked a prosecutor to temporarily lift the asylum law that prevents police from entering any institution’s campus.

Most of the migrants, who started their protest on Monday, left the Law School building at 3.20am and walked to the new location, which is located on the corner of Patission and Ipeirou streets.

But some of the protestors had to be taken to the house by car as they were too weak from the hunger strike they began on Tuesday.

The migrants have said they will only consume water during their protest to force the government into granting them residence permits.

Supporters said that the protest will also highlight the failings of Greece’s immigration policy and force the government to review its position on the issue.

The owner of the building the migrants have moved to has reportedly agreed for them to stay there for two weeks.

• Civil servants are to join workers on a strike action on February 23.

The civil servants’ union ADEDY said on Wednesday that it would be joining the country’s main private labour union, known as GSEE, for a 24-hour strike on February 23 to protest against the government’s ongoing austerity drive.

In a statement, ADEDY said it would be joining the action ‘to protest cuts to wages and benefits and to express solidarity with workers in the private sector.’

Together the two unions represent around 2.5 million workers.

Greece’s biggest labour union says it will hold a general strike next month to protest against the austerity measures taken to address the country’s debt crisis.

A GSEE statement last Monday deplored ‘extortionate demands’ by (Greece’s) creditors, which the government has accepted and implemented.

Greek civil servants have called a nationwide strike for February 10.