‘WE NEED THE REST OF THE WORKING CLASS BY OUR SIDE’ – Greek teachers’ leader calls for general strike

Striking primary school teachers with their banner in Athens last month
Striking primary school teachers with their banner in Athens last month

YET more mass demonstrations were held on Wednesday in Athens and Salonica by state primary and secondary school teachers and their supporters in the trade union and student movements.

In Salonica, demonstrators wore red Santa Claus hats and carried Christmas trees to symbolise the determination of teachers here to keep state schools closed until Christmas if necessary.

A spokesperson for the ruling right wing New Democracy party expressed the desire that ‘the schools should be open, and the teachers respected,’ thereby neatly expressing the insoluble contradiction of Greek education.

The state school teachers have gained respect only by taking strike action and closing the schools.

In the sprawling private sector, the schools have been permanently open since the strike wave.

This arises from the broken promises of the PASOK government of Andreas Papandreou in 1983, and an army of sincere, generous, hardworking, professional, academic, well-qualified, utterly impoverished private school teachers have achieved a status somewhat below that of well-trained dogs.

In all public discussion of education over the entire past year, the existence of the massive private sector has hardly been mentioned, and the plight of private school teachers never at all.

The social hypocrisy of this is remarkable (since most Greek parents send their children to some form of private school for extra coaching, and pay the owners handsomely for the privilege) and it can only be explained by the mailed fist which has always lain threateningly within the velvet glove of Greek political life.

For instance, reports are only now emerging that a pupil who had been occupying the 7th High School in Kalamaria, Salonica, was left for dead last week by a hit and run motorist who ran into him outside his school, in circumstances yet to be determined.

The child, who has apparently lost an arm, is in hospital in critical condition, but is expected to survive.

Fears are that the police and the bourgeois media are consciously hushing the matter up.

There has been a disturbingly high level of activity by right wing death squads in Greece over the years, and high-profile murders like those of Lambrakis and Panagoulis have left no doubt about their long-term message.

In the repeated recourse of the national bourgeoisie to murder, and their tendency to rely on open dictatorships rather than democracy when circumstances get difficult, Greece and its neighbour Turkey have far more in common with the unstable countries of Latin America than those of Europe.

For that very reason, however, there are great revolutionary potentialities here.

An example of this potential is that Greek teachers leaders have asked the whole working class to take action to support their struggle.

Over 10,000 Greek teachers and their supporters staged a militant rally and demonstration in Athens on Wednesday as they completed a month of their national strike for better salaries and five per cent of the GNP to be directed to education.

Thousands also marched in all Greek large cities.

The action was supported by the ADEDY (public sector trades union federation) with a 24-hour national strike.

Last Tuesday the teachers’ trade union leaders met with the Education Minister Marietta Yiannakou who repeated the government’s claim that the Greek economy cannot afford to meet even the minimum of what teachers demand.

Thousands of school and university students participated in the Athens rally.

The school students’ speaker said that there were over 600 secondary schools – of about 7,000 total – under students occupation; they were demanding better school facilities and better salaries for their teachers.

A college student said that occupations are spreading at Greek colleges and universities and students are organising fund raising events for the teachers’ struggle.

The leader of the Greek school parents’ associations A Tzantzis said that parents supported teachers all the way.

The President of the university lecturers’ association Lazaros Besdekis said that the government are determined to impose fees on state education and to impose the reactionary reforms ‘even through violence.’

The President of DOE (primary school teachers’ trade union federation) Dimitris Batis said that the teachers are to continue their strike next week.

He emphasised that the government’s Education Minister rejected once more the teachers’ demands.

‘Following the meeting with the Minister,’ Bradis said, ‘the teachers’ strike by itself is not enough to win.’

He then made a dramatic appeal to the whole of the trade union movement and to Greek workers stating that ‘we need the rest of the working class by our side; trades unions and workers must join us.’

That was not the first time that Bratis was making a public direct appeal to the Greek workers’ leaders to bring out the whole of the working class in defence of education and in support of the teachers’ strike.

But the GSEE (Greek TUC) bureaucrats have consistently refused to mobilise the working class.

Bradis understands that unless the whole of the trade union movement comes out, then teachers in fact would be fighting by themselves against a Greek right-wing government.

His weakness stems from the fact that he does not understand the real counter-revolutionary nature of the Greek right-wing government whose aim is to destroy free state education, impose privatisations and salary and pensions cuts, driven by the world economic slump and the mortal crisis of bankrupt Greek capitalism.

The strike has now entered a most critical stage as teachers now realise that their five week determined and solid national strike ‘is not enough’ to force the government to meet their demands and are looking to the whole of the working class to take action with them to defeat the ‘New Democracy’ government.

The coming days could well witness the opening rounds of the Greek Socialist revolution.