GREEK students staged a huge national march in Athens last Thursday against a government Bill to establish private universities while shutting down or merging university departments and introducing fees on higher state education which is free.
The two main avenues of the Athens city centre, from Omonia square to the Vouli (Greek parliament) were full of marchers.
It was the biggest of the four previous protest marches held by students since the start of the New Year. Over 30,000 university and school students took part in enthusiastic, determined and militant mood, along with large contingents of school teachers and university lecturers and staff, hospital and public sector workers.
Hundreds of armed riot police along with water cannon vehicles followed the march, but this time they did not attack the students.
University students from all over Greece participated in very high numbers in last Thursday’s Athens march carrying their large banners stating ‘no to private universities, no to the destruction of free state education’. Female students were at the forefront holding the banners and shouting the slogans through loudspeakers.
Students’ unions estimated that there are some 200 university departments in occupation by students and have condemned the invasion of armed riot police last Monday and Tuesday to the universities of Thessaloniki and Thrace.
Students shouted slogans demanding the resignation of the Education and Public Order Ministers K. Pierrakakis and Khrysokhoidis. Outside the Vouli they addressed the Prime Minister K. Mitsotakis with ‘the people do not want you – get your riot police and off you go’.
At the head of the march a large red banner proclaimed ‘The Majority Has Spoken’ in answer to Mitsotakis and his ministers accusing the protesting students of being ‘minorities’.
A most popular rhymed slogan shouted by students was ‘Minister Pierrakakis open your eyes, see minorities occupying universities’.
There were placards held by students describing Mitsotakis as a ‘University Robber’ dressed as a criminal convict holding a gun. Mitsotakis has likened occupying students to ‘robbers’.
On the big contingents holding large Students Association Occupations banners, from Athens, Thessaloniki and Crete, students shouted ‘Listen to what the students say – armed riot police out of departments’, ‘The youth on the front line’ and ‘With occupations as our weapon we will defeat the Bill’.
There were flags of Palestine on the march and slogans for the victory of the Palestinian Resistance and against the Israeli genocide in Gaza.
In contrast to previous student marches, large number of university lecturers, researchers and staff took part in the march with their banners. Representatives of professors and lecturers at the Athens Technical University (Polytechnic) said that the Teaching Research Staff trade unions have voted overwhelmingly against the government’s private universities Bill as well as for participation in the march.
There were thousands of primary and secondary teachers on the march and thousands of school students with their own made banners and several hospital trade unions. But once again the trade union leaders of the GSEE (Greek TUC) and ADEDY (public sector federation of trades unions) refused to call a strike and call for mass participation of workers on the students’ marches. ADEDY and the teachers’ unions had called just a 3-hour stoppage.
The Mitsotakis government have stated that they intend to pass the Bill through the Vouli by the end of this month.
Yet the ADEDY, the Athens Trades Council and the PAME (Greek Communist Party trades unions federation) insist on staging a 24-hour strike on the last day of February. They have refused the calls for a 24-hour strike for next Thursday.
The students remain adamant in their fight against the Bill, as farmers in central and northern Greece have driven their tractors to many blockades on motorways and national roads.
University students’ associations have called for yet more demonstrations.
This Saturday, an open air concert has been organised in Athens, this coming Monday, a mass rally at the Education Ministry and next Thursday another march in central Athens, while occupations of university departments – the backbone of the students’ fight – are holding strong.