Greece: Students as a barometer of societyNovember 13, 2015
This September, only days after the re-election of SYRIZA in power, the schools in the country opened. The shortages the schools faced were severe right away ; extending from books, to staff, to regular cleaning and writing supplies. For example, my neighbourhood primary school had to close in September and re-open in early October. I had a discussion concerning the situation of the school with the headmaster, an independent syndicalist, who told me how the school had run out of paper, bleach, soap etc, primary supplies necessary for its functioning but that the budget for the month, and around three-hundred euros split around 5 different regional schools had run out before he had the chance to collect his share. In the end, he confided to me, he had to pay for those expenses from his own salary, making him really anxious concerning the running of the school on a daily basis.
For the purposes of writing this report I asked him to describe some of the most pressing difficulties he currently identifies in school education. He answered:
“For us in primary education, shortages in teaching stuff despite the large number of unemployed teachers, is no longer a surprise. Already in the official third month of the new school year, many schools are under-functioning. Probably more important still is that special schools, support classes and special courses, all-day schools and other specialised courses still await for the teachers to run them. Another problem is that many of the teachers are not permanent in their positions, despite working as supplementary staff for years, each year they face the uncertainty of re-employment and location of their work.”
He then adds that “the continuously underfunded education, lack of any supportive infrastructure in schools, problems of the actual buildings housing the schools, the labour obsolescense of the teachers coupled with the hard social and economic conditions that the typical Greek family, slowly fade away any positive prospects for the role of education in the academic, social and economic strengthening of a country in crisis.”
The Communist Party Youth (KNE) and its representative bodies at schools (SAS) gathered for a discussion concerning the effects of austerity on school education in late October. More specifically the student representatives of the KNE mention in their statement: “Through the discussions we’ve had, we realise that shortages of teachers and infrastructure, books and supplies exist across many schools as well as that our parents and ourselves are forced to put our hands deep in our pockets to cover these shortages.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the demands agreed upon in the meeting exceeded the immediate difficulties in school education and the students called for a better, more holistic and humane education system for them, their families and teachers.”It was emphasised by all that the only way forward is the coordinated struggle of students to cover our needs, for a school that will educate without exhausting us, for an education that is a right and not a commodity.”
These discussions resulted in the call for an all out demonstration of students and teachers across Greece on 2 November, followed with a call for ongoing occupations in schools. In Athens alone, official participation for the protest was agreed upon by 35 different schools- notably the schools from the most working class areas. The demonstration was the biggest and most vibrant we have seen in months, and the first one after the elections this September. Around five thousand students aged 12 to 18 marched alongside their teachers in the centre of Athens, organised in schools or in party and organisation blocs. Their slogans and comments from discussions we had with them showed frustration and angst over the future of their education. Deeply disappointed in SYRIZA (although most claimed to never have had trust in it) they could see no viable alternatives in the current political scene (with the exception of the Communist Party youth who, naturally, look to the Communist Party). The pamphlet that we were handing out, however, named after a recent campaign we launched for opening up revolutionary work in schools “Youth against Capitalism”, grasped their attention and they seemed to agree on most of our points.
The success that KNE saw with that demonstration was made concrete yesterday in the general strike called by both the unions of public and private sectors (GESEE and ADEDY) and the trade union of the Communist Party (PAME). With the students and teachers standing side by side the workers in their strike and demo, the mobilisation in the Syntagma square, reached some ten thousand people at its peak, despite the fact that no public transportation was operating in Athens. Surprisingly, SYRIZA also endorsed the 24-hour strike and announced its participation a day before, calling all the party members to attend the mobilisations in Syntagma.
It is interesting and important to see, how a period of political stagnation such as the one that Greece entered after the elections in September 2015 and which has led to an overall mood of defeat found amongst the working class layers at the moment, can still be punctuated by the inspirational determination of the students.
by Stella Christou in Athens, MSF Executive