Greek school teachers to strike from early September

Submitted by AWL on 3 August, 2013 - 12:09

Greek school teachers are set to strike from early September even if the government does with them as it did in May, and with other strikers earlier, putting them under military mobilisation so that striking becomes legally equivalent to desertion from the army.

Other reports from Greece, July 2013:

The Greek government has already named 2,122 teachers in technical high schools to be suspended from their jobs. The teachers, like many other public sector workers in Greece, will be put on 75% pay and in redeployment status for eight months, then sacked completely if they have not found new jobs.

The technical high schools take a proportion of students aged 15-18, alongside the regular high schools, 50 out of 110 departments in technical high schools will be closed.

More cuts are coming. The government has announced it will suspend another 8,000 public sector workers between now and the end of September, a further 12,000 by the end of 2013, and a total of 160,000 by the end of 2015. The first tranche of 8,000 suspensions will include a further 1,500 teachers.

School caretakers' jobs have also been abolished, all across Greece: the work previously done by caretakers will be done by school principals or contracted out.

The government has announced a four-stage procedure for the future: evaluation of school structures; new plans; cancellation of selected positions; all workers reapplying for jobs within the remaining positions. For this year alone, it says it is not ready to do the evaluations, so it will use whatever statistics it already has available to decide on deleting jobs. It looks like there will be a new wave of suspensions every two months or so.

Greek school teachers had decided to strike in May, at the same time as the school-leaving exams, but the high school teachers' federation backed down at the last minute in face of government threats. Since then a new left-wing leadership (Syriza and Antarsya) has been elected in the federation, and it says it will strike from September if even one teacher is suspended, and regardless of military-mobilisation orders.

Teachers return to work on 1 September, but then have a week or so for preparation before the students return, in primary schools on 11 September and in high schools on 15 September.

There are about 80,000 teachers in state high schools. 10,000 temporary teachers have already lost their jobs. About 40,000 of the 80,000 are union members.

In the Greek labour movement, the "union" is the local organisation covering a workplace, or a few workplaces - for school teachers, a group of schools covering several hundred or a thousand teachers. The broader organisation covering the whole sector is the "federation", constituted by delegates from the local unions.

Primary school teachers have a separate federation. Although it has more members than the high school teachers' federation (about 60,000 out of 70,000 primary school teachers are unionised, because they were auto-enrolled, with union dues checked off from wages, until two years ago), traditionally the primary school teachers' federation has followed the initiatives of the high school teachers' federation. The primary federation is not left-led - its committee is three New Democracy, three Pasok, two Democratic Left, and one Syriza - but may yet still follow the now-left-led high school federation.

In a discussion at the summer camp held by the Greek revolutionary socialist group OKDE on 20-28 July 2013, OKDE members stressed above all the importance of convening General Assemblies of the local teachers' unions and arguing for them to elect strike committees rather than leaving the dispute in the hands of the usual union officials. "Teachers must take control of the struggle, educate themselves, learn to fight for themselves, organise themselves to find allies".

Weaknesses were identified. The new left-wing leadership of the high school federation announces better decisions than other federations, but has only limited capacity to organise for them. Demonstrations at the end of the summer term had often had poor turn-outs. Some schools have low levels of union membership. The general level of political awareness and confidence among teachers is low.

Some of the OKDE teachers argued that teachers must aim for a wider strike of public sector workers - "teachers can't deal with this on their own" - and set the goal of that strike as bringing down the government. "It is different if the government falls as a result of a movement" [rather than just through an election].

Others questioned both arguments. So there is a strike and the government falls? Then there is an election and a new government? Then a new strike to bring down the new government? Then another election...? The strike demand should be for the reinstatement of the suspended teachers. A teacher-only strike could win that, and the willingness of one section of workers to go ahead with an indefinite strike which looks like winning is what we need to start a snowball for a general strike, after which the government might indeed fall.

Against that, it was argued that "teachers are very clear that the government must fall, but equally clear that teachers on their own can't achieve that. The level of consciousness may be low now, but it can make big leaps in a crisis".

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