During the last few months of the 2005-2006 school year, hundreds of thousands of Greek students occupied over 90% of universities and technical colleges. They held huge demonstrations that led to solidarity strikes by two powerful labor unions.
The spark that ignited this movement was a bill proposed by the right-wing New Democracy government that would require students to pay for their books and pay more for food in university cafeterias, both of which were previously government-subsidized. The bill would also impose managers on every university, force universities to seek private funding, and allow for-profit universities.
These measures would hit students from working-class families especially hard. While tuition is still free, students receive no grants or even cheap student loans to pay for their living expenses, and are forced to pay high rents due to the lack of student housing.
Greece has the lowest education budget in the European Union and the highest unemployment rate among university graduates. Those lucky enough to find jobs are often forced to work as temps, receiving the basic starting wage of $700-900 per month and working 10 or more hours per day without being paid overtime.
An important step forward for the student movement was building support from their parents and the Greek working class. This solidarity was encouraged by Xekinima (CWI Greece) and extended to broader layers of the working class by calling for a 24-hour general strike in support of the students on June 22. After large and often militant protests, the government was forced to retreat and postpone the bill until after summer. The government has offered to make some concessions, but plans to go forward with its privatization scheme. The students and workers demand a complete withdrawal of the bill.
Students and workers, with the help of Xekinima, have organized a plan for the upcoming school year, to start the semester with general meetings and discuss the further development of the movement. The entire education sector is under attack, so they see it as entirely possible to get high school students and primary school teachers involved in an even bigger movement.
Justice interviewed Katia Klitsa about this movement.
How did the occupations begin?
The Minister of Education wanted to change the constitution to make it easier to privatize universities. Right now, tuition is free at universities. They wanted to take away the rights of students in the universities, for example the right to asylum, meaning the police arent allowed into the universities. They wanted us to pay for books. Right now, we can study for as long as we want, but now they want to limit it to six years. Many students already work, [but under the proposed changes] they would have to work even more. This makes it impossible for many students to finish their courses on time.
How was the movement organized?
Each university formed its own assembly. In the beginning, the Minister of Education said it was just radical students. But many students participated, with a lot of enthusiasm and imagination. Even we were surprised by this.
What was the role of Xekinima, the CWI in Greece?
We were the only organization with a specific program and proposals and the only organization that argued that students have to get the support of the workers. We also say we want to be able to find a job when we get a degree, we want better books, and we want a better world.
What is the outlook for the movement?
For many years, students just tried to get a degree, and there were no movements. But students are realizing that their position is going to get worse, so they have to fight back. We are going to try to organize the new students in the fall, and we hope that this movement will rise again.