Leaders of the teaching unions in Greece last week called off plans for a national strike of high school teachers.
This is an outrage to trade union democracy.
The government had threatened to sack teachers.
It had used conscription orders that meant they could be jailed for striking. Yet teachers had been prepared to defy the government and walk out anyway.
More than 20,000 high school teachers attended general assemblies of their local union branches on Tuesday of last week.
They voted to strike during exams from Friday of this week by 93 percent.
The government has tried to pit other workers against the teachers. But workers were prepared to take action with them.
Primary school teachers said they would strike with the high school teachers every day.
One of teachers’ assemblies gave a standing ovation to a doctor who had been organising for solidarity strikes from the hospital unions.
The next day, the presidents of local union branches had to meet to ratify their decision.
They voted overwhelmingly in support of the original decision to strike.
All of the political parties, except the Communist Party, felt they had to support this.
But then union leaders said that the conditions to successfully implement the decision to strike no longer existed. Yet none of the conditions had changed.
The trade union bureaucracts said the teachers were “adventurist” for calling a strike during exams.
They said a general strike would alienate public opinion.
All of the political parties now went along with this retreat, including the left wing Syriza. Its U-turn made all the difference.
Syriza had been part of the original strike call, along with the far left.
But its leader, Alexis Tsipiras, had been arguing for both the government and the unions to back down.
Syriza’s parliamentary wing was desperate to avoid being blamed for a strike that could lose them votes—and its trade union wing obliged.
Workers’ resistance to austerity means that the government is lagging behind on its target to cut 150,000 public sector jobs by 2015. That’s one of the reasons it has stepped up attacks on teachers.
But it’s also because resistance has been strongest from the best organised sections of workers, notably the teachers. The government had hoped to smash their confidence.
But teachers still take confidence from looking back to 1988. Then they struck during exams and, even when the government took them to court, won many of their demands.
The teachers won support during that strike. Now, with public opinion radicalised by three and a half years of fighting austerity, they can certainly win again.
There is a big debate among Syriza’s rank and file following its U-turn.
And the far left is preparing for the teachers’ union conference next month.
We are arguing for strikes as soon as school starts in September. That motion will probably pass.
But it’s not enough to win the decisions—we also need the rank and file to be able to implement them when the bureaucracy won’t.
The other lesson is political. We can’t rely on the parliamentary wing of the movement. We need a stronger anti-capitalist left.