Thousands of students took to the streets of Greece on Thursday of last week to celebrate their first big victory against neo-liberal attacks on higher education by the right wing government.
After huge protests and occupations of universities, Marietta Giannakou, the minister of education, announced that the government would postpone the vote in parliament on a new bill that “reforms” the university system.
The government’s plan had been to pass the bill in the summer. The bill was about the privatisation of higher education and included harsh attacks on students from poor and working class families.
The government wanted to take another step in the same direction by reforming Article 16 of the Greek constitution, which forbids private universities.
Students have occupied hundreds of university faculties since May. Lecturers have been on all-out strike against the government’s plans.
The 400 universities and colleges in occupation are continuing their protest, despite the government making concessions. The lecturers are following the students.
This is the biggest student occupation movement in 15 years. Every week thousands of students have taken part in general assemblies in every faculty. It is these assemblies which have decided to continue the occupation.
In Athens more than 500 students took part in the assembly that decided to go into occupation a month ago.
Since then the number has doubled – about 1,000 students took part in our last assembly. Every week there has been a big demonstration.
On 1 and 15 June thousands of students came from all over Greece to demonstrate in Athens.
After every demonstration there has been an open meeting of the general coordinating committee of the occupations.
The student movement has got its inspiration from the anti-war movement.
Students who are now demonstrating and occupying their faculties against the government’s attacks are the same people who took to the streets three years ago as school
students against the war on Iraq. The slogans, chants and banners of the demonstrations are reminiscent of the anti-war rallies.
Another inspiration is the victory of the student and workers’ movement in France earlier this year against neo-liberal labour laws. Greek students are saying, “We’ll do it the French way” – students and workers together.
The government believed that our movement was weak.
Two months ago the right wing student organisation – DAP – scored a victory in the student union elections. But after the huge protests they seem to have disapeared from the universities.
The government also tried to use force to break the student movement. Police special forces brutally attacked last Thursday’s demonstration in Athens.
Many students were beaten up. But this attack rebounded against the government, encouraging more people to join the movement.
The struggle continues. There was another national demonstration of the occupation movement set for Wednesday of this week.
The Greek TUC and the public sector workers’ union confederation are calling for solidarity with the students and planning a general strike for the day.
Niki Argiri is a student in the faculty of philosophy at the University of Athens.