Students have occupied more than 700 schools across Greece, forcing them to close, in protest at the unsafe push to return.
Occupations began earlier in September, just days after schools reopened, and spread across the country. They are demanding reduced class sizes, more teachers and cleaners, and safer conditions, and are supported in many places by teachers’ unions and parents’ groups.
Students and teachers marched in many towns and cities on Thursday including in Athens —where police teargassed the demonstration—and in Greece’s second city Thessaloniki. Teachers unions called a stoppage so that their members could join the marches.
The central demand is for class sizes to be reduced to 15. One student in Athens told Socialist Worker’s sister newspaper Workers Solidarity, “We cannot sit two at a desk with so many children in small rooms and be told to keep our distance.
“Within a week the hand sanitiser ran out and wasn’t replaced. The masks provided by the government are huge and useless in the end, and we are forced to buy our own.
“Those who lecture us about wearing masks and keeping distant, are the ones who are responsible for the shortages and the crowding.”
The occupations come after a steady increase in coronavirus infections in Greece since the end of July. Infections peaked at 453 new cases on 22 September.
Greece was hailed as a success story at the beginning of the pandemic as cases stayed relatively low. But cases began to rise as the right wing New Democracy government pushed to reopen the tourist industry.
The government has now banned gatherings of more than nine people outdoors, but still insists on class sizes of 25 students.
It has tried to break the sit-ins by demanding that all students at occupied schools attend online classes or be marked absent. It also wants to make them attend classes on weekends and holidays.
One student in Athens told Workers Solidarity, “We intend to continue the occupation if our demands are not met.
“They can’t forbid us to gather in groups of more than nine people in the squares, at a time when we are so many children in a class. We only have one cleaner and there is no soap in the toilets to wash our hands.”
Teachers have also protested at unsafe conditions and poor staffing levels, and union activists are pushing for strikes.
And the students’ occupations are starting to show more generalised anger towards the government.
Some occupations oppose a recent government decision to buy 18 new fighter jets from France amid threats of war with neighbouring Turkey. Other students say they plan to march on Wednesday of next week, as a long running trial of Golden Dawn politicians finally comes to an end.
In a video that went viral across Greece, one student protester said, “We are motivated by the irresponsible political attitude of the government.”
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