Education International
Education International

Greece: Teachers join two day general strike

published 28 June 2011 updated 30 June 2011

The EI General Secretary has met with Greek teachers who are set to be among thousands of public and private sector workers who are taking part in a 48-hour general strike in Greece this week as the parliament prepares for a key vote on tough austerity measures.

The strike will run from 28-29 June and will coincide with the debate for widely unpopular proposals for new US$113 billion cuts package which the social democrat prime minister is attempting to get through at the behest of European Union, international bond traders and the International Monetary Fund. The proposals include the privatisation of some of the remaining state run concerns, further lowering of public sector wages and higher taxes.

Speaking to 500 delegates at the 15th Congress of OLME, the largest Greek teachers’ union, EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, said: “The future of Greece is being mortgaged. The mortgage is not just a financial one but it is a mortgage on the opportunities of an entire generation of children and young people.”

The three-day Congress ended on 28 June when the Greek Parliament begins its deliberations.

“We are not denying that there is a serious crisis, or that painful measures are required to avoid a total economic meltdown. But these measures must be decided upon here in Athens and nowhere else. They should be taken in social dialogue with the trade union movement, fully respecting our rights as unions and as teachers. It is simply not acceptable that education is being cut while big defence orders with German and French arms suppliers are being maintained,” added Van Leeuwen.

The Congress voted to strongly resist the cutting of the national education budget as well as appointing Dimitris Peppes as interim OLME President.

National polls suggest that between 70-80 per cent of Greek people oppose the austerity plan as they have already undergone one round of severe cuts to public sector spending and reduction in public services – with pay and pensions being cut and money for education being pared back. Many Greek teachers and the public are now saying that ‘enough is enough’.

One Greek Communist Party MP, Thanassis Pafilis, said: “These measures are a massacre for workers' rights. It will truly be hell for the working man. The strike must bring everything to a standstill.”

The strike has been called by the two main trade union confederations – GSEE in the private sector and ADEDY in the public sector, of which the teachers are a part. The unions are angry that the government’s austerity programme will impose taxes on those earning the minimum wage, following months of other cuts which have seen unemployment rise to more than 16 per cent.

In a statement the GSEE called for the ‘rejection of austerity, halting the climate of layoffs and rising unemployment, the imposition of respect and implementation of the collective labour agreements, and halting the sell-off of public utilities and state organisations’.

Some protesters have said they will encircle the parliament building to prevent MPs from entering. The austerity package and implementation law must be passed in separate votes on Wednesday and Thursday.

Last week teachers were among demonstrators who were prevented by police in riot gear using tear gas and batons, from forming a ring round the parliament building in an effort to stop the government from passing new austerity measures. Some protestors have been camping out in the central square for four weeks – but this week’s demonstrations are set to be the largest yet.