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Monday, 13 May 2013

Guest post: The Greek government denies secondary education teachers the right to strike

By Panagiotis Sotiris [1]

In the past three years Greek society has gone through a series of extremely aggressive austerity measures, under the terms dictated by the EU-IMF-ECB Troika that have led to a severe deterioration of living conditions. It has also been experiencing a constant erosion of democratic rights and basic civil liberties. Part of it is the attempt by the Greek government to practically abolish the right to strike in many sectors. Government representatives have repeatedly insisted that it is time to get rid of the “anomic” forms of protest and struggle that have been the main legacy of post-1974 radicalism.

The latest such example is the decision of A. Samaras, the Greek Prime Minister, to issue “civil mobilization” orders for all secondary education teachers, because OLME, the Secondary Education Teachers Confederation, has announced that it proposes to its member unions to stage a strike during the University Entry Exams beginning May 17. The order issued by the Prime Minister includes references to a potential “important disruption of the social and economic life of the country” and to “grave dangers for public order and the health of candidates taking the university entry exams”, and was issued as a preemptive measure before the strike is even decided by the local secondary education unions on Tuesday May 14.

“Civil Mobilization” is an authoritarian special legislation which gives government authorities the right to commandeer services, vehicles and equipment in order to deal with national emergencies, such as wars or natural disasters. Any person receiving a “civil mobilization” order has to immediately comply, or face prison and losing his work. However, Greek governments have used it in recent years as a means to deal with militant strikes. Recently, “civil mobilization” orders have been issued for public transport workers and mariners. It is important to note that a “civil mobilization” order, unless revoked, also prohibits any future strike action.

Unions and many legal experts have called this practice unconstitutional and in sharp violation of national and international laws and regulations safeguarding the right to strike. It is interesting to note that one of these experts is no other than the current Minister of Justice in the Samaras Government, Antonis Roupakiotis, a former president of the Athens Bar Association, who as recently as 2006 voiced his expert opinion that the use of “civil mobilization” orders in response to strikes goes against the Greek constitution that explicitly forbids any form of compulsory offering of services with the exception of states of emergency such as wars and natural disasters, and also violates more recent legislation that attempt to define “states of emergency” in ways that obviously make it non-applicable to a labour strike.

Secondary education teachers have decided to stage their strike in protest at recent legislation, which was issued in compliance with demands by the EU-IMF-ECB Troika to reduce public sector expenses and personnel. It includes the prospect of mass lay-offs of thousands of substitute teachers, the ability of the Ministry to transfer teachers to a different area of Greece each year and an increase in teachers’ workload, measures that seem like another step towards a further undermining of public education. Teachers in Greece have already suffered heavy wage reductions of up to 30% and the school system has suffered budget cuts and school mergers and closures as a result of the austerity measures. 

The government, with the help of corporate media, has tried to demonize teachers, presenting them as lazy, selfish and insensitive to the anxiety of their students before the exams. This is very cynical, if we take into consideration that the main reasons of anxiety of youths in Greece today, who are facing a 60% youth unemployment rate, are exactly the policies of the Greek government and the Troika that have imposed a “death spiral” of austerity, recession and unemployment. In the sense, the Secondary Education teachers’ strike is fully justified; it is a struggle defending public education, against the violence of neo-liberal cuts.

Hopefully, there has been a wave of protest and solidarity to striking teachers. OLME is calling for a big rally on Monday 13 May to protest to “civil mobilization” order, and the confederation of parents’ associations and many unions have announced that they will take part in these protests. 

It is obvious that current struggles in Greece are not simple protests against austerity. They are struggles for democracy and resistance to the imposition of a neo-liberal authoritarian “state of emergency.” Greek teachers need all the solidarity they can get. 

[1] Panagiotis Sotiris is an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Sociology of the University of the Aegean


  1. Nonsense - it is an entirely cynical attempt on the part of the teachers to railroad the government by playing politics with the lives of their students.

    Anyone who works in Greek education knows well the vital importance attached to these exams, particularly in these times of austerity. If we cannot expect the politicians to have the welfare of young people always at the forefront of their minds, then we should be able to expect it from the teachers. By all means strike, but the timing of this stinks of pathetic grandstanding which will kill public sympathy for their cause, especially among the students and parents affected.

  2. The timing is the one chosen by the Government to pass the new reforms. If the reforms had passed in February, teachers wouldn't have waited to go on strike in May.

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