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Thursday 16 May 2013

Update on the teachers' strike and civil mobilization - 16 May 2013

The Athens Students' Association protests in front of the Titania hotel,
where the Teachers' Union representatives are holding their meeting.

The issue of secondary school teachers going on strike during the national university entry examinations took a new turn last night as the conference of heads of regional teacher unions (ELME) seemed to orient itself towards suspending the strike, despite the overwhelming vote in favour of the strike by teachers' general assemblies one day earlier.

The situation stands as follows:
  • On Friday 10 May, the head of the National Confederation of Secondary Education Teachers (OLME) announced that the OLME board was recommending a 24-hour strike on the first day of the university entry examinations, followed by a 5-day strike next week, to protest new austerity measures forced by the government on the education sector. The regional ELME were due to hold general assemblies to approve or reject this proposal on Tuesday 14 May, after which the strike would be officially announced.  
  • The government retaliated by announcing as early as Friday evening an order for the civil mobilization of teachers, and began issuing and distributing mobilization orders on Monday morning, i.e. before the strike was even official. It must be noted here that the civil mobilization order is open-ended, meaning that the right to strike of teachers has de facto been revoked until further notice. Teachers and other professional groups who joined them in solidarity held a demonstration in front of parliament in the evening of Monday 13 May to protest against the authoritarian approach of the government in dealing with industrial action. 
  • The ELME general assemblies were held on Tuesday 14 May. Turnout was extremely high across the country and teachers voted overwhelmingly in favour of the strike despite the civil mobilization order. It was however unclear if this vote was merely symbolic or if the assemblies actually intended to hold the strike. 
  • The government's civil mobilization order generated an outpouring of solidarity statements towards OLME, from unions and associations in Greece but also abroad. In Greece however, tensions among major labour unions are running high: OLME was extremely critical of ADEDY (the umbrella union of civil servants) for deciding to go on strike on Tuesday 14 April instead of Friday, as requested by the teachers. ADEDY and GSEE (the General Confederation of Workers) are also walking out for 3 hours today to protest against civil mobilization. The communist-affiliated union PAME opposed the OLME strike from the start and had come up with an alternative proposal, which was rejected by ELME assemblies. On the other hand, the Primary School Teachers' Federation will go on strike tomorrow in solidarity with their colleagues from secondary education. 
  • The heads of ELME were meeting in Athens last night to take a final decision with regard to the OLME strike. The conference voted in favour of the strike in principle, but a second vote pertaining to the actual feasibility of the strike came up with 18 ayes, 9 nays and 57 blank votes. Representatives of unions affiliated with New Democracy, PASOK and SYRIZA on the OLME board argued that these results show that the strike is not feasible and should therefore be suspended. Representatives of unions affiliated with radical left-wing parties accused them of selling out the strike and the general assemblies' vote. SYRIZA in particular came under fire for refusing to shoulder the political responsibility of supporting an actual strike despite civil mobilization. 
The ELME conference ended at 1am EEST without a clear decision, after a process that was one step short of a brawl. The OLME board is due to meet again today around midday.

We will be posting updates on this page today as the situation develops.

The non-demonstration in Klafthmonos square at 1pm
Picture by @MakisSinodinos
Update 3pm EEST
The demonstration planned by GSEE and ADEDY today in Athens did simply not happen. Turnout was non-existent, with the leadership of GSEE and ADEDY not even showing up.

Over on our Greek-language blog, @galaxyarchis started compiling the statements of labour unions about yesterday's developments. The PAME representatives on the board of OLME said that "The OLME union leadership led an entire profession into a dead end. We were clear from the start that the movement today can respond to the government's unpopular, authoritarian policies only through a united struggle with other professions and in cooperation with the working class. It can respond only through a struggle based on an organized plan for confrontation and perspectives. The OLME leadership did not do anything of this. The OLME leadership wiped out any intention to engage in a struggle among teachers, which were expressed through the fact that 20,000 colleagues participated in general assemblies."

Meanwhile, unions affiliated with radical left-wing parties denounced the manipulation of the ELME conference by unions affiliated with New Democracy, PASOK and SYRIZA, calling the procedure a "coup". In their statement, they said that, "while they [these unions] had no right, on the basis of the OLME articles of association, to invalidate the decision taken by general assemblies, they made sure that they buried the strike and other forms of industrial action."

Unions affiliated with New Democracy, PASOK and SYRIZA as well as the leadership of OLME have yet to issue an official statement with regard to yesterday's conference. 

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