What Greece’s and Mexico’s teachers have in common

by Leonidas Oikonomakis on September 17, 2013

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The struggle of teachers in Greece and Mexico is like a Thermopylae of our times: an epic battle to defend our social rights in a global class war.

I had the opportunity to pass by the Zócalo in Mexico City in the last days of August 2013 and see with my own eyes the occupation of the square and the surrounding streets by the public school teachers of CNTE, the National Coordinating Committee of Education Workers. It was impressive to see the — really huge — square of Mexico City having been transformed into a massive tent-city by the public teachers on strike, and it was even more impressive to sense how determined they were in their struggle.

The teachers were resisting to Peña Nieto’s “neoliberalization of education” that would put the — already extremely unequal — Mexican public education system under the orders of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and make it “autonomous”: forced to look for funds from the private sector. At the same time, the President’s reforms promised to establish some kind of “performance controls” for the teachers.

Of course, this indirect privatization of public schools was downplayed by the state-controlled (or vice-versa?) Mexican media, which focused on the “quality controls” finally imposed on the “lazy and privileged” teachers. The teachers on their own turn mobilized, organized marches and bloqueos and — most importantly — occupied the main square of the capital in thousands since the 19th of August 2013. The teachers’ mobilization lasted for three weeks until his highness, the Butcher of Atenco — a.k.a. Enrique Peña Nieto — ordered the police to brutally evict the teachers from the Zócalo, on 14 September 2013.

At the same time, in austerity-stricken Greece, the Federation of Secondary Education State School Teachers (OLME) announced a national five-day rolling strike starting on the 16th of September 2013. The reasons? As OLME put it in a public announcement:

The situation in public schools is dramatic:

  • There are 16,000 fewer teachers in secondary education meaning a 20% reduction since June 2013.

  • 102 Vocational Education Schools are closing down.

  • 2,500 Vocational Education Teachers are being suspended — just a step before dismissals.

  • In 2009, there was 33% reduction of spending on education which is expected to reach 47% in 2016.

  • There is a compulsory transfer of 5,000 teachers to primary education and administration posts.

The government has passed a new law on education without a dialogue establishing a harsh, examination-centered system in all forms/grades of upper secondary education forcing students to seek private tuition outside school and leading to school drop-outs. The government proceeds with:

  • The privatization of a  part of Vocational Education

  • The introduction of apprenticeship as a form of minor/under-age employment replacing education process.

If in Mexico it was the OECD and the country’s ruling elite, in Greece the Troika of foreign lenders (made up of the EU, ECB and IMF) and its servant government decided that — after the civil servants, the [profitable!] state owned enterprises, the national broadcaster etc. — free and public education is also a “luxury” and a “burden” for the state budget and thus has to be cut. Let’s not forget that Greece is one of the very few countries in the EU where education is — until now — free and public and where universities especially are protected from privatization by the country’s constitution itself.

For that reason, free and public education has been threatened by neoliberal reforms several times in the past, always being protected by the country’s strong student movement. What we are witnessing these days is yet another attack on Greece’s free and public education by the neoliberal servant coalition of Antonis Samaras and Evangelos Venizelos, who hoped not to be met with resistance by the already socially and economically exhausted Greek society. Yet, this time, it was the Greek teachers who picked up the baton from their Mexican counterparts to fight for free and public education and for their dignity, as they stated in one of the videos they put on YouTube. “I go on strike — and I think we should all do so — because it is the only thing left to do for our dignity…” said one of them.

The Greek teachers’ mobilization is equally impressive as the one of their Mexican counterparts: on the first day of the national strike participation reached 90%, while the country’s students also stand on their teachers’ side, occupying their schools in solidarity and resistance. The Universities’ and Higher Technological Education Institutes’ administrative workers joined in and closed down their institutions as well, protesting for the forceful suspension of thousands of their administrative workers.

There are some seemingly single-issue social struggles that have become the frontline of greater issues at stake, where several social sectors unite to face the common threat. In the case of Greece, such struggles have in the past been included the strike of the steelworkers of Aspropyrgos for safeguarding labor rights in the private sector, the occupation and self-management of ERT for the right to public information, the struggle of the citizens of Halkidiki for the protection of the environment and the right of local communities to have a say in the management of their own resources, the struggle for the right of the squats to exist as “free spaces”, the struggle of the workers of Vio.Me for the workers’ self-management of working spaces, and now the struggle of the teachers for free an public quality education.

Similarly, in the case of Mexico — after Atenco, Chiapas and Oaxaca — this time it was the teachers’ struggle. Those struggles, like some kind of social Thermopylae, seem to constitute the epic battleground where the social and ideological struggles of our era are being fought out. If they are lost, social rights that up to date have been taken for granted will be lost as well, and the invaders move on to the next battleground, to abolish the next disturbing social rights. But if the battles are won? Then maybe we can finally start the counter-attack and take back what has been ours, and even more! There’s a war out there, don’t forget. And, so far at least,  “their” class is winning.

P.S. OLME, the Federation of Secondary Education State School Teachers, knowing that the struggle will be long and in an effort to assist the teachers who have already seen their salaries cut by 30%-40% in their strike, has created a Solidarity Fund. Those willing to help can contribute whatever they can to the following bank account in Greece: 114-00-2002-005457, ALPHA BANK.

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