The explosion of anger and revolt by the present generation of proletarianised young people in Greece is not at all an isolated or particular phenomenon. It has its roots in the world crisis of capitalism and the confrontation between these proletarians and the violent repression which has unmasked the real nature of the bourgeoisie and its state terror. It is in direct continuity with the mobilisation of the younger generation on a class basis against the CPE law in France in 2006 and the LRU ‘reform' of the universities in 2007, when the students from universities and high schools saw themselves above all as proletarians rebelling against their future conditions of exploitation. The whole of the bourgeoisie in the main European countries has understood all this very well and has confessed its fears of the contagious spread of similar social explosions with the deepening of the crisis. It is significant, for example, that the bourgeoisie in France has just taken a step back by suddenly suspending its programme of ‘reform' for the high schools. Furthermore, the international character of the protests and the militancy among university students and above all high school students has already been expressed very strongly.
In Italy, there were massive demonstrations on 25 October and 14 November behind the slogan "we don't want to pay for the crisis" against the Geimini decree, which is being challenged because it involves budgetary cuts in the education sector, resulting in the non-renewal of the contracts of 87,000 temporary teachers and of 45,000 teachers in the ABA (the main IT services company) and in reduced public funding for the universities.
In Germany, on 12 November, 120,000 high school students came out onto the streets of the main cities in the country, with slogans like "capitalism is crisis" in Berlin, where they besieged the provincial parliament. The same in Hanover.
In Spain, on 13 November, hundreds of thousands of students demonstrated in over 70 towns against the new European directives (the Bolgona directives) for the reform of higher education and universities, spreading the privatisation of the faculties and increasing the number of training courses in the enterprises.
Many of them see their own reflection in the struggle of the Greek students. There have been solidarity demonstrations and rallies in a number of countries following the repression inflicted on the Greek students - some of these solidarity demonstrations also faced more or less brutal repression.
The scale of this mobilisation against the same kinds of measures by the state is not at all surprising. The reform of the education system being undertaken on a European level is part of an attempt to habituate young working class generations to a restricted future and the generalisation of precarious employment or the dole.
The refusal, the revolt of the new educated proletarian generation faced with this wall of unemployment, this ocean of uncertainty reserved for them by capitalism in crisis is also generating sympathy from proletarians of all generations.
Violence by a minority or massive struggle against exploitation and state terror?
The media, which are the servants of the lying propaganda of capital, have constantly tried to deform the reality of what's been happening in Greece since the murder by police bullet of 15 year old Alexis Andreas Grigoropoulos on 6 December. They have presented the confrontations with the police as the action of a handful of anarchists and ultra-left students coming from well to do backgrounds, or of marginalised wreckers. They have broadcast endless images of violent clashes with the police and put across the image of young hooded rioters smashing the windows of boutiques and banks or pillaging stores.
This the same method of falsifying reality we saw during the anti-CPE mobilisation in 2006 in France, which was identified with the riots on the city outskirts the year before. We saw the same gross method used against the students fighting the LRU in 2007 in France - they were accused of being "terrorists" and "Khmer Rouge"!
But if the heart of the ‘troubles' took place in the Greek ‘Latin Quarter' of Exarchia, it is difficult to make this lie stick today: how could this uprising be the work of a few wreckers or anarchists when it spread like wildfire to all the main cities of the country and to the Greek islands of Chios and Samos and even to the most touristy cities like Corfu or Heraklion in Crete?
The reasons for the anger
All the conditions were there for a the discontent of a whole mass of young proletarians, full of disquiet about their future, to explode in Greece, which is a concentrated expression of the dead-end into which capitalism is steering the present generation: when those who are called the "600 euro generation" enter into working life, they have the feeling of being ripped off. Most of the students have to get paid work in order to survive and continue their studies, most of it unofficial and underpaid jobs; even when the jobs are slightly better paid, part of their labour remains undeclared and this reduces their access to social benefits. They are generally deprived of social security; overtime hours are not paid and often they are unable to leave the family home until they are 35, since they don't earn enough to pay for a roof over their heads. 23% of the unemployed in Greece are young people (the official unemployment rate for 15-24 year olds is 25.2%) as an article published in France indicates: "these students don't feel in any way protected; the police shoot at them, education traps them, work passes them by, the government lies to them". The unemployment of the young and their difficulties in entering the world of work has thus created a general climate of unease, of anger and generalised insecurity. The world economic crisis is going to bring on new waves of massive redundancies. In 2009, 100,000 job-cuts are predicted in Greece, which would mean a 5% increase in unemployment. At the same time, 40% of workers earn less than 1,100 Euros net, and Greece has the highest rate of workers on the poverty line out of the 27 EU states: 14%.
It's not only the students who have come out onto the streets, but also poorly paid teachers and many other wage earners facing the same problems, the same poverty, and animated by the same spirit of revolt. The brutal repression against the movement, whose most dramatic episode was the murder of that 15 year old, has only amplified and generalised feelings of solidarity and social discontent. As one student puts it, many parents of pupils have been deeply shocked and angered: "Our parents have found out that their children can die like that in the street, to a cop's bullet". They are becoming aware that they live in a decaying society where their children won't have the same standard of living as them. During the many demonstrations, they have witnessed the violent beatings, the strong-arm arrests, the firing of real bullets and the heavy hand of the riot police (the MAT).
The occupiers of the Polytechnic School, the central focus of the student protest, have denounced state terror, but we find this same anger against the brutality of the repression in slogans such as "bullets for young people, money for the banks". Even more clearly, a participant in the movement declare: "We have no jobs, no money, a state that is bankrupt with the crisis, and the only response to all that is to give guns to the police"
This anger is not new: the Greek students were already mobilising in June 2006 against the reform of the universities, the privatisation of which will result in the exclusion of the least well off students. The population had also expressed its anger with government incompetence at the time of the forest fires in the summer of 2007, which left 67 dead: the government has still not paid any compensation to the many victims who lost houses or goods. But it was above the wage-earners who mobilised massively against the reform of the pension system at the beginning of 2008 with two days of widely followed general strikes in two months, and demonstrations of over a million people against the suppression of pensions for the most vulnerable professions and the threat to the right of workers to claim retirement at 50.
Faced with the workers' anger, the general strike of 10 December controlled by the trade unions was aimed at putting a damper on the movement; meanwhile the opposition, with the Socialist and Communist parties to the fore, called for the resignation of the present government and the holding of elections. This has not succeeded in channelling the anger and bringing the movement to a halt, despite the multiple manoeuvres of the left parties and the unions to block the dynamic towards the extension of the struggle, and despite the efforts of the whole bourgeoisie to isolate the young people from the other generations and the working class as a whole by pushing them into sterile confrontations with the police. Throughout these days and nights, the clashes have been incessant: violent charges by the police wielding batons and using tear gas, beatings and arrests in huge numbers.
The young generation of workers expresses most clearly the feeling of disillusionment and disgust with the utterly corrupt political apparatus. Since the end of the war, three families have shared power, with the Caramanlis dynasty for the right and the Papandreou dynasty for the left taking it in turns to run the country, involving themselves in all kinds of scandals. The conservatives came to power in 2004 after a period in which the Socialists were up to their neck in intrigues. Many of the protestors see the political and trade union apparatus as totally discredited: "The fetishism of money has taken over society. The young people want a break with this society without soul or vision". Today, with the development of the crisis, this generation of proletarians has not only developed a consciousness of capitalist exploitation, which it feels in its very bones, but also a consciousness of the necessity for a collective struggle, by spontaneously putting forward class methods and class solidarity. Instead of sinking into despair, it draws its confidence in itself from the sense of being the bearer of a different future, spending all its energy in rising up against the rotting society around them. The demonstrators thus proudly say of their movement: "we are an image of the future in the face of the sombre image of the past". If the situation today is very reminiscent of May 1968, the awareness of what's at stake goes well beyond it.
The radicalisation of the movement
On 16 December, the students managed to take over part of the government TV station NET and unfurled banners on screen saying "Stop watching the telly - everyone onto the streets!", and launched an appeal; "the state is killing. Your silence arms them. Occupation of all public buildings!" The HQ of the anti-riot police in Athens was attacked and one of their patrol wagons was burned. These actions were quickly denounced by the government as "an attempt to overturn democracy", and also condemned by the Greek Communist Party, the KKE. On 17 December, the building which houses the main trade union confederation of the country, the GEEE, in Athens, was occupied by proletarians who called themselves "insurgent workers" and invited all proletarians to make this a place for general assemblies open to all wage earners, students and unemployed (see their declaration on our site ). They hung a huge banner on the Acropolis called for a mass demonstration the next day. That evening, fifty odd union bureaucrats and heavies tried to get the HQ back under their control but they ran away when student reinforcements chanting ‘solidarity', the majority of them anarchists, came from the University of Economics, which had also been occupied and transformed into a place for meetings and discussions open to all workers. The association of Albanian immigrants, among others, distributed a text proclaiming their solidarity with the movement, entitled "these days are ours as well!". There were repeated calls for an indefinite general strike from the 18th onwards. The unions were forced to call a three hour strike in the public sector on that day.
On the morning of the 18th, another high school student, 16, taking part in a sit-in near his school in a suburb of Athens, was wounded by a bullet. On the same day, several radio and TV stations were occupied by demonstrators, notably in Tripoli, Chania and Thessalonika. The building of the chamber of commerce was occupied in Patras and there were new clashes with the police. The huge demonstration in Athens was violently repressed: for the first time, new types of weapons were used by the anti-riot forces: paralysing gas and deafening grenades. A leaflet against state terror was signed "Girls in revolt" and circulated in the University of Economics. The movement began to perceive, in a confused way, its own geographical limits: this is why it welcomed with enthusiasm the demonstrations of international solidarity that have taken place in France, Berlin, Rome, Moscow, Montreal or New York and declared "this support is very important to us". The occupiers of the Polytechnic School called for an "international day of mobilisation against state murder" on 20 December; but to overcome the isolation of this proletarian uprising in Greece, the only way forward is the development of solidarity and of class struggle on an international scale.
Iannis (19 December)
As we put this article online we have learned that massive general assemblies are being held in the universities in Greece and that in these debates the students are comparing this movement to may 68 in France. We invite our readers to keep looking at our site which will aim to keep up with the evolution of the situation. They should also follow in particular the coverage on www.libcom.org