The next wave in Greece
(Jan. 16) -- THE DEMONSTRATIONS that rocked Greece at the end of last year resumed on January 9, picking up where they left off before the holidays with a militant march of 20,000 teachers and students in Athens.
The protests erupted last month after Athens police killed a young activist, Alexandros Grigoropoulos. After a wave of student occupations and huge street battles with police, Greek unions called a general strike December 10. A new wave of even bigger protests followed.
Despite the repression, the movement has continued to develop. Students were again the driving force in the January 9 demonstration, called in memory of Nikos Temponeras, a teacher who was murdered on that date in 1991 by right-wing thugs of the ruling New Democracy party. Temponeras was killed while defending his school's occupation in the protests that took down that government.
Today, students are once again out to topple another right-wing New Democracy government, this one run by Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis. After marching January 9, students and the teachers took over the center of Athens for more than four hours, demanding justice for Alexis, money for education, the disarming of police and the resignation of Karamanlis.
As has been the case in previous protests, police violently attacked the peaceful demonstration without any pretext. They arrested 80 protesters and 15 lawyers who appeared at the police headquarters to defend them.
The police reserved their most rabid attacks for members of the media who were trying to document the police brutality. This attack has outraged journalists and students--and breathed new life into the student movement right before general assemblies scheduled to decide their next actions.
The Karamanlis government has already tried to charge many arrested students with ridiculous crimes under the antiterrorist laws passed in 2001 and again before the Athens Olympics of 2004. The authorities are using this latest crackdown in the latest attempt to terrorize the student movement before it revives--and to send a message that the protests will not be tolerated.
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BUT ALL this repression has been in vain, because the protests never really stopped.
The antiwar movement demonstrated against the murderous Israeli war on Gaza on numerous occasions during the holidays. The largest demonstration was January 3. Organized by the Coalition of the Radical Left and other left-wing organizations (with the exception of the Communist Party, which always has its own sectarian gatherings), some 20,000 protesters marched for nine miles in the rain, from the Greek parliament to the U.S. Embassy, and from there to the Israeli Embassy.
Outside the Israeli Embassy, protesters were met again with another vicious attack by riot police--this time with liberal use of tear gas newly purchased from Israel. (In the December protests, police had used up all of their arsenal, gassing us daily with more than 4,000 canisters of tear gas.)
The protesters were back on the streets January 10, this time protesting Israeli atrocities in the land operations in Gaza.
The following day, a couple thousand immigrants and their supporters responded to the call by the organization Deport Racism to protest the recent death of a 24-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant outside the Immigration Center in Athens. The young man was found beaten to his death in a nearby ditch. The murder was probably committed by cops or neo-Nazi thugs, who target immigrants waiting outside all night in long lines to register for asylum. It was the third such murder so far this year.
In this climate of continual protests, general assembly meetings have been called in universities across the country to decide the next steps for the movement. But the next round of occupations have already begun--this time carried out by workers in the mass media.
On January 10, a group of unionized media workers, along with opposition members in the leadership of the union, took over the offices of their union. They were protesting against both the working conditions they face and the treacherous role of the media in the recent youth demonstrations.
The leadership of the journalists' union, the Union of Athens Daily Press Editors (ESIEA, according to its initials in Greek), is one of the most corrupt and bankrupt in the eyes of its members. ESIEA officials are able to maintain control of the union leadership, thanks to collaboration between New Democracy and trade unionists in the center-left PASOK party, who act as partners with the big bosses in the media.
ESIEA has done nothing to oppose the medieval working conditions imposed by media employers and has gladly collaborated with the establishment in manipulating the truth about the recent protests, the attacks on immigrants and workers, and the campaign of intimidation against every person who dares to fight back.
The initiative of the media workers found an immediate response in the city of Volos, where workers took over the building of the historic labor council of that city (the first of its kind established in Greece). The Volos workers made similar demands of their bureaucratic union leadership.
In both occupations, workers hold open meetings every night to decide their daily actions. This mass participation is becoming a symbol for workers and students at a time many people radicalized by recent events are looking for ways to move the struggle forward.
As in the struggles of the 1960s, an escalation of the struggles can put profound change on the agenda--change that is badly needed by working people. At the same time, the struggle will underscore the need for a new, more radical left.