Since the beginning of December, a number of Greek cities have been the scene of violent demonstrations in which young people largely students have confronted the forces of state order. While the police killing of a young demonstrator is what unleashed the confrontations of the past month, they did not come out of a clear blue sky. They are rather part and parcel of a social conflict within the educational sector, as well as manifestations of discontent that have spread to other sectors of the work world.
This is directly linked to the economic transformations that Greece has experienced since the 1970s, which have necessitated the development of a skilled and more diversified labor force, entailing the development of compulsory education and the opening of higher education to large numbers of youth. Access to such a diploma has become, for the young, the ticket to the possibility of a professional job, and thereby to a higher standard of living. The opening up of schools and universities brought with it ever higher costs to be borne by students and their families, as well as more and more rigid selection criteria for admission. The outcome has been typical for a mass education system, with the reduction of teachers to the condition of wage-workers and a constant degradation of working conditions, even as a growing number of students are excluded all following a pattern characteristic of other industrialized countries. To that must be added the pressure of the internal contradictions of the capitalist system, in which education no longer provides the illusion of access to a better life, but rather reflects the social injustice and fears for the future shared by the whole of the exploited population of the industrialized countries.
In a real sense, this disillusion can be compared to the May 68 movement, which marked a revolt of youth and sections of the working class against the very real effects of economic degradation and the grim situation that it produced. To come back to Greece, we can point to the student protest movements in 1991 and 98, the occupation of the universities in 2006, and again in 07, the six-week long teachers strike in 06, of which this is merely a partial list.
A factor that has strengthened the determination of the students is that many of them are at the same time engaged in wage-labor in order to pay for their studies. They are, therefore, already directly confronted with the exploitation of their labor and the reality of unemployment and dismal economic perspectives, much like the youth engaged in the anti-CPE movement in France. This latter has already in December -- led the French minister of education to withdraw the education reforms that had been passed over the protests of both teachers and high-school students. That is only one more example showing the global nature of the capitalist system, of its crisis, and of the remedies that the ruling class has to offer drastic cut-backs and their corollary of exclusion.
The Greek situation is not, therefore, what the mass media seeks to make of it: a situation particular to Greece, following an exceptional event, the killing of a youth, but rather constitutes an expression of the opposition of a proletarianized class, and especially of its youth, to the degradation of its very conditions of existence, against the perspectives of an uncertain future, against any resignation vis-ΰ-vis the global relations of exploitation and coercion imposed by the ruling class. The popular support for these youth, as well as the social movements that have arisen of late, are just further expressions of that fundamental opposition.
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