University Workers Enter Second Month of Strike

For two months there have been no classes, no new enrollment and no exams at Greece’s oldest university, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, and its partner school, the National Technical University of Athens, as administrative workers strike to protect public education and stop impending job cuts. 

The Greek government, in tandem with the Troika Memorandum of Understanding, has called for mass layoffs at public universities across Greece.  The Troika has also proposed selling profitable portions of the university system to private enterprises. 

“Public education is under attack across the globe.  It is happening in Europe and all over,” said Irene Dafermou, a representative of Athens University Education Workers who works at the library of political science.  “Just look to the Chicago teachers who went on strike last year to protect public education. Here in Athens we now take similar steps to save free public education.”

Striking administrative workers play a crucial role in the operation of the university providing a wide range of services including secretarial support, library administration, financial services and security staffing.

Maria Xirogianni, who works at the Central Library at the National Technical University of Athens for the past six years, describes why workers are striking.

“We want to call attention to the destruction of public universities in Greece.  These are some of the best universities in Europe.  As workers most of us are highly educated and highly skilled.  We provide the essential infrastructure to make the university run and educate students.  The IMF, they don’t care about the consequences of the Memorandum, they care about the numbers, but there are people and families behind those numbers.” 

Recently the university budget was cut by 40%.  The technical college budget has been cut by 60%.  Government officials are calling for 1,349 job cuts to the university system, an overwhelming majority of which would come from support staff. 

Another library worker, Maria, stated:  “it goes without saying we have families to support, I have a six-year-old child.  If we lose our job, not only can we not pay taxes, but there will be a dramatic effect on our personal lives.  We are glad to have the support of professors and teaching staff.  Just yesterday, more students were voicing their support.  Many people are very sympathetic to our cause.  They understand that we are fighting to save not only our jobs, but to save higher public education as well.” 

Striking university workers are expected to march in the general strike taking place in Athens on November 6, 2013. 

By Karen Hickey, AFL-CIO Wisconsin, USA