In perhaps the strongest testing yet of the country’s coalition government, Greece is braced for a week of protests and strikes from a number of sectors angry that the government is going to move workers involuntarily into other jobs or fire them, as many as 40,000 over the next two years.
The walk-offs began the morning of Sept. 16 with secondary school teachers refusing to work, although elementary school teachers didn’t join the protest as many workers are apparently frightened that if they strike they could find their names added to the so-called mobility scheme list of people who could lose their positions.
The teachers will strike all week as part of a plan for five-day rolling strikes they said will continue until they win, although hundreds of similar strikes and protests over the last three years against austerity measures demanded by international lenders have all failed.
Greece has to pare its bloated public workforce by firing 15,000 workers over the next two years and putting another 25,000 into a so-called mobility scheme in which they will be involuntarily transferred to other positions or fired within eight months if another position can’t be found for them.
The teachers union OLME called for the strikes although the government said the teachers would, if necessary, be forced back to work. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samara has this year used civil mobilization orders to bring striking Metro and port workers back to the job under threat of being arrested or fired.
Staff at social security funds and universities are to join the action. Teachers are divided amongst themselves too, however, with OLME saying it would be satisfied if only 30-40 percent of them joined the strike. Many previous teacher strikes have found a sharp division with many teachers refusing to join in the action called by their union.
A general strike by ADEDY, the public workers union, will be held Sept. 18-19, swelling the protests. Education Minister Constantinos Arvanitopoulos told Kathimerini the government had done everything possible to ensure that teachers inducted into the mobility scheme were transferred to other jobs in the civil service even if they weren’t qualified for the positions. The key goal is for schools to remain open, he said.
OLME President Themis Kotsifakis denied that the main opposition SYRIZA party is behind the teachers’ action though the union’s leadership is known to be allied with the leftists. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras fueled sharp criticism last week after suggesting that schoolchildren show their support to protesting teachers.