The first day of the school year on Wednesday was marked by the brewing of a political row between the conservative-led government and the main leftist opposition SYRIZA ahead of rolling strike action by teachers which is expected to paralyze schools from next Monday.
After embracing the teachers’ cause in recent days, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras went a step further Wednesday, appealing directly to pupils to back protests against reforms in the education sector, hinting at sit-ins at schools. Speaking to pupils at a school in Nea Ionia on Wednesday, Tsipras called on them to “support the struggles of your parents and above all those of your teachers.” The leftist leader went on to express his conviction that that protests in the education sector would “spark a major wave of resistance.”
Tsipras’s comments fueled angry responses from government officials, both in private and in public. One government source expressed exasperation. “It is unprecedented for the leader of the main opposition party to call directly on pupils to take action and occupy schools,” he said.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou was characteristically caustic, saying Tsipras was acting like “the head of an old-style student committee, not an opposition leader.” “Closed schools are not progress,” he said, adding, “This is not struggle, this is a return to the Middle Ages.”
Although concerned that the opposition is scaling up its efforts to undermine the government’s attempt to convey a positive message about Greece’s gradual economic recovery, coalition officials appeared cautiously optimistic as they believe teachers do not have the financial ease to endure protracted strike action and that the protests will fizzle out.
Nevertheless, there are fears that mass participation by pupils in school sit-ins could fuel the teachers’ movement.
Following a meeting with unionists Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos called on teachers to display a sense of responsibility.
“The main thing is for schools to remain open, for there not to be problems for children and their families,” he said.