Towards different labor regimes for the precarious of Greek universities

We, the precarious of the Greek universities, have remained invisible for several years struggling to survive, to produce research and to teach in the most transient, solitary and fragmented ways. During the infamous period of the so-called “Greek debt crisis” and austerity, we have experienced even more intensely the condition of precarity as it spread and became institutionalized in the context of financial cuts and strict limitations to public sector recruitment. However, as time goes by our numbers increase and we become more and more permanently present, contributing to knowledge production in Greece in many different ways. Our precarity is no longer a temporary deviation in education due to “crisis” but the normality of the Greek university; one that declares itself to be“public” and calls upon us to defend it, at the same time it places against us the most “flexible” structures, conditions and labor expectations, while simultaneously preserving bureaucratic imperatives and regimes of “exceptional” relations.

This condition of precarity cannot be differentiated from the “new” opportunities on offer to supply our knowledge and skills to various cultural and research institutions. On the contrary, they intensify the principles of the market and by extension our own precarity. We participate wherever we are invited – in talks, workshops, public actions etc. – in an attempt to become visible, to be relevant, to show that we are productive, to preserve our support networks. All these activities are considered as “gifts” in a regime of complete precarity and, indeed, none of these institutions views our work as worthy of payment. The time, the effort, the knowledge production, the investment in our social relations – fragmented and lonely endeavors presented as achievements; that is the unpaid labor that constitutes the new type of the utilized university worker.

The state programs for the “Acquisition of Academic Teaching Experience” in Greek universities showed up in this regime of precarity in order to cover the teaching needs created due to permanent academic staff shortages. As many other programs of this type, they do not recognize our labor as payable work, neither do they recognize the normalization of our precarity. Indicated by their title, they appear as a seemingly temporary, well-meaning and generous “offer” to all of us; a unique opportunity to develop our CVs differently. This wonderful picture works precisely because it obscures the fact that our participation in the public production of knowledge is carried out with lower labor costs and through our complete dependence on the bureaucratic services of the Universities’ Special Account for Research Funds that utilize our payments for their own (questionable) needs of balanced budgeting; it works since it is carried out by containing our labor rights.

The calls for the above programs are announced late and notices of selection are publicized in an equally slow pace. They are short-term and our investment in teaching is not secured; let alone our integration into the university. The cost of transport and accommodation is in no way compensated especially when we are paid six and seven months after the start of our work – having already endured these expenses personally on a daily basis. These “technical” details illustrate the devaluation of our lives and our work, and it is only a part of the working conditions that the researchers, lecturers and fellows in Greek higher education institutions share.

We live in a state of constant anxiety for our everyday survival; for the preservation of our academic bonds to which we systematically invest; about the preparation of our courses that will already be incomplete; about whether we will be in the same teaching rooms the following year, especially when our time to prepare for the future is consumed by academic and writing responsibilities. Such academic conditions frustrate our labor and sever our bonds from departments, colleagues and students. No educator in any educational level can ever in such conditions produce work that creates long-term relations.

We identify with our teaching and research, and we demand the visibility of our labor and the precarious conditions in which it is carried out. The non-recognition of our rights makes it much more difficult and limits our ability to produce research and create publications as we ought to. For many of us, the only option is to work in multiple programs, in seasonal or ephemeral positions, within or outside of the university, devaluing our everyday life and quality of our work. We cannot and do not want to be invisible anymore. We witness our lives being consumed in an on-going antagonism for determining which one of us will be more capable or lucky to get the “anointing” or to preserve “exceptional” relations, in order to pass to the other side, the one of permanent employment in the university, while the rest of us will continue to be precarious until the system washes us out because of age.

We demand:

  1. Payment for participation in all educational/ cultural events
  2. Special employment status for researchers and contract lecturers
  3. To exempt scholarships and research positions from the state VAT
  4. At last fellows, researchers and contract lecturers be paid on a monthly basis
  5. More inclusive participation status for decision making in university departments.

The institutionalization of precarity in the Greek university by way of expanding and legitimizing this “freelancing” regime in teaching and research contributes to the degradation of the public character of education. At the same time, this degradation is concealed in rhetoric about “defending” the public character of the University – which indeed we also ought to do. We are skeptical towards such rhetoric when it introduces through our bodies the harshest neoliberal (re)forms – which makes even more crucial the question: What kind of University do we want?

Why should we accept a University that produces segregated categories of workers when they do exactly the same job? Like our full-time colleagues, we are not freelancers, we do not own companies, and we do not consider our students as clients. The public university requires political imagination from all of us. Our call is to create in common different labor regimes that recognize and ensure our contribution in the production of knowledge.


Precarious academics of the Greek universities