On Feb. 28, 2023, two trains traveling along the same track collided in Greece, killing 57 people—many of them students in their teens and 20s returning home from university in Athens. The deaths of 11 workers in the crash sparked two 24-hour strikes from the railway unions, followed by demonstrations across the country that have lasted for weeks and mobilized tens of thousands of people. Workers blame the crash on a lack of properly functioning safety and communication systems, as well as severe understaffing and underfunding of the railways—all originating from “Troika” (EU, IMF, and ECB) structural adjustment imposed on Greece in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Since 2010, Greek railroads have lost 3500 workers, a third of the rail network has been closed, and mass privatization has swept the industry. TRNN reports from Greece as workers and students march to demand all essential social services such as transportation and education are made free and placed under social and workers’ control. This video is part of a special Workers of the World series on the cost of living crisis in Europe.
Producer: Christos Avramidis
Videography: Vasilis Vittas
Translation: Danai Maltezou
Video editor: Leo Erhardt
Additional Footage: Aris Chatzistefanou, Kostas Papantoniou, Facebook Chris Avramidis, Alexandros Gasteratos, Tony Rigopoulos
This story, with the support of the Bertha Foundation, is part of The Real News Network’s Workers of the World series, telling the stories of workers around the globe building collective power and redefining the future of work on their own terms.
Reporter: Workers are rising up after the train crash in Greece. Greece has not experienced such demonstrations for the last 8 years. Tens of thousands of workers have been taking to the streets to demand responsibility from the state for a deadly train accident. On the night of 28 February, there was a frontal collision between two trains that killed 57 people. The government attributed the crash to human error, but the reality is that basic safety systems were not functioning. Two trains were running for 12 minutes on the same track, one opposite to the other, but none of the safety systems functioned to prevent this tragedy. Τhe trade unions organized two 24-hour strikes and the country was shaken by huge protests.
Christos Mataragkas: We demand that measures are taken in our workplaces. We will no longer gamble with our lives. They measure the costs and the profits, and the workers are always on the losing end. Our lives are at risk. This must stop.
Chanting: Text me when you arrive, you never arrived we’ll get revenge for you little boy.
Reporter: Out of the 57 people dead, 11 of them were rail workers.
Kostas Genidounias: For us, the engine drivers, this was a predetermined fatality. We were shouting that this would happen, we had protested multiple times and we had sent extrajudicial notices. The stationmaster put two trains on the same line. One heading directly towards the other. Security systems were not working in that area. The light signals were not working. The system that gives the drivers an indication that they can continue their way. Green light means go, red means stop. The telecommunication system didn’t work. That is, the system in which OSE, the infrastructure manager, could see that two trains were headed towards each other, on the same line. The ETCS system was not working either, which is a system that stops the train instantly, if the driver crosses a red light or makes a mistake.
Reporter: Just three weeks before the incident, the workers had issued a statement that unfortunately proved to be prophetic.
Workers’ Document: As long as no measures are taken to protect the workplaces and regulate the safe operation and circulation of trains, accidents will keep happening.
Kostas Genidounias Either the engineer would see the red light, or the traffic control would see that the two trains are on the same line and would alert them that an error has been made. Alternatively, the ETCS system would function, which would stop the two trains at a sufficient distance from each other, to avoid this collision. We had notified them, through extrajudicial notices, that these systems had stopped working since September 2021. Their reply to us, after our third extrajudicial letter in November 2022, accused us of lying, saying we were serving other purposes and that we were slanderers.
Reporter: When the workers “hit the wall”, they tried to organize more vigorous mobilizations. Again, the state was on the opposite side.
Kostas Genidounias: In Greece, there is a completely anti-worker framework in what a trade union can do. That is, after sending extrajudicial letters in Greece, it is very difficult for a union to go on a strike. It is almost impossible due to the law that has been passed. Because the strike will be declared illegal in the courts. The employer has a legal framework that is in his favor, 99 times out of 100.
Reporter: The tragedy and the responsibilities of the state caused outrage. Dozens of major demonstrations were organized in the first weeks across Greece. However, the biggest mobilizations were on the two days of the strikes. Workers from all sectors joined the train workers, who lost their colleagues.
Despina Karagiorgou: We went on strike today, to demand all that has been stolen from us. We are demanding free public health care, free education, and free transportation. Our interests have nothing to do with their interests.
Reporter: Many of the victims were young people returning from Athens to study at their university in Thessaloniki. The workers’ mobilizations were supported by pupils and students.
Chanting: It was not an accident, it was a murder. Down with New Democracy [ruling party]
Chanting: Students and workers, a united voice and a fist!
Reporter: In the previous months, artists had occupied theaters, fighting for their own demands. After the grave accident, they united their struggle with that of the workers, by participating in the massive demonstrations. While those who are responsible for the crime remain unpunished, the police attack those who fight for justice. In this video the police attacked peaceful protesters without any reason at all. One of the police vehicles almost ran over the people involved in the protest. The Prime Minister said that the train accident was caused by the stationmaster, but a high percentage of citizens think that the government is to blame. Protesters are calling the government the official murderers.
Chanting: Murderers, murderers!
Reporter: But why did the Greek railways turn into a catastrophic operation? The railways were split into different companies, because of the European Union’s directives. Then, the memorandum agreement with the European Union, the IMF, and the ECB forced the reduction of staff and the privatization of the service company. In the meantime, the infrastructure company remained in the state, understaffed and underfunded. Today, the company’s organization chart states that there should be 412 stationmasters, but there are only 206.
Kostas Genidounias: In 2010, with the first memorandum, a law was passed to consolidate the railways. That’s how it was called; the so-called “consolidation of the railways”. 3,500 railway workers were transferred to other public services and the state closed one-third of the railway network. As a result, the railway work has been reduced and the railway has been underfunded. There has also been a policy that constantly devalues this medium of transportation. As a result of the lack of staff and underfunding, rail facilities have been effectively looted and modern safety systems were stripped away. Consequently, the railways were deprived of both cutting-edge technology and personnel.
Reporter: The railways were not reduced to their current state without a fight. Railway workers opposed it, along with the entire anti-Troika movement of 2008-2015. However, the Troika of EU, ECB, and IMF managed to get their way.
Kostas Genidounias: A battle was fought against privatization. The battle was fought against the policy of the so-called “consolidation” and the law of transfer. And there was a very big struggle against the privatization of TrainOSE. Unfortunately, it was lost.
Reporter: Twenty days after the accident, the mobilizations continue with overwhelming participation from the population. Many people are critical of privatization of the trains and other sectors as well.
Dimitris Tzamouranis: Privatization kills. We are in the streets to overthrow the government and anyone who consents to this policy. We demand that all staple goods remain public, under social and workers’ control.
Reporter: In the railway drivers’ union offices, the atmosphere is grave. The trade union does not only protest, but also helps its members deal with trauma.
Kostas Genidounias: We haven’t been living our best lives lately. We have lost five drivers,
five members of our family. There are not many of us in Greece. There are only 300 of us. Do you see them here? Young people. The worst thing is that they are young. Very young people died in these wagons, aged 27, 29, and 32. Terrible. We’re gradually starting to consult therapists and the most experienced of us also talk to them. We are somehow handling the situation. Despite the tragic accident, the workers do not give up.
Reporter: The protests continue and the government is receding under the society’s pressure.
Kostas Genidounias: To get justice for the dead. For the workers we lost. Let there be justice for them. Let the truth come out on how we got here. And from that point onwards, we have militant mobilizations in mind. Rallies have been held and we will continue our action even more intensively, for a safer rail network and especially, for the restoration of our colleagues. This is what we are interested in, the restoration of justice.
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