Greece: It was not an accident – it was a crime! Privatisations kill – next steps for the mass movement

We publish below translation of the most recent statement by “Xekinima”, affiliated to Internationalist Standpoint, slightly edited for international readers.

The head-on train crash on March 1 was not an accident. It was a crime. 

At the moment of writing, 57 people are confirmed dead, 56 are still missing 48 are hospitalized and hundreds suffered injuries. It is the deadliest train crash in Greek history and one of the deadliest in the whole of Europe.

The right-wing New Democracy government is trying to hide its responsibilities behind crocodile tears and the resignation of the Minister of Transport, A. Karamanlis. At the same time, it is trying to put all the blame on the stationmaster of Larissa Station who was on duty. This is the official line of all mainstream media outlets. 

Anger is building up

No matter how hard they try, the truth cannot be hidden and the anger is building up. For two decades now, train workers and their unions have been denouncing the cuts in infrastructure and safety, the outsourcing of services, the contracts with private companies based on profiteering and political favors rather than the proper functioning of the Hellenic Railways Organisation (OSE).

The rail workers had fought hard against the privatization imposed on the Greek rails by the Greek governments and the European Union in the first half of the 2010s. Since then, they have been explaining, on numerous occasions, that a serious accident was only a matter of time since the safety systems did not work and since 1,000 out of the 2,000 organic posts were vacant because governments refused to employ new staff, while at the same time forcing experienced staff out.  

The government and the establishment media are trying to turn the stationmaster into a scapegoat. We have to reject this explanation outright, whatever mistakes he may have made. Because, it is unthinkable that hundreds and thousands of lives should depend on the actions/decisions of just one individual! Human errors are inevitable. That’s what safety systems are for. And this is precisely what was lacking. 

Everyone in the management of OSE and the Ministry of Transport knew! Not only did they do nothing, but they continued to make cutbacks. They were making cuts in safety in order to secure profits for  the new owners of OSE after its privatization, for the private contractors, and of course for themselves, as their “services” are always handsomely rewarded in own way or another. 

There is absolutely no excuse as to why the telematics and security system, which was purchased in 2000, was never installed! But even in the few places where there were telecommand systems active until a few years ago, such as in Volos and Larissa, they were reportedly shut down because there was no staff to operate them! 

There are no words to describe the individuals who are in charge in the government and the OSE management other than criminals and murderers! 

Re-nationalise the railways!

In the face of this unspeakable tragedy, the government and the media are promoting the notion of “silent national grief”. 

This is precisely what we must not do. People are sad but they are also angry . And we need to raise our voices loud!

Big spontaneous demos were called immediately after the news broke out. In most big cities in Greece, protests have been called on a daily basis since this crime was committed. And they are growing by the day. On Friday, March 3, the demos were the biggest so far. Thousands took to the streets in Athens, Thessaloniki and tens of other cities. Today, Sunday March 5, Syntagma Square in Athens saw one of the greatest rallies in the last 7 years, i.e., in the period after the 2015 sell out by the then SYRIZA government. 

This is despite the attacks by the infamous MAT, the Greek riot police, against the demonstrators. 

Railway workers have called two 24-hour strikes and the metro workers one. At the same time, actions of solidarity are organised in schools, where school students have been forming slogans in the school yards by placing their backpacks next to each other. There is a general outcry on social media. For many people this was like the last straw. 

The slogan reads “call me when you get home”

However, more is needed to overturn the government’s murderous policy. Xekinima is calling for:

  • All Trains (including the suburban and metro trains) must be immediately halted. And they should only operate again when workers judge, at union assembly meetings, that the safety problems have been solved. 
  • This can be enforced by a workers’ movement which combines strikes and occupations. 
  • These actions, should not be limited to rails and the metro. The whole of the transport sector must be included (i.e., buses, trolleys and trams).
  • This struggle must be supported by the whole of the workers’ movement, demanding that OSE be re-nationalised. From Greece to the UK, privatisation of railways is synonymous to danger for the safety of passengers and workers – in addition to the increase in ticket costs.
  • The General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) has a duty to support such a movement by calling a 24-hour warning general strike, and repeating this call on a weekly basis until the parliament is forced to vote for the re-nationalisation of OSE. A re-nationalized OSE should function under the democratic management and control of workers and society and without any compensation to its present owners. 
    However, given the record of the leadership of GSEE, we do not expect that they will take any such initiative. That is why the rank-and-file militant trade unions must take the initiative together with social movements, go on the offensive and force the central trade unions to act.
  • School and University students have a particular role to play in this movement. With mass participation in the mobilisations and with occupations of schools and colleges, as has already began to take place in some cities. 
  • In order for this plan to succeed, the forces of the Left must coordinate and work together. We must by all means avoid past practices in which different and conflicting “centers of struggle” were created for petty party purposes.

Changing situation

Through such a struggle, the ND government itself can be overthrown. PM Mitsotakis is becoming the most hated prime minister since his father was in office 30 years ago, in the period 1990-’93. After the mass character of the September 2022 antifascist actions, the massive November 9 general strike, and the very big November 17 Polytechnic commemoration demos, as well as other mobilisations, the mood in Greek society and the mass movements is clearly changing. A movement like the one described above can lay the basis not only for the defeat of the present government, but also for the formation of a new radical, militant left party, which will reflect the needs of the fighting rank-and-file trade unions, the social movements and the youth with the aim of putting an end to criminal capitalism and building a new alternative socialist society based on workers’ democracy. 

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