THOUSANDS of Greek workers, students and youth took to the streets at the weekend in a further extension of the anger that has erupted over the train crash last Tuesday which left 57 confirmed dead so far, and dozens more still missing in the wreckage.
Almost all those killed were students travelling on a passenger train to the major city of Thessaloniki, following a three-day holiday, which collided head-on with a freight train travelling on the same track.
Immediately after the crash Greek rail unions called a national strike, originally intended to last until Saturday but now extended until at least tomorrow when all the Greek unions have called a general strike.
This strike was extended after rail workers and youth turned out for massive demonstrations of thousands over the weekend outside the Greek parliament in Athens, turning their anger on the right-wing New Democracy government headed by Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
These demonstrations turned violent as riot police used tear gas to attack the demonstrators who were reacting with fury against ‘a crime’ that they rightly believed was waiting to happen.
The initial reaction to the deadly crash was for Mitsotakis to put the blame on ‘tragic human error’.
By Sunday Mitsotakis was forced to change his tune in the face of the massive eruption of anger and was now writing on Facebook: ‘We cannot, will not, and must not hide behind human error’. Mitsotakis is now desperately seeking another place to hide in the form of a national inquiry into the tragedy.
Greek workers and youth are in no doubt where the guilt lies – with the forced privatisation of the entire infrastructure of Greece by the European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to pay off the national debt owed to the world banks.
In 2017, the IMF forced Greece to the point of bankruptcy and in return for a ‘bail-out’ of the Greek economy demanded a fire-sale of airports, railways, and ports.
The rail network was sold off for 45 million euros with the state-owned railway operator sold to Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane and rebranded Hellenic Train responsible for passenger and freight.
The Greek state was left with responsibility for rail infrastructure which, under the stringent austerity demanded by the IMF and imposed by subsequent Greek governments, led to a catastrophic underfunding of the infrastructure.
This made Greek railways amongst the most dangerous in the world.
Nikos Kioutsoukis, secretary of the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) said that GPS satellite tracking systems that would have avoided two trains travelling in opposite directions on the same track ‘have not been installed yet’ despite having been promised for over 20 years.
One worker at Wednesday’s demonstration, Stelios Dormarazoglou, expressed the anger of workers and youth saying: ‘Everyone knows that if the Greek state had wanted, this accident could have been prevented. My own son worked on upgrading the signalling system – nine years ago. Ever since then it’s been stalled because companies are only interested in profits.’
For years the Greek railway unions had been warning of the dangers caused by privatisation and the massive austerity programme demanded by the EU and IMF and carried out by the Greek governments.
This programme has led to the privateers creaming off the profits leaving the Greek state to make all the cuts without any concern to the risk to people’s lives.
Yesterday the EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen hypocritically announced that the EU would be providing support to Greece to improve safety saying: ‘Rail safety is paramount’.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
For the EU and the bankers, the only thing paramount is screwing the Greek working class into the ground to make them pay for the debts run up by Greek capitalism and to hell with the consequences for human life.
Greek workers and youth must immediately demand that the protests and strikes against the government are turned into an indefinite general strike to bring down the New Democracy government and go forward to a workers’ and small farmers’ government that will break with the EU and nationalise the banks and industry under the management and control of the working class.