Furious over railway disaster, Greeks take to the streets in nationwide general strike

March 23, 2023
Protest in Greece
Protests in Greece. Photo: DemocracyNow.org

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of cities and towns across Greece on March 16 to protest the government's handling of last month's Tempi railway disaster and the capitalist system that puts profits before people.

The general strike — which was called by the General Confederation of Greek Workers and public sector workers umbrella organization ADEDY — crippled transportation on land, in the air, and at sea. In the capital Athens, metro services and the tram network were shut down. Many flights were canceled due to a work stoppage by air traffic controllers, and many ferries remained docked.

In addition to Athens, demonstrations took place in Thessaloniki, Patras, and elsewhere — including in Tempi, site of the February 28 head-on collision between a freight train and a high-speed inter-city passenger train carrying 350 people. Fifty-seven people died and 85 others were injured in the crash.

Much of the Greek left blames the disaster on railway staffing cuts, outdated technology, and infrastructure neglect and degradation caused by years of severe fiscal austerity measures.

Rallying under the slogan "this crime will not be forgotten; we will be the voice of all the dead," demonstrators shouted "murderers" and "the tears have dried up and turned into rage" as they marched in central Athens.

"This was mass murder," Pavlos Aslanidis, the father of one of the passengers killed in the crash, told AlphaTV. "Had this been a serious country, everybody at the transport ministry would be in handcuffs."

"Two weeks have passed since the crime in Tempi, Larissa and the country is shaking with anger and daily struggle," the All-Workers Militant Front (PAME), which backed the strike, said in a statement. "It is the debt of every worker, every youth, to continue to demand the obvious: This crime must not be covered up!"

PAME accused the government of trying "to block people's participation to the strike by ... spreading fake news about the legality of the strike in the public sector and on the day of the strike, ordering the closing of Athens central Metro stations, so as to block people from reaching Athens center and participating in the rallies".

"At the same time, a series of photos and videos on social media and news sites show unprovoked police violence and also persons with civilian clothes, black hoods, and covered faces sitting side by side with the riot police forces," the leftist confederation added.

Video footage posted on social media showed what appeared to be unprovoked attacks by police on demonstrators. Other footage showed people throwing Molotov cocktails and projectiles at police.

Among those participating in the demonstrations was Yanis Varoufakis, the leftist lawmaker and former finance minister who is recovering from a brutal assault on March 10.

"The masterminds of the austerity and dogmatic privatization that led us to disaster were international institutions: the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission—the so-called Troika," the Varoufakis-led MeRA25 party said in a statement before the strike, referring to the International Monetary Fund.

"Their reach is global, and the victims of their inane policies are spread from Argentina to Greece and beyond," the leftist party added. "The fight against them is something that must unite all progressive forces."

[Abridged from Common Dreams.]

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