The train tragedy in Tempe, which left 57 dead on the night of February 28, filled the Greeks’ glass of patience. The country experienced this Wednesday the general strike with the highest participation in the last decade and the biggest social mobilization in eight years, according to several local media. This is happening in one of the countries in the world that has called the most general strikes in recent…
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The train tragedy in Tempe, which left 57 dead on the night of February 28, filled the Greeks’ glass of patience. The country experienced this Wednesday the general strike with the highest participation in the last decade and the biggest social mobilization in eight years, according to several local media. This is happening in one of the countries in the world that has called the most general strikes in the last two decades and where mass demonstrations are frequent. The glass of patience of the Greek citizens was already full after a legislature marked by job insecurity, rising housing prices due to mass tourism, several scandals of illegal wiretapping, the terrible management of natural disasters, the excessive increase in police and, above all, the deterioration of public services caused by the austerity measures imposed over the last 12 years.
In Athens, tens of thousands of people – 40,000 according to the police, 60,000 according to the local press – took almost four hours to make a journey that in previous calls, also massive, does not usually take more than one or two hours. In Thessaloniki, the second city in the country and destination of the passenger train that collided with the freight train in Tempe, the mobilization was historic. About 20,000 people marched through the center. In all cities, an unusual youth leadership in union calls has been notorious. The vast majority of those killed in Tempe were young people.
The conservative government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, aware of the sensitivity of the situation as the country is already counting down to general elections, tried to keep as low a profile as possible throughout the day. Neither the Executive nor its New Democracy party publicly praised the general strike.
The call was launched by the Confederation of Unions of Public Servants (ADEDY), which brings together public sector workers. His appeal read: “End the policy of privatization and assume true responsibility for the murderous crime in Tempe”, referring to the region where the accident occurred. The strike was supported by all class or sector unions, with one notable exception: the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), ADEDY’s private sector partner, did not join.
Follow-up to the strike has been the majority in the public sector and important in the private sector, although, as usual, it has been scarce in hotels and restaurants. Most schools closed and public hospitals only provided emergency services. That the mobilization was going to be strong was noticed since the rumor of a possible general strike began to circulate last Sunday. In previous days there had already been large demonstrations in Athens, Thessaloniki and other smaller cities.
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As soon as the call for the strike was made official, sectors that normally do not support 24-hour strikes began to announce that this time they would join. Hundreds of trials have been suspended in most courts. The ferries that connect Athens to the islands have warned customers of the suspension of trips scheduled for this Wednesday. The railway unions extended the strike they had been carrying out since the day after the accident. In several regions, high school teachers were informed that, since Monday, students were preparing to occupy the institutes and suspend classes as a form of protest.
Throughout the morning, in provincial capitals and small towns, the record for participation in a social mobilization was broken. There were 79 demonstrations called, in addition to the two main ones in Athens and Thessaloniki. Demonstrations this large have not been seen in Patras, Volos, Heraklion or Mytilene since the end of the dictatorship in 1974. In Larisa, the town closest to the accident, nearly 10,000 people took to the streets. When the calls for Athens and Thessaloniki, the latter, began, the protest was already a success across the country.
In the afternoon, again, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Athens, Thessaloniki and provincial capitals. Feminist calls for Women’s Day, called before the strike, joined the protests against the deterioration of public services.
In the capital, subway workers announced that they would support the general strike, but would work a few hours to facilitate the arrival of anyone who wanted to attend the union rally. Despite everything, the police closed the five most central stations in Athens. While officials have cited security reasons, unions see an attempt to make it difficult for citizens to participate in the protest.
Riots at the end of the marches
At the end of the marches, in Athens and in Thessaloniki there were strong riots. In the capital, the first episodes of violence took place in Propylea, the seat of the rectory of the University of Athens and a regular meeting point for demonstrations. There, a group of students clashed with dozens of police officers who were trying to prevent the occupation of the rectory. The agents threw tear gas and flash grenades inside the famous neoclassical building.
Despite these earlier clashes, the demonstration started normally. But then there were more incidents. Anarchist youth groups launched molotov cocktails against Parliament guards in Syntagma Square. The altercations extended to various parts of the city, where urban furniture was damaged. In Thessaloniki, hundreds of hooded men clashed with police in the center and near the university. On the one hand, there was molotov cocktails, stones, flags and paint. On the other, tear gas, stun grenades and also stones. Police reported 26 arrests and 15 arrests.
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