Around 7 am on the morning of March 5, 1929, two hours after the start of the strike, a group of about 300 workers led by Nicholas Christopoulos (a 27-year-old former gendarme from Pyrgos in Elis) moved towards the “Kronos” factory, where it was known that strikebreakers were still working. The aim of the strikers was to call on the strikebreakers to abandon the factory and join them. As soon as the gendarmerie commander Dimitris Kikeris saw the protesters approaching from the coastal road, he tried to block the access to the factory with a group of ten gendarmes, who stood outside the compound’s western entrance.
At the gate
The workers did not seem intimidated by the gendarmerie and continued their march, shouting slogans in favour of the strike. The presence of so many protesters worried Kikeris, who decided to release the two strikers he had with him, in an attempt to persuade the workers to leave peacefully. Eventually, though, both hostages joined the march. The gendarmes were forced to retreat for several meters, but stopped at the factory gate as Kikeris feared that if the strikers entered the compound, they would destroy the machinery and attack the strikebreakers.
The presence of the armed gendarmes at the entrance of “Kronos” did not stop the angry workers, who tried to break through and enter the factory. Kikeris repeatedly ordered them to back off, but Christopoulos (the ex-gendarme who was leading the marchers) unbuttoned his shirt and showed his naked chest to the gendarmes as he cried “Shoot, if you dare.”
And suddenly so they did. Kikeris later claimed that the men at the center of the group of protesters fired against the gendarmes first, while others threw stones or tried to disarm his officers, who responded with shots into the air. As the strikers’ momentum did not slow down, it seems that the gendarmes lost their nerve and turned their weapons towards the crowd.
Street of blood
The result of the altercation was bloody. A 25-year-old worker of the “Titan Cement Factory”, Dimitrios Michailos, was killed by a bullet that struck his lungs and heart. Another worker, Anastasios Peppas from Mandra, was seriously injured by a Mauser rifle (the doctors had to amputate his left leg), while another five workers were lightly injured. Two gendarmes were also hurt (mostly bruises and cuts in their hands) when the strikers attempted to remove their weapons. A subsequent investigation of the events showed that in fact only a few of the gendarmes (three or four) actually shot at the crowd (the strikers closest to the sea), while most shots were fired harmlessly into the air. Kikeris claimed that he tried to provide first aid to Michailos and carry him to the factory’s pharmacy, but he was blocked by the strikers, who took the body and retired.
Lamentations and anger
The people of Eleusis were in a profound state of shock following the gory turn of events. Local stores closed in protest, while a fundraiser was launched to raise the amount needed for the funeral of the murdered labourer. The indignant workers gathered in the central town square, where the gendarmerie station was located, and threatened to ransack the building despite the presence of a strong police force.
In the meantime, at the house of Michailos, shocking scenes were unfolding. His body was left on the dirt floor for hours, surrounded by eight women who were lamenting and mourning the deceased (among them, of course, his wife). The neighbours described him as a good and quiet family man who always minded his own business and never got into trouble with his coworkers.
A visit to the prime minister
The next day, while his family mourned Michailos, a committee of strikers visited Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos in Athens to make a report on the terrible events that had taken place in Eleusis. The committee complained that the assault was the result of “a deliberate anti-labour effort by the Eleusinian gendarmerie commander.” The strike committee was aware many days before the strike that this individual would side with the employers and had warned the Minister of National Economy regarding these developments. The members of the committee did not mince their words; they openly accused Kikeris as responsible for the attack on the protesters and claimed that he had personally injured one of the workers with his revolver.
(To be continued…)