photo credit: Eleusis Port Authority
The bloodshed during the labour protest of March 5, 1929, was a jolt to the state apparatus. While Eleusinians mourned the dead worker and fought for their rights with the ministers of the Venizelos government, Eleusis was practically occupied by strong gendarmerie detachments from the neighbouring communities of Megara and Aspropyrgos, as well as 150 members of the security forces from Athens (including an infantry company). Kikeris, the gendarmerie commander of Eleusis was arrested on the orders of the Deputy Prosecutor Mr. Kiourtsakis, who also made some efforts to appease the workers and attempted to negotiate an end to the strike.
A complete agreement to the workers’ demands was hampered by the employers’ refusal to grant a 40% wage increase, so Kiourtsakis proposed a case-by-case increase in the salary of those workers who demonstrably deserved it and needed it. This proposal was initially rejected by the representatives of the strikers, but it was finally accepted and further negotiations were planned under the aegis of the Ministry of National Economy.
Passing the buck
The investigation failed to reach a conclusion about who was responsible for the carnage outside the “Kronos” factory. The workers insisted that the head of the gendarmerie detachment bore full responsibility, while the gendarmes and the strikebreakers who happened to be near the gate claimed that the protesters attacked first. These doubts, however, do not seem to have influenced Venizelos’ associates at all; they were convinced that the death of the worker was a consequence of the provocative attitude of the strikers, who received guidance from communists in Athens. The officer in charge of the gendarmerie detachment did his duty in order to prevent some troublemakers from disarming his men and therefore should not be held accountable for any loss of life.
The Eleusis soviet
Prime Minister Venizelos also did not find it difficult to reach his own conclusions about the events. The night after the assassination of the unfortunate worker, Venizelos stated that the workers of Eleusis had been led astray by agitators seeking to cause friction between workers, employers, and the state. The events in Eleusis were directly linked to the labour action at Lavrio (where workers were also on strike at the time) and would force the government to take action to deal with these firebrands.
The strikers had turned against state institutions without any justification, and if similar scenes were repeated the government would not hesitate to take drastic measures against “a system of instigators who guide workers towards illegal activities”. The workers’ demand for an eight-hour day could not be accepted at that time, while the recognition of their Union was essentially an attempt to establish a workers’ council (soviet) like those in the Soviet Union.
Wine is forbidden
The statements of the government and the prime minister, the shock of Michailos’ death, and the lack of experience led to the gradual degeneration of the strike. On the day after the events at “Kronos” some workers returned to their jobs, but it took several days for the factories to get back to full operational mode. The government claimed that there were many “conservative workers” who wanted to work but were afraid of the reactions of the more revolutionary strikers.
Eleusis, however, still gave the impression of a town under police occupation. Strong gendarmerie detachments guarded the factories or patrolled the streets. They closed the Labour Centre despite workers’ protests, while fundraisers were held in various cities across Greece (e.g. Athens, Piraeus, Patras) in support of the strikers of Eleusis. Public gatherings have been banned and wine shops have been ordered not to provide patrons with alcoholic beverages until the end of the strike.
Exile and impunity
Thirteen strikers were arrested on violation of the Freedom of Work Act because they tried to prevent workers from going to work. The penalty was exile on the islands. None of the gendarmes faced justice because they were thought to be in defense (and nobody could determine who actually shot Michailos). Kikeris was released on the 9th of the month, four days after the events at Eleusis.
On the 8th of March, dockworkers went back to work, thus ending a strike that had caused serious problems in the port. The next days all electric machinery at the factories was fully operational.
Communists in Eleusis
The events at Eleusis provided an excuse for a more systematic attempt by the state to address the perceived “communist danger”. The government of Venizelos had already submitted to parliament a bill on the “Protection of the Social Order”. This bill was now deemed urgent and would be put on a vote on 27 March, just three weeks after the bloodshed at the entrance of the “Kronos” factory. The government and the conservative newspapers had no doubt that the inexperienced leaders of the “Union of Craftsmen and Cement Workers of Eleusis” and its “young and completely uneducated” president had become “pawns in the hands of communist elements” who were guided by a Five-Member Office in Athens. The lawful demands of the workers of Eleusis were slowly being consumed by political games.