Greek Train Crash: EU Privatization Kills

As many as 70 people are feared to have died in the horrendous train crash in Greece on Feb.28, mostly young students returning to their university in Thessaloniki. Make no mistake, the flip side of the same “war party” responsible for threatening the world with nuclear war, is the neo-liberal radical free market policies now hegemonic in the European Union and the entire West.

One full member of that war party is Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who has used his mandate to turn Greece into an anti-Russian beachhead in the Eastern Mediterranean, complete with U.S. naval and logistics bases. While implementing deadly austerity policies, he has signed contracts in the billions of euros for military equipment that even Greek military sources say is not necessary. It is reported that as early as 2005, during his first term as a member of the Hellenic Parliament, he campaigned for the privatization of the Greek railways.

In 2010, after the modernization of its railways, Greece had a functioning signaling system that would have made such a crash impossible. Then came the so called Greek debt crisis (in reality a result of the 2008 Western financial crisis), which put the country under the thumb of the “Troika” of creditors — European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. The brutal economic reforms and privatizations they imposed reduced the Greek economy by one third, with a frontal assault on the public sector, in particular healthcare and the railways. Beginning in 2012, the public railways saw a drastic reduction of personnel, to prepare for its fragmentation and privatization. The number of employees was slashed from some 6,000 to just 800, including the reduction of the department responsible for maintaining the signaling system from 300 technicians to 30! By 2014, the system had ceased to exist.

A contract signed in 2016 to install the European Train Control Systems, by two private companies , include Alstom, was never fully implemented because of apparent irregularities. Nonetheless, the the Italian national railway company FS bought the Greek railways, knowing full well that the system was a death trap.

But we warn that no one is safe in the EU. On the same day as the train crash in Greece, rail workers, members of the European Parliament and trade unionists demonstrated in front of the European Parliament in Brussels against the Commission’s attempt to revise the 2016 privatization law, which allows member states to award rail and road service contracts to their own operators or through competitive tendering. The revision would authorize the Commission to change the policies without consulting the European Parliament or the European Council, and thus to eliminate the prerogative of the member states and making competitive tendering the norm.

The European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) posted on its website a denunciation of this proposal, declaring that more privatization means “poorer working conditions, less staff, and more expensive tickets”, and would defeat the purpose of public transport to serve the public interest and make transport accessible to all. The ETF warns that the sector suffers from a shortage of workers, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find people willing to work in transport. Yet, “the European Commission continues to disregard the voices of the workers who power the industry”.

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