Tuesday 29 September 2015

The 1916 miners' strike in Serifos

Seven people died during the strike of 1916 in Megalo Livadi in Serifos. Everyone on the island that we talked to told us about the miners' strike and we were very keen to go and see the area that marked a memorable event in the struggle of the Greek working class.

A French company mining iron-ore on a Greek island, a German director, and Greek workers - these are the elements that make up this story. The conditions in the mines were awful: long hours, low pay, non-existent safety which resulted in numerous industrial accidents and quite a lot of deaths. The company furthermore refused to rehire workers who had been drafted into the Greek army after they had been demobilised. This proved to be the last straw. The 460 miners formed a union and organised a strike. Their leader was Costantinos Speras, a seasoned trade unionist and experienced in industrial protest.

Unable to force the workers back to work, the company asked for the help of the Greek authorities who sent a 30-man gendarmerie detachment from nearby Kea. After detaining Speras and the strike committee, the gendarmerie fired on the workers who had gathered at the ore landing dock and refused to permit a cargo ship to be loaded. Four workers were shot dead and a dozen wounded.

The workers, supported by their wives, attacked the gendarmes with stones, killing three of them. The freed leadership of the workers took control of the island and sent a message placing Serifos under protection of the French fleet in Milos. The French army refused to intervene and a Greek warship arrived. Speras was arrested and charged with high treason but was released a few months later when the royalist government was ousted. The mines opened again after improvements were made to the working conditions of the mine and an 8-hour day was established. This strike was decisive in the establishment of the 8-hour working day throughout Greece.

We went to Megalo Livadi by taxi. The whole of the mountain sides between the villages of Koutalas and Megalo Livadi are full of the shafts that were used to mine the iron. Not shafts as we know them today, but just holes in the mountain, sometimes on the side where the workers would have crawled in, or vertical holes going down the earth where the workers would have to use ladders, I presume. These are not mine shafts - just holes, very small holes. I wanted to ask the taxi driver to stop but the road is narrow and full of hairpin bends, something that I am not comfortable with and I also thought that it would not have been safe for the taxi to stop, so I have no record of any of this.This is one of the holes (I just cannot call them shafts) that we saw in Megalo Livadi - it's tiny.

And here's another one.

The other thing that the mountain side was full of, is very small, ruined stone huts (the locals call them camares) which is where the miners were housed. I said to the taxi driver how small I thought they were. Her reply was telling: 'these did not house one family. Each one was for many families, all piled on top of each other'. Again, I have no record of this, but I took a photograph of one that we saw in Megalo Livadi. It's inhuman conditions to pile families into such a small structure. No wonder the miners could not take it anymore. Most of the huts were scattered around the mining holes, in the middle of nowhere, so that the miners would not have to go far to crawl into the earth.

Contrast the huts to the neoclassical mansion, albeit ruined now,  where the headquarters of the mining company (and where the director of the mines resided, I presume) were located. The contrast is too much.

The bay in Megalo Livadi is dominated by the mining ladder (is this what it's called? I'm not sure) where the iron would be loaded on the ships.
and a closer look

There is a monument dedicated to the fallen miners and to all other working class men and women who have fought against exploitation

They were murdered here, in Megalo Livadi, asking for an 8-hour day and higher wages from the feudal boss Grohmann: Themistokles Kouzoupis, Michalis Zoilis, Michalis Mitrofanis. Yannis Protopapas'.

The plaque on the bottom reads:  'On the 21st of August 1916, iron-ore miners gave their lives asking for an 8-hour day and for human dignity'.


There is a small museum dedicated to the struggle of the miners, but unfortunately, it was closed for the winter.

We took the coastal path that leads to where the mining ladder is


I think there is something very emotive about rusting, abandoned machinery in the middle of rugged countryside like this

and as we approached the ruins of mining buildings came to view


rusted, discarded parts

abandoned railway lines

the wagons that

the iron ore would be loaded on

a loading ramp up the hill

another one across the bay next to the villa


we reached the mining ladder


a rock where the mineral is clearly visible

We could not walk any further as the path got quite treacherous, and it was not negotiable in my Birkenstock sandals.


We retraced our steps back to the village and found another loading ramp behind the neoclassical mansion. The debris from the villages industrial past was everywhere as were the signs of the suffering of the miners.

The mine closed in 1963.

Finally, a photograph of the miners in 1895 (picture taken from here )


Monday 28 September 2015

Megalo Livadi in Serifos

Megalo Livadi is a picturesque coastal village 13 km west from the Hora. It counts just 50 inhabitants today but in the past it was highly developed due to the iron-ore mines that flourished in the area in the 19th century.
We took a taxi to get there as the buses stop running in September when most of the tourists have left. Having heard about the strike in 1916 we wanted to see the remains of the mines where such an important struggle had been waged for better working conditions and justice.  (Post to follow).
We had a wonderful day there. Situated on a deep bay, with palm and tamarisk trees by the shore, and protected from the winds, the village was the perfect place to be on the day that the winds raged in the rest of Serifos.
The first thing we saw was this derelict grand house. Built by an architect of the Ernst Ziller school which influenced by the Saxon architect who later became a Greek national and who designed many of the neo-classical buildings in Athens, it is a wreck now. It used to be the headquarters of the mining company.

It must have been very impressive in its heyday.

It was left abandoned when the mine closed, and then two years ago there was a major fire in the region and the fire finished the building off.

High on the hill on our right we saw this villa and decided to explore it first.

So up the hill we walked

It's a mixture of Cycladic and modernist architecture, and it really works - it's beautiful.

This is as far as we got

Razor wire everywhere, and above the villa we could see the dovecote, a feature in a lot of the Cycladic islands: Andros is full of them. From the 13th century onwards aristocrats started building dovecotes as pigeon breeding was a privilege of the aristocracy.

The views from here were spectacular


and they included a view of the mining ladder which is across the bay

We then walked down the hill


and visited the small church of Saint Nicholas

that overlooks the bay.


After visiting the mines we walked down to the village again needing some lunch

There are two tavernas by the shore and we chose the one called Cyclops - legend has it that in ancient times Serifos was the home of the Cyclops

on one of the hills on the side of the bay you can see one of the numerous caves of the island where the Cyclops were supposed to live

quite a few people were having lunch - we gathered that people come here in their cars with the sole purpose of having lunch in this taverna

not surprising really, as the food was cheap and delicious

and the views were wonderful.