Eleusis is identified with the working class in the collective unconscious. This characterization is historically confirmed throughout the 20th century when the city became one of the most important industrial hubs in the country due to the operation of nationally and globally significant industrial units (TITAN, ELPE, Halyvourgiki), employing tens of thousands of workers.
The presence of industry, starting from the late 19th century (Soap Factory, Votrys) and especially in the first decades of the 20th century (TITAN, PYRKAL, Cronus, Iris), shapes the working consciousness of the inhabitants triggered actions for improving working conditions, safety in the workplace, and better wages. Trade unions were formed, which in turn led to the establishment of the Workers' Center of Western Attica, and the local labour movement flourishes. Alongside their activist actions, the industrial sites of Eleusis forged emotions of class pride, solidarity, and unity among colleagues.
During the heyday of Greek industry, in the decades following the occupation and the civil war, a second wave of industrial plant establishment took place. The first major post-war industry to relocate to the area was the 'Steelworks' in 1953. In the years to come follow the Eleusis Shipyards, Petrola and smaller-scale enterprises such as the 'Savvas Shipyards', the Gastouniotis ice-cream factory, etc. The ever-expanding workforce of the industries consisted of young men and young women, who found work in the shipyard and ice-cream factory - as the respective factories were known locally - industries that did not require much muscular strength.
The industrial accidents
Working in the post-war factory was a dangerous undertaking. Working conditions, as well as hygiene and safety issues, were entirely under the control of the management. The labourers of the 1950s-1970s witnessed intolerable, hazardous, and dreadful conditions reflected in the tens of thousands of industrial accidents that occurred in workplace settings. The legal framework for recognizing industrial accidents remained obscure until that time, but recorded data from the 1958-1961 period shed light on the grim reality of the factories. One in five workers fell victim to some form of industrial accident, and a total of 25 workers lost their lives every year in the industry. These numbers would multiply during the seven-year period of dictatorship (1967-1973).
The movement during the transition to democracy
The organisation of informal and illegal labour unions during the April regime leads to a thriving labour movement during the period of democratisation. Factory committees and unions from the grassroots lead the demands of the workers for wage increases and improvements in working conditions and hours, implementing original forms of action based on the principles of self-organisation, and acting as a counterbalance to the state-controlled GSEE (General Confederation of Workers of Greece).
Eleusis becomes the hotbed of these new processes. In 1974, at the National Can factory, 500 workers call for a general assembly to discuss hourly wages and working hours. For the first time, Greek workers stand side by side with 100 immigrant workers from Pakistan.
Parallel labour mobilisations are taking place at the Eleusis Shipyards. Most of the time, the management attempts to suppress the labour movement through layoffs, thus adding fuel to the fire and making the strikers include the rehiring of dismissed workers amongst their demands. With Law 330/76, primary trade unions will be declared illegal, the movement will be defeated, and employers will proceed with retaliatory dismissals. At National Can, mainly Pakistani workers and members of the committees were laid off, who were not protected by the new law, while at the Shipyards, the strike ended with promises of rehiring and a 6% wage increase, a much smaller percentage compared to the initial demand of 30-35%.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Greek industry followed a broader state policy which attempted a series of interventions to protect national industry, causing the crisis of the once flourishing industrial units. Industrial units are taken into state ownership in order to clear existing debts and then sold at low prices to industrialists, often their former owners, with disastrous consequences and huge economic and social costs. This is the case of the Eleusis Shipyards which will remain in operation until recently under a debt liquidation regime.
In Eleusis, the focus of the city's interest is the expansion of the Latsis Group's Petrola, the third largest refinery in the country and one that holds a high position globally in the production and marketing of petroleum products. With a 40% state subsidy, it is expanding without creating new jobs and without applying the regulations imposed by the EU's Seveso Directive on safety measures in areas with large-scale risks due to industrial activity.
On September 1st, 1992, an explosion caused by a leakage of liquefied petroleum gas at Petrola's premises, kills 15 people and injures dozens. The operation of the unit, as well as the new units following an appeal to the Council of State of the Municipality of Eleusis, are temporarily suspended, and criminal prosecutions are initiated against the factory's leadership. One year later, a new expansion permit is granted and the heads of the plant are cleared of charges at the judicial level. The crime shocks the local community, which lives under constant threat with no evacuation plan in case of another explosion.
A few years later, in 2003, HELLENIC PETROLEUM, formerly ELDA, and PETROLA are merged, as part of the privatisation process promoted by the state, with the Greek state holding the management for five years and the Latsis Group holding 25% of the share capital. Over the next few years the group increases its stake and controls the management of the company.
The transition to the tertiary sector
On the threshold of the 21st century, the industrial image of the city is beginning to change. A number from the first and second wave of industrialisation factories with thousands of jobs are closing or changing forms of employment. TITAN stops producing white cement in 2010. Steelworks closes in 2018, after a power cut by the DEI (Public Power Corporation) due to debts of 30 million euros, Shipyards operates until 2022 under a debt clearance regime of billions of euros, a significant part of which relates to debts to workers, while HELPE turns to employer workers. The city from being a productive centre of the country is beginning to lose its competitiveness and is turning to tertiary services. Industrial facilities in the city centre remain abandoned with potential for new uses, while the periphery of the city becomes the base for warehousing and logistics companies.
"Economic Crisis & New Realities in Labor
At the end of the first decade of the new century, the country's economy is shaken by the financial crisis that is erupting globally. The image of the then Prime Minister, against the background of the deep blue waters of the Aegean Sea in Kastelorizo, announcing the entry of the country into a regime of support and control by the International Monetary Fund and, by extension, the European Partners, is indelibly engraved in the collective memory of the Greeks. This announcement marked a new era for the country, with the world of work experiencing the most immediate and drastic changes.
Within months, the memorandum commitments to the creditors imposed a series of unprecedented measures in the labour field, significantly eroding social cohesion. The dismantling of collective agreements, sectoral rights, the weakening of protection conditions, the consolidation of policies to manage low-cost forms of employment, the convergence of private and public sectors, the reduction of wages, pensions and minimum pay were a series of sweeping changes in intensity and scope that collectively impacted full and stable employment in the segment.
In 2013, the country was deeply immersed in an economic recession, and unemployment that year had tripled compared to 2009, mainly affecting the youth and women. In Eleusis in 2011 45% of the population was economically active, of which 19.24% was unemployed according to the census of the same year. But even for the latter, the working conditions and working environment had changed radically in the public and private sectors due to cost-cuttings, staff reductions, lack of regulatory mechanisms, and the curtailment of rights. In Eleusis, as in the rest of Greece, unemployment is galloping and the city's relationship with industry has now changed.