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Greece – Privatisation and Safety Cuts Kill. But also spark Resistance

There is a General Strike in Greece today for rail safety. An activist in Athens explains why


The tragic train accident that took place on February 28 on the railway line Thessaloniki-Athens, leaving 57 people dead, has sparked a record of protests across the country, which converged into a massive strike on March 8, Women’s Day. On that day demonstrations were organized in more than 80 towns, transforming the foreseen Women’s Day marches into massive strike events that involved trade unions, women’s organizations, school and university students and political parties. The atmosphere reminded everyone of the days of unrest of 2010-12 against austerity memoranda. And the political agenda has been reversed completely.

A unique, powerful 8th of March

This strike was the culmination of a week of daily protests that broke out from the very first day of the accident. The public workers confederation ADEDY and the Labor Centers of Athens and other cities’ private sector federations modified their four hour stop calls into 24 hour strikes and picketing for the catastrophe in Tempe. Evidently, the entire country was paralyzed: railways, ports, ferries, public transport, schools, hospitals, municipalities, factories, construction sites, public and private sector workplaces.

All attempts by the panicked right wing government of Konstantinos Mitsotakis to prevent participation in the protests by closing all central metro and tram stations by order of the police failed completely. Crowds of demonstrators started arriving in the centre from early morning by every means of transport from every neighborhood of Athens. By the time of the strike call at midday, the streets were already flooded.

The rally was the largest of the last years and can only be compared in size to the big general strikes and the squares movement of 2010-12, and the rallies for “OXI”(NO) before the referendum in 2015. In the centre of Athens, streets and sidewalks were crammed with people. Four hours after the start of the rallies, blocks of demonstrators continued to arrive at Syntagma Square. The march became an endless continuous string that made a loop along the central boulevards of the city center. It took us two and a half hours to march 800 meters from the «8th of March strike» assembly area to Syntagma.

Hundreds of banners of federations and unions were present. There were massive blocks of railway workers and all transport workers, teachers and other education workers, municipality, hospitals, ministries, but also artists (who are at the moment in a state of continuous struggle against the ministry of Culture) and many other unions from every small and large private sector.

There was an overwhelming participation of young people: the students with their school banners holding self-made improvised placards. But also student associations from all the universities in Athens, many bearing resolutions for occupations. There were families with their children. The entire spectrum of left parties, from Syriza and the Communist party to the anticapitalist left and anarchists were there. Refugees from the Ritsona camp, migrants of the Cameroonese community and other immigrant communities. The slogans “It was not an accident, it was a murder — down with New Democracy”, “Murderers”, “The friends of Mitsotakis are the rapists, the church and capitalists”, “With women in the front line — united we fight”, “Privatizations kill”, vibrated the atmosphere. But also “Disobedience — continuous strike”, demanding an escalation of the struggle.

What happened at Tempe is not an accident, it’s a crime

The collision of the two trains with 57 people dead and hundreds injured is not an accident, it is a serious crime. Responsibility falls firstly on the government of Kostas Mitsotakis and certainly on all the previous Greek governments, who provided for the wrecking and selling off of the railways. It is all about the privatization of the railways, whose profits are being plundered by private individuals, while breakdowns are a daily occurrence on the so called “super-modern” trains.

The two trains had raced towards each other for 12 minutes before colliding. One was going up to Thessaloniki (the passenger Intercity) and the second, the freight, was going down from Thessaloniki to Athens. The trains had been diverted onto a single track after an overhead cable was cut. The station master at Larissa by confusion instructed the passenger train to proceed along the same track as the freight train. He has since been arrested.

The first reaction of the government of New Democracy was to manipulate public opinion by claiming that it was a “human error” and pointing the finger at the 59 year old station master, who had been transferred to this post shortly before the accident and was on shift alone (without the foreseen second staff member). The scapegoating didn’t work.

Soon it was revealed that the Panhellenic Federation of Railway Workers (POS) just a few days before the accident, in one of many such documents, had warned the administration about the lack of electronic safety systems. Kostas Genidounias, president of the train drivers association, came out on state TV and clearly stated that the collision wouldn’t have happened if the railway had had automatic signaling. He declared that automatic safety systems hadn’t been working for years. “All these years we have been notifying and warning that the electronic systems do not work and everything is done manually on the Athens-Thessaloniki line”, he said. “Nothing is working. Not even the indicators, the traffic lights, or traffic control work. If these had worked, the train drivers would have seen the red signal and the trains would have stopped within 500 metres of each other. But train drivers move from station to station communicating with manual wireless devices”! He also commented on the prime minister’s planned visit to a remote control signalling centre near Thessaloniki: “Can someone tell us where the signalling and remote control center in Northern Greece is, and to where it applies?”

Standing on long lasting and recently active traditions of militancy and distrust for state authority, the vast majority of the Greek people turned their grief into anger and came out into the streets. From the first evening, angry and growing demonstrations refused to let the government dodge the blame. Most of the demonstrations were met with repression by riot police, but instead of a crackdown, this made people angrier.

The “human error” argument was quickly dropped. Transport minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned, apologizing for the state of the rail network. “It’s a fact that we inherited the Greek railway in a state that does not fit into the 21st century, I am paying the consequences for decades of negligence”, he said. Soon after, a video of a parliamentary discussion that took place 10 days prior to the accident circulated on social media, showing him declaring aggressively that questioning the safety of the railways is unacceptable! Another cabinet member (Adonis Georgiadis) rushed to defend the transport minister by saying cynically: “Had he accepted the lack of safety, no one would have ever traveled by train”!

The next maneuver of the government was to seek for a moratorium, so they called for a three-day national mourning. It failed as well, as the Athens Metro Trade Union called for programmed work stops in protest and on  March 2 merged with the mobilizations of the artists, who marched under heavy rain and police teargas to the central railway station in Athens. They were stopped by the special forces from reaching the headquarters, but it was a wonderful show of solidarity. This gave space for the railway workers to come to the fore with repeated two day strikes and a huge rally in front of the parliament on Sunday the 5th of March. As the railway trade union representative was reciting the names of the dead railway men killed at Tempe, the people at the Syntagma square applauded over and over again. Shortly after, they were attacked by the police as usual.

On that Sunday evening, confronted with the explosive atmosphere and the unfolding of protests, Kyriakos Mitsotakis took to social media to retreat and apologize. “We can’t, won’t and shouldn’t hide behind human error”, he wrote and went on to claim that he already had great plans for rail reforms…

So how did we arrive at this tragic fiasco?

A history of shame

The first railways were installed in Greece in the second half of the 19th century, connecting Thessaloniki with Belgrade and Istanbul, and later Athens with Thessaloniki. The railway was at that time of great importance for the Greek ruling class, both from an economic and from a military-strategic point of view (for the expeditions of Greek capitalism, and transfering troops to war rapidly). The railway workers union has a long history of struggles in the Greek labour movement. Their strike in 1921 in the midst of the Greek-Turkish war for the control of Asia Minor played a vital role in the anti-war movement of that period. The workers were finally conscripted, but they posed great resistance to the plans of the Greek government.

After the Second World War, the orientation of the Greek ruling class turned towards the use of automobiles. The train network never reached the density and quality of other European or neighbouring countries, however in a mountainous country such as Greece, trains remained a secure and affordable (though slow) means of transport. Things deteriorated in the mid-1990s, when the “modernist” governments of PASOK divided OSE, the Railway Organization, into smaller companies, separating transport from maintenance, infrastructure, design and construction, etc. Ambitious plans discussed “upgrading” the railway connections, but it turned out to be just talk. Studies were elaborated and approved but remained on paper. Government officials and bosses would regularly complain about OSE being detrimental to the economy, a victim of “old-fashioned, selfish” trade unions, a company that “had to be privatized to be saved from itself”! The trade union of OSE remained militant and confronted privatization throughout the entire 1990s. In 1999 they took a historic resolution to deny NATO’s military material used in the war against Serbia being transported with Greek trains. It was a great support and connection with the anti-war movement of the time.

When the financial crisis hit the Greek economy in 2010, privatization plans accelerated. In 2013, Trainose, the transport company and main subsidiary of the old unified OSE, was transferred to the privatization memorandum fund, the notorious TAIPED. Budget cuts and vast personnel reduction followed.

In 2017, under the government led by Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras, Trainose was sold to the Italian “Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane” for a mere 45 million euros. The new company “Hellenic Train” focused entirely on the maintenance of the profitable Athens-Thessaloniki route. Almost all other lines were abandoned or closed, and they concentrated on high-speed trains — with the main goal being to compete with air travel. New trains — second-hand, actually — that could reach speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour were installed. The fact that neither the infrastructure nor the safety system were designed for such speed was not important to the new bosses. On top of that, the safety system stopped working five years ago, since 2018. They didn’t bother to fix it. Ticket prices of course soared and Hellenic Train thrived, while the other railway companies of infrastructure and maintenance had to be administered by OSE.

But public investment had since the 1990s been replaced by contractors through a form of public-private partnerships. These contractors (Alstom, Bombardier and their Greek partners) pocketed millions of euros to install safety systems that were not compatible with each other, resulting in malfunction and additional claims, all paid by the state owned OSE. The system worked rudimentarily until 2014, when it was abandoned to its fate and dissolved following the effects of austerity memoranda demanded by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in return for bailout loans.

All the efforts made by OSE since then to put the old system back into operation or to install more modern European systems have so far stumbled on the manipulations of the contractors. In 2014 a joint venture was commissioned with a 41 million euro contract to revive the old system, “within two years”. Today, nine years later, and after several additional claims being added to the fees of the contractors, most of the network still does not even have traffic lights. The vicious circle is repeated through the “entanglement” between the companies and the governments. This is why New Democracy, the main party of the ruling class, rushed to conceal the long-term structural political failures under the “human error” narrative.

What now?

The strategy of the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis is faltering. Despite gestures such as the Prime Minister’s excuses and granting (more than) generous compensations to the families of the victims, the anger has not settled. The government has announced that they will double the staff at train stations but, without full time experienced personnel, such a thing is impossible unless they reduce train routes. There is no easy way out of the mess they created.

To get a glimpse of the degree that the political context has been reversed, New Democracy had scheduled for March 6 to announce general elections on April 9. Because of intricacies of the electoral system, 2023 is expected to be a year of multiple elections, including parliamentary and regional. Until Tempe and despite their failures, New Democracy had serious expectations to lead the race for the next office, given the inertia of parliamentary opposition led by Syriza. Tempe has turned the picture upside down. Mitsotakis has suspended all talks of elections, internal dissident politicians are resigning his party and the polls show a serious decline in the vote for New Democracy.

Instead of diffusion of the protests, the last three days saw a further escalation of the struggle. While this article was being finalized, another assembly was taking place at Syntagma square and marched to the headquarters of OSE. The two labor confederations, public sector ADEDY and the until now paralyzed private sector GSEE are now calling for a general strike on March 16. This is the next step forward. It shows that trade unions still do matter for the case of Tempe and for the working class in Greece. The left parties have played a visible role in organising the resistance and their strategy may determine what happens from now on.

In any case, it looks like after four years of bitter struggles and bad news, mass struggle is back and can become again a source of inspiration both inside the country and internationally.

Israel’s new Government: A Danger of Fascism?

The new coalition government is the most right wing government in Israel’s history. This is about much more than the individual Benjamin Netanyahu.


Media Reception in Germany

In Germany, the newly elected Israeli coalition government is being described as “extremely right wing”. But this says little about its character. Instead, reports generally concentrate on prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Reports say that because of the ongoing corruption trial against him, he has entered into a marriage of convenience with the far right in order to escape a prison sentence.

Even if it is true that the disempowerment of the Supreme Court has forced Netanyahu’s Likud to work with even more right-wing parties, the focus on individuals hides the driving factors behind the rightward shift in Israel.

Deeper roots

Neither Netanyahu nor fascist figureheads like Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich are solely responsible for the fact that there are now 61 extreme right members of the coalition. Given the parliamentary majorities after the election, we should look at the explanation of minister Miki Zohar from the Likud Party.

According to Zohar, Israelis would never believe the allegations of corruption levelled against Netanyahu because “the public in Israel is a public that belongs to the Jewish race, and the entire Jewish race is the highest human capital, the smartest, the most comprehending. The public knows what the prime minister is doing for the country and how excellent he is at his job.”

Netanyahu himself claims that he wants to and is able to restrain the more right wing forces in the coalition.

Religious Zionism

The electoral success of the religious Zionist list is the expression of a move to the right in Israeli society. The reason for this is not religion. The Jewish religion, like other religions, must not express itself in reactionary politics.

However, parts of the coalition are at their core fascistic. They want to limit the powers of the Supreme Court, to be able to use the “Nation State Law” to intensify the oppression and reduction of rights of the Palestinian people. Moreover, they also want to reduce basic democratic rights for Jewish women, sexual minorities and others.

The rise of Kahanism

What unites many parties on the electoral slate, and now in the coalition government, is their relationship to the ideas of Meir Kahane. Kahane was a right wing rabbi from the USA, who demanded the immediate expulsion of Palestinian people, and the violent establishment of a theocratic state “Greater Israel” from the Nile to the Euphrates.

The coalition parties Noam (sweetness) and in particular Otzma Jehudit (Jewish power) stand in the Kahanist tradition. Noam follows an aggressive politics that is hostile towards women and LGBTQ* people. Otzma Jehudit’s party programme declares its aims as “total war” for a “Jewish capitalism”. Various ministers and leading activists openly declare themselves to be fascists and have reacted positively towards Nazism.

Danger of Fascism

Otzmar Jehudit’s tactical orientation is not primarily based on involvement in parliament and government, but on its paramilitary street wing. Lehava, the street movement led by party leader Ben-Gvir, is carrying out a fight against business and personal relationships with non-Jews. Former police chief Almog Cohen organised a terrorist militia in the Negev, and now has a government post.

Ben Gvir’s control over the border police in the occupied West Bank and annexation of East Jerusalem has split a military parallel institution from the traditional police force. Two occupying soldiers in Hebron referred to Ben Gvir’s new “order” after they beat up a left wing Israeli.

Breeding ground for Israel’s move to the right

Because of the economic crisis, fascist forces in Israel have been gaining ground. Central economic pillars have suffered in recent times. Important IT branches, which are key for the national economy, have sunk in value by 34 billion dollars in the last few years. During the pandemic, unemployment was, at times, at 25 per cent.

The standard of living has deteriorated, in particular for the middle class. The Corona crisis and Russia’s war in Ukraine have weakened the effectiveness of the unilateral subsidisation of Israel by a range of great powers. At the same time, the formation of new Palestinian resistance groups and growing international pressure are cause for Israeli concern.

Settler colonialist context

Although the new Israeli government contains openly fascist forces, we should not forget that, irrespective of the current Zionist government parties, the Israeli State is a settler colonialist project which depends on the continued oppression and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Voting in a government without fascist forces will not change this, as is shown by the whole history of the State of Israel. Only the end of Zionism, the elimination of all walls and checkpoints and the establishment of a common secular state can bring necessary justice.

Weak Opposition

Despite large protest actions in Israeli cities against the extreme right government, the actual power of the opposition movement should not be overestimated. The demonstrations bring together the contradictions, which can only be temporarily bridged by the rejection of Netanyahu.

The opposition consist not only of left-liberal small parties like Meretz, which have sunk into irrelevance. Leading parts of the anti-Netanyahu camp are also other right-wing extremists like Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the oppositional settler party Our Jewish Home.

The Palestinian question is also central for the future perspective of the settler community. But it cannot be solved by an Israeli movement opposed to Netanyahu. The new coalition government and the impending strengthening of fascist forces in Israel increase the urgency of building an international movement in solidarity with Palestine, which can confront its own governments.

In Germany, the fight against the criminalisation of Palestine solidarity, and the commemoration of the Nakba – the expulsion of Palestinians 75 years ago provide a good starting point for this.

This article first appeared in German on the marx21 website. Translation: Phil Butland. Reproduced with permission.

What you need to know about Berlin’s Planned Ruling Coalition

Why would SPD leader Franziska Giffey go into coalition with the CDU?



  • RGR = Red, Green Red i.e. a coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and the Left
  • BR (GroKo) = Black Red (die Große Koalition) i.e. a coalition of Germany’s two biggest parties, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats

Last week our current Governing Mayor, Franziska Giffey (SPD), who plagiarised both her masters and doctorate and thus has a proven history of dishonesty claimed that the Greens and the Left were unreliable partners so she would be going into coalition talks with the CDU instead. She said talks with her current partners had broken down because the Greens refused to confirm they would abide by any coalition agreements and the Left as a political party is too divided (whereas this is the case nationally, it does not seem to be the case with the Left here in Berlin). Both the Greens and the Left found out about this development from the media. They believed that talks had been going well. Giffey is accused of being economical with the truth (telling lies). She has now burned all her bridges which means if the coalition talks with the CDU fail, she will have to step down as SPD leader as neither the Left nor the Greens trust her any more.

The truth is Franziska always wanted to be in partnership with the CDU. She said this at the previous election. The Greens have become too powerful. They have almost the same number of votes as the SPD so to remain in coalition with them would mean Franziska would have to listen to Bettina. No more big sister, little sister. Both women seem to be quite dominant and forceful personalities (look at how Bettina has now manoeuvred to take over Silke Gebel’s position as Green Parliamentary Leader). While both Franziska and Bettina hide (or hid) their ambition and animosity under smiles, it was clear to all that there was a real power struggle within the current RGR coalition.

Black Red Coalition Talks

The CDU and SPD are currently negotiating a programme in the hope that they can form a new Berlin government. Even though Giffey and her co-Leader, Raed Saleh, BOTH lost their direct mandates in the recent election re-run, neither is willing to go away just yet. In return for a nice juicy portfolio in the next Berlin senate, Giffey has agreed to relinquish her position of Governing Mayor so that CDU leader Kai Wegner can be the Boss of Berlin. For those who don’t know, Kai is the Spandau native who, when learning that only a third of those men and youths arrested for the NYE riots were actually “foreigners” or immigrants, then demanded to know the first names of the other arrestees – those with German citizenship. The implication being that it wasn’t Fritz or Karl-Heinz throwing fireworks at cops but Mohammad, Mustafa, Ahmed, etc. Kai’s dog whistle was heard loudly and clearly and the CDU popularity rose – not just among former AFD voters but also fed up Berliners who traditionally voted SPD. Naja. It is what it is.

Following their first official coalition talks held last Thursday, populist Kai and plagiarist Franziska announced that they intended to continue with much of the programme already agreed by the current RGR coalition, for example with regard to funding, supporting and encouraging multiculturalism and internationalism in Berlin. Kai (who in January wanted to know people’s first names) talked about being proud of international Berlin. He said this with a completely straight face and with absolutely no sense of irony. Naja. It is what it is.

This week, there will be workshops where the two parties get together to hammer out the details of an agreement. Then they will present the final programme to the members for ratification. The CDU members will undoubtedly vote in favour as they have not been in power since 2006. However, it is still not certain what the youth wing of the Social Democrats (Jusos) will do. At the moment they and the left wing of the party are very much opposed to Giffey and Saleh’s abandonment of the Greens and the Left. The two Co-Leaders are going to have to work very hard to persuade their party. They will only be able to do so if they are able to include much of the current RGR programme. Even though Kai and his Christian Democrats beat the SPD by 10 points, they are so desperate to have power again that they have promised to treat Franziska and her losers as equal partners – eine Koalition “auf Augenhöhe”. Naja. It is what it is.

And finally, saving the best for last… The new GroKo government would continue with the 29 euro monthly ticket indefinitely.

Netanyahu not Welcome! Berlin Demonstration, Thursday 16th March at 1pm

Stop the normalization of Fascism and Settler-Colonialism

The right-wing extremist, Benjamin Netanyahu, is visiting Berlin from March 15-17th to seal new military deals with Germany during a lunch meeting. Netanyahu has put together a fascist government coalition in Tel Aviv, with ministers who openly refer to Nazism in positive terms. These fascist remarks have already resulted in pogroms against Palestinians, culminating in calls to eradicate entire villages.

Already this year Israel has murdered over 80 Palestinians. Palestinians are trying to defend themselves and resist this onslaught as best they can. These attacks by Israel are not new, nor is the Palestinian resistance to expropriation and expulsion: this Israeli agenda is called the “Nakba”, the ethnic-cleansing of Palestinians which did NOT end 75 years ago, but which is obviously ongoing to this very day!

There have been continuous large demonstrations in Tel Aviv against Netanyahu’s government, but these protests do not address the oppression and ongoing ethnic-cleansing of Palestinians. Israeli protests are concerned solely with the crippling of Israel’s Supreme Court that Netanyahu wants, which would not only further erode rights for non-Jews under Israel’s Apartheid-System, but also ban the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court for war crimes committed by Israel’s Occupation Army. This would make it even easier to sweep these IDF crimes under the carpet.

The pro-Zionist demonstrations in Berlin against Netanyahu suffer from the same prejudice, claiming to defend a democracy which does not exist. Zionism cannot be “reformed” to offer a democratic alternative for people in the region. Its core is the continued expropriation/expulsion of Palestinians, and no change in the Apartheid System, as well as the rejection of the internationally guaranteed right-of-return for refugees. Their only difference to the current fascist representatives is the “Liberal-Zionist” terminology in expressing this racist program.

It is no coincidence that Netanyahu, in spite of his war-crimes record and leading a fascist coalition, is being warmly received by the German Chancellor. The German government has consistently maintained its complicity with war crimes against the Palestinian people, regardless of which government heads the regime in Tel Aviv. Germany offers weapons-systems and economic aid to Israel, in violation of its own laws regarding weapons exports to war zones and the EU Association Treaty which demand Israel respect human-rights for all in the region.

Even worse: Germany oppresses/cancels any and all voices criticizing the fascist government under Netanyahu, stifles any charges against the occupation tactics and agenda. Critical voices are systematically banned from public discussion or even criminalized. Even in Germany, democratic rights to expression and public gatherings are suddenly invalidated, opposition is gagged. The ban on demonstrations for last years “Nakba Day” is just the tip of the iceberg.

But this inspires us all the more to support the Palestinian cause for democratic equality, regardless of ethnic-background, religion, or other external traits, for all people in the region. From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!

Join the rally against Netanyahu

Thursday, 16th March, 1pm

Scheidemannstraße / Simsonweg

Gary Lineker Criticised His Government’s Refugee Policy – The BBC Cancelled Him

Why a tweet from Gary Lineker has done more to challenge Britain’s Tory government than Keir Starmer’s Labour


Gary Lineker, the former England footballer, has been naughty. He has posted something on social media that was bad enough for the BBC to remove him from his position as presenter of their flagship football programme Match of the Day (MOTD).

What terrible thing did he post? Was it something racist? Nope. And not that it would matter, the BBC allowed racist posts by other presenters like this to slip by without much consequence. Was it inciting violence? No. The BBC allowed comments inciting violence from their presenters; odious right winger Jeremy Clarkson kept his job after saying on a BBC talk show that striking workers should be shot in front of their families. Did he trivialise domestic violence? No but presenter Fiona Bruce did on BBC flagship politics show Question Time earlier this week.

Well was it party political? No. The BBC has allowed many party political posts by their presenters, including one by Lineker himself in 2017 that said ‘Bin Corbyn’. Andrew Neil, while host of BBC Politics programmes including This Week and Daily Politics, was also the Chairman of The Spectator, a conservative publication that has in recent years carried articles such as “In praise of the Wehrmacht” and in support of Greek fascists Golden Dawn. Alan Sugar has made many vile anti-Corbyn tweets, including one depicting Corbyn next to Hitler, and others telling people not to vote for “the communist Jeremy Corbyn”.

This is all ok with the BBC. When viewers have complained , the BBC have issued letters informing people that as Mr Neil (and others) is freelance, he can say what he likes on his social media and in his non-BBC role. Not so for Mr Lineker, it would seem. Employers shouldn’t be able to police their workers’ personal social media use anyway, but policing it in such an obviously unfair and partisan way is particularly egregious.

The Crime

Gary Lineker’s crime was to tweet against a disgusting new government policy that attacks refugees who arrive on ‘small boats’. The “Illegal Migration Bill” is this deeply unpopular Tory government’s attempt to gain some support from the British public, whom they think of as ignorant racists. The problems faced by British people are all to be blamed on a few poor foreign people coming here on ‘small boats’. Small boats bogeymen have been in the right wing press a lot recently, promoting this narrative.

You can read more about the Illegal Migration Bill here, it has already been condemned as incompatible with human rights law and the UK’s commitments under international treaties, including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed its ‘profound concern’ over the Bill as it would clearly breach the Refugee Convention.

This is what Lineker actually tweeted:

“There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries. This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s…”

At first, the response from the BBC was minimal. A ‘journalist’ for the Sun tabloid ‘newspaper’ tweeted that a senior source from the BBC said that Lineker would not face any disciplinary action. This turned out to be untrue. The BBC released a statement saying that Lineker would “step back from Match of the Day”. A woolly phrase implying that the decision was mutual. Lineker quickly made it clear that he had been removed from hosting the show. The BBC had wanted him to apologise and he had refused.


The first show of solidarity came from Lineker’s fellow MOTD presenter Ian Wright. Wright said he would not be appearing without Lineker. The other pundit due to appear on the show, Alan Shearer, then also declined to take part. This show of solidarity spread amongst BBC sports presenters (all former professionals), with big names such as Alex Scott, Micah Richards, Mark Chapman and Jermaine Jenas also confirming that they would not take part.

The commentators followed suit, saying that they would not provide any commentary for MOTD. The Professional Footballers Association released a statement confirming that their members would be supported if they refused to give interviews to the BBC, as many premiership football players wanted to show their solidarity to Lineker.

Following this online in real time was exciting; we were watching a wildcat strike develop amongst sports presenters and others involved in sports programming. Production staff were reported to be supportive of Lineker but wary of taking action without legal protection. The BECTU media union issued a statement condemning Lineker’s removal and accusing the BBC of bowing to political pressure from government ministers.

The solidarity spread to other BBC sports programmes. Alex Scott refused to present Football Focus, as did her proposed replacement Kelly Somers. Jason Mohammad refused to present Final Score. These programmes did not go ahead. There were no scab presenters to be found. There was no football coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live this Saturday and the usual two-hour long Premier League show on Sunday did not go ahead either.

Match of the Day went ahead on Saturday night without a presenter, pundits, commentary or interviews from players or managers. It was a flimsy 20 minute compilation of highlights, instead of its usual 80 minutes of highlights with commentary and analysis. The BBC also had no presenters for the Women’s Super League match between Chelsea and Manchester United on Sunday. Even the sports comedy programme Fighting Talk was pulled, with presenter Colin Murray tweeting: “No @FightingTalk316 today, for obvious reasons”.

This show of solidarity has been inspiring, and we should take heart from it in our own strikes and struggles against this government. But why has the BBC taken this punitive stance against Lineker but not its many other presenters?

Is the BBC Impartial?

The BBC makes grand claims about impartiality but even a quick look at how it operates reveals this to be nonsense. The BBC politics panel show Question Time has had far right tosser Nigel Farage on 35 times. In 2019, yahoo news reported that “Nigel Farage is about to set the record for the most Question Time appearances this century” – almost a quarter of all programmes in the previous 7 years, despite his then party UKIP having no representation in the House of Commons.

As a public broadcaster, the BBC has enemies on the right in the form of the tabloid press and some Tories who would scrap it altogether. Unfortunately it is increasingly acting as a state broadcaster, taking its cue from government and appearing fearful of right-wing criticism. How can it be impartial and provide trustworthy coverage under those conditions?

The BBC maintains that its presenters must adhere to this mythical standard of impartiality but if, as we have seen, this supposed strict standard of impartiality is not applied fairly then it has no meaning. The rules seem to be: say what you like as long as you’re not critical of the Tory government. Why would this be?

Well, the new BBC chairman Richard Sharp has previously donated £400,000 to the Tories and helped then-prime minister Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan just weeks before Johnson recommended him for the BBC chairman role. He is currently under investigation for this. Tim Davie, the Director-General of the BBC, was deputy chairman of Hammersmith and Fulham Conservative Party in the 1990s and stood twice unsuccessfully as a Tory council candidate.

Robbie Gibb, BBC board member for England (appointed by Boris Johnson), is the former director of communications of Tory prime minister Theresa May. He has also worked for other Tory politicians and his brother is the Tory MP Nick Gibb. Former BBC Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis (not exactly a comrade) has called Gibb an “active agent of the Conservative party” on the board of the BBC.

The top of the BBC, to borrow from the small boats fearmongering lexicon, is swarming with Tories. In a slightly amusing turn of events, Tory Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has now distanced himself from the BBC’s actions, saying “it is “a matter for them, not the government”. It is clear that this has not gone the way the Tories, including those at the top of the BBC, thought it would.

Effective Opposition

The craven Labour opposition initially spoke out against Lineker’s tweet, with Yvette Cooper the Shadow Home Secretary saying that his comments were wrong. The Labour Party is as greedy for any potential racist votes as the Tories after all. But now the Labour Party has U-turned in typical Starmer fashion and is critical of the BBC’s suspension. It is almost like they don’t have any principles and go which ever way the wind is blowing.

Gary Lineker is hardly a political radical, he wasn’t even a controversial footballer and made a second career out of advertising Walkers crisps. His previously-mentioned tweet suggests that he was not even supportive of the mild social democracy of Corbyn’s Labour Party. However, he has been thrust to the forefront because there is currently no effective political opposition to the Tories. Lineker is a popular celebrity figure and seems to genuinely care about refugees. It is good that he has spoken up and excellent that so many other public figures in sport have supported him. The support from the public has been uplifting, with fans holding banners in support of him during Saturday’s football matches.

The Labour opposition publicly agrees with the Tories that people arriving on small boats is a big problem, they just argue that they’d be more efficient at dealing with it. Just over a year ago. Labour leader Keir Starmer did attack the Tories’ refugee policy. The problem is, he attacked them because: “the UK had not secured “strong” agreements with France to prevent journeys from taking place.” Only a few days ago, Labour’s shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper told the Tory Daily Telegraph that “a Labour government will aim to stop all small boat crossings”

Labour and the Tories are united in believing that refugees themselves are the problem. The swell of support for Lineker suggests that there is a significant public appetite for strong and principled opposition to the Tories. There is currently no hope of Labour delivering it.

Amid calls for the resignation of himself and the BBC chairman, Tim Davie made a statement on Saturday evening stating that he wants to get “Gary back on air” and apologising for the lack of football coverage over the weekend. It will be interesting to see if Lineker does return and on what terms. Ian Wright has said that he will not return without Lineker. At the time of writing, Lineker and the BBC are in talks aimed at resolving the dispute.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the footballer Marcus Rashford stood up to and humiliated the Tories over free school meals. It seems that footballers are now the official opposition. I’m not sure that this is entirely right. We shouldn’t need to rely on footballers, or other celebrities like Carol Vorderman, to hold the government to account, though it’s welcome that they are speaking up.

We need to ignore the weathervanes leading the Labour Party and keep on creating a massive storm of dissent. The wave of strikes that has been happening across the UK could just be the start. Lets take inspiration from the solidarity shown to Lineker for his principled support of refugees and all be the official opposition. Love Crisps, Hate Racism. Love Solidarity, Eat the Tories.

Post Script

Events can move quickly. Since this article was written, it was announced that Lineker will be back presenting Match of the Day next Saturday, and that the BBC would apologise. In response, Lineker tweeted:

“A final thought: however difficult the last few days have been, it simply doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away. It’s heartwarming to have seen the empathy towards their plight from so many of you.”

Solidarity with Gary. No-one is illegal.