In August 1916, while the First World War raged in full swing, Greece was suffering great ethnic division, divided by the King’s and the Venizelos’s supporters, who maintained strong positions. That exact period, Konstantinos Speras arrived in Serifos. He was born in the island in 1893, went to Egypt at the age of 14, studied in a French school and then worked as a tobacco worker in Cairo and Alexandria, where he was introduced to the union movement. In March 1914 he worked in Greek tobacco plantations in Kavala, but after getting involved in a big strike there, he was imprisoned and transferred to Tripoli.
Having plenty of experience, he decided to organize his Serifians compatriots, by founding on the 24th of July 1916 the “Miners Association”, initially counting 460 members. As Head of the Association, he sent a dispatch to the Greek Government, describing the unacceptable working conditions and informing, at the same time, Grohmann’s company about the workers’ requests. These were the introduction of the 8-hour work-day, the wage raise and the establishment of security measures inside and out of the mining galleries. The requests found no response, neither from the Government nor from Georg Grohmann.
The strike broke out on August 7th 1916, when the miners refused to load the ship “Manousi” from Andros island, which had orders to load and leave immediately for northern Europe. The employees of “Serifos - Spiliazeza” were unable to control the situation, so Grohmann requested help from Athens. On the 21st of August the Government sent a gendarmerie battalion, led by lieutenant Chrysanthou, in order to quell the workers’ revolt.
Miners, as well as women and children of some of them, had gathered on the plateau near the loading bridge. Chrysanthou -a somewhat crazy, violent and brutal man, according to many- called Speras and some the Union’s representatives -supposedly- in order to inform him about the situation, but fraudulently imprisoned them a few meters away, in the gendarmerie’s penitentiary. He then asked his men to line up opposite the strikers and to arm their guns, giving them a 5-minute ultimatum to end the strike.
Before even these few minutes passed, Th. Kouzoupis was shot, followed by M.Zoili, M. Mitrofani and G.Protopappa. The uproar that followed was tremendous, with workers, women and kids rushing on the gendarmes, most of which, avoiding to participate in these atrocities since they recognized the workers’ rights, shot in the air. Admittedly, most of the strikers were harmed by bullets coming from the side of the Headquarters.
Furious, believing that Speras and the rest of the comrades were dead, the strikers stoned Chrysanthou and Triantafyllou – the police officer of Megalo Livadi. Speras was released and rushed to calm down the situation. For 15 days the workers prevailed on the island, defying the local authorities, until the Government sent aid that restored the order.
When the strike ended, Speras got imprisoned in Syros, along with other strikers. Later, he narrated the times of the uprising for the writing of a book (that was published in 1919). In 1918 he was staying in Athens, where he took part in the establishment of the Confédération Générale Grecque des Ouvriers (GSEE). He continued his union action during the period of the German occupation and was murdered on September 14th 1943 by his own old comrades. His bust is located in Mega Livadi, a few meters from the beach, in front of the old police station building.