Workers' struggles in Bosnia and Herzegovina

We have received this report from Goran Markovic, President of the Main Board of the Workers' Communist Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina and are happy to publish it. It highlights the reawakening of the workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the terrible war that tore this country apart. The interesting thing is that workers on both sides of the divide are struggling for the same things.

We have received this report from Goran Markovic, President of the Main Board of the Workers' Communist Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina and are happy to publish it. It highlights the reawakening of the workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the terrible war that tore this country apart. The interesting thing is that workers on both sides of the divide are struggling for the same things.

There have been many workers' and pensioners' struggles in the past few months in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The trade union leadership have not announced the exact figures, but it is likely there have been several hundred strikes, rallies and demonstrations all over the country. Most important of these were the struggles of the medical care workers in Banja Luka (whose strike lasted for three months!) and the strike of 100 workers in Bihac, who went on strike from October 2002, including two months of hunger strike.

The medical care workers demanded regular payment of their salaries and a change in the management, while the workers in Bihac (North-Western part of the country) demanded the annulment of the privatisation of their enterprise (bought and then destroyed by a capitalist from Slovenia, in cooperation with one of the leaders of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action).

The strike of 4,000 metal workers in Zenica was also very important. During the winter of 2002 a few hundred workers went on strike in Sarajevo, blocking government buildings. They were supported by the workers from Tuzla and other cities.

The chemical industry workers have been on strike in Tuzla (North-Eastern part of Bosnia) several times. They demanded higher salaries, an increase in production and criminal prosecution of the managers charged with corruption. These protests involved around 4,000 workers, with road blockades and clashes with the police (sent against the workers by the “social democratic” government of the canton).

The pensioners' protests were about getting higher pensions (the average pension is about 60 euros) and for resignation of the governments [of both cantons].

Unfortunately, there are no real trade unions and pensioners' associations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There is only the leadership, without any genuine rank and file participation. The workers involved in the trade unions don't have any practical activity. They don't know even what the plans for struggles are. They have no means of influencing the elections of their leaders or their daily work.

The number of strikes of the industrial workers is small. Most strikes are organized at factory level. A strike is possible in those enterprises where the working conditions are the worst and where it is possible to organize a good trade union leadership. Communication between these trade unionist rank and file activists and those at the top of the unions is very bad. The central trade union leadership does not enjoy the support and confidence of the workers. That is because in many cases the union leaders have advised their members not to go on strike or have even refused to give them support and help during their strikes. The trade union bureaucracies have a strong grip on the unions. The number of union members has gone down as a result of this and some new independent trade unions have been created. We proposed creation of the Union of Unemployed Workers and Workers from Small and Medium Size Enterprises because these workers have no rights and about 40% of the workforce is employed in the informal sector of the economy.

The trade union leaders don't have a clear picture of what they should do. They limit themselves to demanding basic things, like the regular payment of salaries, but there is no overall strategy of struggle and the workers don't know how to fight and what for. The union leaders have not come up with a coherent economic and social programme.

The union bureaucracy justifies this by saying that the trade unions are not political organizations and they should not propose anything that is above the basic demands for a better life. That is why the workers don't know how this better life could be achieved.

The two governments come up with the argument that there is not enough money and that the IMF demands budget cuts in answer to all the demands of the trade unions.

On the other hand, the trade union leaders don't have any idea of where the money for social needs could be found. They just demand the enacting of a social program but, in the words of the two governments, this is impossible in the near future. The trade unions do not an economic programme because the union leaders think it is not their job to propose one. The union leaders place their hopes in privatisation and foreign investment. That is a total myth because only 3,000 jobs have been created with EU aid for small and medium sized enterprises, and only 10,000 jobs have been created over seven years thanks to USAID's credits. That is nothing in comparison with the job losses that have been implemented since the war, with the rate of unemployment continuously growing from 36 to 40%.

Some trade unions have understood where the real problem lies and they proposed more radical and advanced demands. For example, the independent trade union of one enterprise in Banja Luka demanded that the government block the privatisation of the state owned capital and hand over the company to union on management. This trade union also developed a complete programme of economic renewal of their enterprise.

The workers of a few enterprises demanded the annulment of privatisation for reasons of illegality. Their demands were successful in all those cases where they were determined in their action, although even the former social democratic government were not ready to intervene.

At this stage there haven't been demands for annulment of the overall process of privatisation. Although the working class has no confidence that any positive results will come out of this process, the workers think it is impossible to stop it right now. That's why the workers react only in those flagrant cases of illegality and where they are strong enough to oppose it.

Unfortunately, the Workers' Communist Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the only social organization (considering all political parties, trade unions and non-governmental organization) that is opposed to the very process of privatisation. That is why the working class still does not have a clear picture of what will happen once the process of privatisation has been completed, although they have very clear misgivings about it.

There have been pensioners' protests lately in both parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The pensioners were very resolved in their intention to force the two governments to starting solving their problems. Massive protests were held in Sarajevo and in Banja Luka with the attempt of the pensioners to enter the governments' buildings. There were some clashes with the police forces as well. Unfortunately, the pensioners' associations did not have a clear programme of what to do. They called on the pensioners to assemble in every city but without a joint coming together and gathering in the two capitals – Sarajevo and Banja Luka. In that way the pensioners' meetings were less massive than they could have been. It was also the case that these associations simply limited themselves to demanding higher pensions without explaining how to achieve this goal. The pensioners' leaders are not interesting in discussing economic problems and they don't have any idea of how to secure the permanent payment of pensions, and even more so they do not know how to achieve an increase.

In our opinion, all these events are positive. They show the readiness of those socially jeopardized layers to struggle. It is not surprising that they don't yet have a wider sense for the more general social problems. Those are people who have never been in struggle for their rights. These are people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s who have not had the experience of the class struggle. Then there is also the question that they don't even have a trade union organization that is capable of mobilizing them in the every day struggles, not to mention the more general struggle for more long term aims.

These people didn't get a chance to struggle for their rights during the period of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and now they are only taking the first steps in organizing themselves. Also, there is the problem that their living standards are so low that they can only think of how to survive day to day. Indeed, Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the poorest countries in Europe. We understand that demands for bread are at the centre of attention today. Socialism still cannot be seen as the workers' immediate demand, although we are trying to connect their day-to-day struggles with this aim.