The Romanian Class Struggle

On January 1999 the Romanian miners marched again on the capital Bucarest in opposition to plans to close the mines. As a result miners' leader Miron Cozma was sentenced to 18 years of jail and arrested during violent clashes between miners and riot police. The miners from the Jiu Valley have a long and proud history of struggle. Alan Woods examines the implications for the process of capitalist restoration in Romania.

On February 15th 1999, Miron Cozma, the leader of the Romanian miners, was tried in absentia by the Romanian Supreme Court and sentenced to 18 years of prison. Two days later he was arrested by special anti-terrorist police while leading a procession of about 5,000 followers in buses and cars from the Jiu valley to Bucharest in protest against the sentence of the Supreme Court. The miners' protest was violently broken up by a force of 1,000 riot police which intercepted the miners' march.

At the present time, the miners have shown themselves to be the most potent opposition to the movement in the direction of capitalism. The miners, and especially the Jiu valley coalfield, have a long and proud history of struggle. The development of the mining industry in the Jiu Valley began 150 years ago. Until the second world war the mines were privately owned. Then they were nationalised and transformed into joint Soviet-Romanian companies (Sovroms) - Romania had allied with Germany during the war, and this was a way of making reparations to Moscow. The Sovroms lasted for about 10 years. During the rule of Ceausescu (from 1965 onwards) the mines were intensively exploited as a means of paying off the country's foreign debt.

The Jiu Valley, which contains the oldest coal deposits in Romania, provides 12% of the country's supply of coal. This is the only region of the country that is both completely urbanised and has only a single industry. For 80% of the inhabitants, their only hope of work is in mining.

This region has always been in the forefront of social and political unrest. Even before the big strikes of February 1933, there had been a foretaste in the Jiu Valley during the summer of 1929: in Lupeni there were strikes on 5 August 1929, the result of which was 32 workers dead and 56 wounded. Fifty years later the valley was once again the scene of a powerful workers' movement--this time against the government of Nicolae Ceausescu. On 1 August 1977, 35,000 Jiu miners gathered in the main yard of the Lupeni mine. They were protesting against a new decree which raised the age of retirement from 50 to 55 and reduced the miners' pensions. They demanded that Ceausescu come to their mines, to see their living and working conditions. Ceausescu was forced to come to Jiu and agree to their demands after his prime minister, Ilie Verdet was taken hostage for a couple of days.

The 1977 strike was one of the most important protest movements against the Stalinist regime in Romania. It was "an explosion of discontent that had accumulated over many years", explained Volodea Macovei, spokesman for the miners' union, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the strike. In his opinion the miners' anger had been provoked by the "deterioration of their standard of living, but more especially the political situation in the country which had become intolerable." Ceausescu came in person to negotiate, as the miners had demanded, and under pressure he agreed to all their demands. But as soon as the movement subsided, he ordered reprisals. Ion Toma, for instance, one of the organisers of the strike, was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Only in 1998 was he prepared to break his silence over the strike: "If the miners hadn't been so scared, we could have got rid of Ceausescu a lot faster."

The regime dealt with the mineworkers by transferring four thousand of them to mines out of the region. And a fair number of the workers hired to replace them after the crisis also worked as informers for the Securitate, so that the political police could prevent another movement like that of 1977. After Ceausescu was overthrown, the Jiu miners again erupted onto the stage. Miron Cozma, then a young mining deputy engineer, was elected by the Jiu Valley miners as their union leader in 1990. He led the miners' march on Bucharest which clashed with the pro-capitalist students who were attempting to bring down the National Salvation Government of Jon Iliescu.

The movement towards capitalism has had a severe effect on mining. The Jiu valley now has 16,000 unemployed out of 170,000 inhabitants, an unemployment rate of about 25% compared with the national average, which according to official statistics is 10%. Like all coal-producing countries, Romania has now had to face up to a crisis of over-production in the mining industry, because domestic demand has dropped and foreign markets (Russia, for instance) have been lost. According to estimates, the national demand for coal fell from 44 million tonnes in 1996 to 33.5 million in 1997, out of a potential annual capacity of 52 million tonnes.

The miners and the "intelligentsia"

The movement towards capitalism began with the liberalisation of prices (November 1990) - that is the start of hyperinflation which reduced many Romanians to poverty. They begun to experience things they knew only from the books or TV, such as unemployment and inflation. Despite this, a layer of the students and intellectuals had illusions in capitalism. They began to demonstrate in favour of the counterrevolution, although naturally they marched under a different banner, namely the struggle against "Communism" and for "democracy". This counterrevolutionary movement was vigorously opposed by the miners, who came to Bucharest to confront the pro-capitalist demonstrators on the streets. This ended in bloody clashes (for which the miners themselves were not always responsible). At the time, we took a principled stand against the students and for the miners, which was not fashionable in "left" circles, but nonetheless absolutely correct. (See the article Romania--a difficult road to restoration, August 1990). But some elements of the so-called "democratic intelligentsia" have never forgiven the miners. Their class prejudice colours everything they write about the miners to this day.

During the miners' struggle we received a report from Romania which begins with the following words: "A lot has been written in the Romanian mass media about the recent protest of the miners. The majority of the so-called Romanian "intelligentsia" are against them, due to their class bias." This is true, not only of the intelligentsia in Bucharest, but also abroad. It is not new. In the period 1990-91, many so-called "lefts" in Britain and other countries showed their complete absence of any understanding or class point of view when they backed the counterrevolutionary students' movement and attacked the miners.

In the recent period it has become fashionable in certain circles of what we could call the "liberal intelligentsia" to express the most touching concern for the plight of the masses in Russia and other countries where the wonders of market economics have reduced people's living standards to rubble. They whine on endlessly about the "excesses" of "wild capitalism" to which they counterpose the dream of some ideal norm of capitalist democracy which exists only in their imagination. At the same time, they display the most implacable hostility to socialism and the real movement of the working class. A good example of this confused (and, at bottom, thoroughly reactionary) thinking is shown in a recent article in Le Monde Diplomatique. While pretending to be sympathetic to the miners, in practice it opposes every real movement of the miners to defend themselves.

Thus, the article entitled Revolt Rooted in History--Bitter Victory for Romanian Miners in Le Monde Diplomatique (February 1999) perfectly expresses the prejudices of the intelligentsia towards the working class in general and the miners in particular. Le Monde Diplomatique describes the march that brought down the government of Petre Roman as a "bloody march which was "openly welcomed by Ion Iliescu, then president of Romania." It goes on: "For several days they engaged in real terror, sacking the offices of the democratic opposition and attacking members of the student movement. A second murderous march in September 1991 was even more openly manipulated by Iliescu. This time the miners attacked the government of Petre Roman and forced his resignation."

What Le Monde Diplomatique does not say is that Petre Roman (an ex-Stalinist, like Iliescu) represented a bourgeois pro-market programme, as did the students, who acted as the shock troops of the capitalist counterrevolution in Romania. The miners were quite correct to fight against them. Some allegedly left organisations, like the SWP in Britain supported the students who were portrayed as courageous fighters for democracy. This showed a slight confusion, insofar as they mixed up revolution with counterrevolution. For our part, we had no hesitation in supporting the miners and opposing the pro-capitalist students. Whose side is Le Monde Diplomatique on? It, too, is supposed to be a left, or at least progressive publication. But its presentation of the actions of the Romanian miners ("bloody/murderous march," "real terror," etc.) gives the game away.

By their militant actions, marching on Bucharest and even toppling the Roman government, the miners got some concessions for a time. This much is admitted by Le Monde Diplomatique, which writes: "During this period the successive governments of the Iliescu era stood firm against any notion of reform or industrial reconversion in the region, and found ways of 'satisfying' Miron Cozma, with the support of the nationalist far right. Despite the losses affecting the mining industry, he got wage rises and job guarantees for 'his' miners." But on a capitalist basis there was no way forward.

Did the miners achieve all their objectives? No. They did not and could not, for that would require, not just the overthrow of a reactionary government but the taking of power. That, in turn, presupposes the existence of a genuine revolutionary party and leadership. This could not be provided by people like Miron Cozma who probably had illusions in Iliescu--illusions shared by many Romanian workers and peasants at that time. Iliescu did not stand and does not stand for a socialist policy.

But the central question is whether it was right of the miners to mobilise in defence of their jobs and living standards and fight against the threat of capitalism, market economics (masquerading under the banner of "democracy") with its inevitable mass privatisations (that is, the looting of the state for the benefit of the nascent Romanian bourgeoisie and its Western backers), the closure of the mines and most of Romanian industry and the reduction of the masses to abject poverty and Romania to a semi-colony of imperialism, as before the War. That was the essence of Petre Roman's programme--and also that of the students in the period 1990-91. The miners were fighting against this and in so doing showed an unerring class instinct. If they did not succeed in preventing the movement towards capitalism in Romania, they at least succeeded in slowing it down and partially and temporarily gained a respite for their industry. This is the "crime" for which they cannot be forgiven by the West and its Romanian stooges.

Without the necessary party, programme and leadership, the miners' actions could only have a partial and temporary effect. Iliescu had no intention of moving to socialism, or even going back to the kind of deformed workers' state that existed before 1989, where power was held, not by the working class but by a corrupt and privileged bureaucracy, but where the nationalised planned economy undoubtedly represented a progressive development and working people had jobs. At the present moment, because of the disaster represented by the movement towards capitalism, a majority of Romanian workers would even prefer the situation that existed before 1989 to the present mess. By refusing to take decisive action against the capitalists Iliescu inevitably prepared the way for reaction in the form of the so-called "centre-right" coalition..

The meaning of "reform"

The centre right coalition which took power following parliamentary and presidential elections in November 1996 decided on a change of tack. Its "mission" was to bring about a transition to the market economy and membership of NATO and the EU. To this end, it planned a radical restructuring of the economy in line with the precepts of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), implemented with its support. This explains the priority given to reducing budget and trade deficits. Its intention was to make major budget cuts, particularly in social spending, and eliminate "non-profitable" sectors. The first and most important target was the mining industry.

They used all the usual economic arguments. Prime Minister Radu Vasile, who succeeded Victor Ciorbea, made out that the situation was urgent. The reduction of these deficits was one of the terms the IMF had imposed as a condition for a new loan. The loan was vital to enable Bucharest to repay debts of $2.8 billion in the course of 1999 - of which $2 billion falls due in June. The country's debt, basically incurred since 1990, now stands at more than $10 billion, while Romania's reserves, excluding gold, amount to only $1.8 billion. Thus, the miners and their families were to be sacrificed on the altar of the IMF. But more than money was involved. The right wing parties, enthusiastically cheered on by Petre Roman and his so-called Social Democrats, wanted revenge for 1990-91. The nascent bourgeoisie wanted to make an example of the miners, to break and humiliate them, and thus, hopefully, to clear the way for capitalism in Romania.

This was the reason for the announcement made just before Christmas 1998 of a plan to close "non-profitable" mines. President Constantinescu and his prime minister pointed to the losses in the mining sector, running at $370 million. This restructuring would have been achieved by sacking an additional 6,500 miners after closing about 100 mines and getting rid of 90,000 mining jobs in the course of 1997 - including 20,000 in the Jiu Valley. The plan, which really meant the butchering of the mining industry, was hailed by the World Bank described as a "success". Trying to face all directions at the same time, Le Monde Diplomatique admits that the plan "turned out to be a social disaster. As was, in more general terms, the economic orientation pursued by the Christian Democrats, Democrats, Liberals, and representatives of the Hungarian minority who made up the governing coalition."

The world crisis of capitalism is reflected by overproduction ("undercapacity"). This affects basic industries such as steel and coal. The consequences for Romania are clear. The mines will be closed. The miners are advised to find "alternative employment". What a cruel joke! Emil Constantinescu thinks that alternative jobs should be found that allow the miners to work in a team -- the constructions of a dam or a highway. The world bank grants Romania, President Emil Constantinescu said, numerous programmes for the development of mining areas. A glowing picture! But one that bears not the slightest relation to reality. The offers of alternative employment are a cynical fraud. The Le Monde Diplomatique article quotes one miner as saying: " 'I spent all the money I had on this re-training, which was supposed to get us jobs. I was chosen out of 200 candidates, but not one of the 20 miners who signed up has been able to find a job' he says bitterly."

Le Monde Diplomatique shows its final bankruptcy when it asserts, ignoring all that it has written, that the objective of finding new jobs for the miners "may prove difficult, but it should not be impossible. What is needed is the means. And the means provided thus far are obviously inadequate. A project under the European Phare programme in 1998 led to the creation of 13 companies - but only 383 jobs. This is a long way short of the mark. Even the national agency responsible for reconstruction programmes in the mining regions, based in Petrosani and responsible for co-ordinating industrial redeployment, claims to have created 4,500 jobs."

So there we have it! The hypocritical "friends" of the Romanian miners gravely shake their heads at the miners' marches. They are "bloody", even "murderous" (although there was only one death recorded, and that was a miner!), and, we are told, very likely part of an attempted right-wing putsch. This is how Le Monde Diplomatique presents the miners' struggle. But when it comes to offering an alternative, they show themselves to be at a loss. All their friendly interest and crocodile tears about the terrible fate of the miners boils down to this: do nothing, accept your fate meekly, and hope for "alternative employment", although we are well aware that this does not exist! With friends of this kind, one really has no need of enemies.

Vasile's smear tactics

In the absence of a serious alternative in the form of a genuine Marxist-Leninist party, this situation has been exploited by the right-wing nationalists whose leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, was one of Ceausescu's most fanatical supporters. Nowadays he is an admirer of Jean-Marie Le Pen. Tudor's party, Romania Mare (Greater Romania Party, PRM), has made political capital out of the chaos in Romanian society. As in Russia, the ex-Stalinists led by Iliescu, are flirting with the far right, opposing the lifting of Tudor's parliamentary immunity after he was accused of insulting the head of state. The PRM demagogically tries to appeal to workers. It organises a popular soup kitchen in Bucharest which it calls "Christian dinners".

Romania Mare, although very vocal, remains relatively small. In the 1996 parliamentary elections, the PRM received only 4.5% of the vote, a result which is not negligible, but does not give the impression of a mass force at this stage. It was, however, sufficient to give it 19 deputies and 8 senators. Its claim of 80,000 members is almost certainly exaggerated. True, the opinion polls give it a greater share. But this reflects the lack of a real left alternative, rather than a genuine base. It is similar to the temporary increase in votes for Zhirinovsky in Russia when the CPRF was banned. Such parties, led by right-wing demagogues can rise and fall very quickly, reflecting the extreme instability in society and the fact that the masses are desperately seeking a way out of the impasse.

In order to blacken the name of the miners, the Prime Minster Radu Vasile took advantage of this demagogy to accuse the miners of being "politically motivated." These kind of accusations are nothing new. They are dragged out every time an important group of workers go on strike. Vasile's attack on the miners does not even have the merit of originality: "What is happening in the Jiu Valley is a purely political action," he said. If it is political for workers to fight against the closure of their industry, to protect their jobs and living standards, then the Romanian miners' actions were indeed political. As political as those of a government that declares war on its own people at the behest of a handful of capitalists and the IMF.

The miners' leader - who had been sentenced to one and a half years in prison in 1996 for his miners' marches - had recently signed up as a member of Romania Mare, but left the party shortly before the strike. Le Monde Diplomatique presents this as a manoeuvre "to avoid misunderstandings over the meaning of the strikers' demands, but this fooled nobody." We condemn the reactionary politics of Romania Mare, which has demagogically attempted to latch onto the miners' grievances. But to centre all attention on this, and to present Cozma's resignation from the PRM as a manoeuvre (without any evidence whatsoever) is merely to play into the hands of the right-wing government in Bucharest which wishes to confuse public opinion and smear the miners by any means possible. Le Monde Diplomatique writes: "If the nationalists were thinking of making use of the miners to mount a putsch, they failed." Again, they present the miners' struggle as part of a right-wing putsch, although they are careful to present this idea in a cautious way.

Miron Cozma

Miron Cozma, 47 years of age, has been the most prominent of the miners' leaders for almost a decade. As a young mining deputy engineer, he was first elected union leader by the Jiu Valley miners in 1990. After the overthrow of Ceaucescu, the workers everywhere spontaneously kicked out the old managers and bureaucrats and elected those people they trusted. Many of them were engineers like Cozma. Miron Cozma led the miners' march on Bucharest in 1991 which led to the downfall of the government of Petre Roman who had split from the National Salvation Front and adopted a pro-market stance. Roman's so-called Social Democrats are now participating in the right-wing coalition government which is determined to take revenge by butchering the coal industry and persecuting Cozma.

The political evolution of Miron Cozma cannot be easily determined. He is one of those mass leaders who easily connects with the workers and gives voice to their aspirations, but with no clear programme or perspective. Such figures occur frequently in the history of the workers' movement in many countries. They can be said to have an accidental character, but actually express the first confused stirrings of the consciousness of the masses who are searching for the revolutionary road.

In January 1905, the Russian workers were led by a priest, Father Gapon, a man with monarchist sympathies and connections with the tsarist authorities who subsequently veered to the left and came close to the Bolsheviks before reverting to type and being assassinated. One can say that it was unfortunate that the Russian workers looked to such a leader at the beginning of the revolution. This undoubtedly reflected the low political level of the masses at that stage, their confusion, lack of experience and the weakness of the Marxist movement. But such is life. Everywhere, at all times, the masses learn through experience. Under such conditions, the movement is usually led by all sorts of accidental elements. This is an unavoidable stage. But the workers learn through experience, and if the Marxists are skilful, they can find a road to the masses. But we must take the movement as it is, not as we would like it to be, at any given stage.

Cozma's personal courage and dedication to the miners' cause are not in doubt. Otherwise he would have been bought off long ago. Corruption and betrayal were always specialities of the venal Romanian bourgeoisie. Instead, he has put up with constant attacks, slanders and actual repression. Cozma was imprisoned for "attacks on state institutions" (1997 -1998). Immediately following his release in 1998 he was re-elected again as the leader of the coal miners' trade union in the militant Jiu Valley.

Unfortunately, Miron Cozma's personal courage has not been matched by political clarity or consistency. He never claimed to be a left winger or a socialist. He has defended the idea that trade unions should be "apolitical". In the last elections he advised the miners to vote for the right wing coalition (the Democratic Convention of Romania). After leaving prison he joined Romania Mare (the Greater Romanian Party), a right wing nationalist party that opposes the present government. Then he resigned from it in order to be independent. His membership of Romania Mare therefore only lasted a few months. Recently Romania Mare has stated publicly that they do not want him back. The Bucharest Radio Romania Network (a state-supported central radio station) reported that "the Greater Romania Party [PRM] has decided not to allow Miron Cozma, the leader of the Jiu Valley miners, to become a member of the party again. Cozma had temporarily resigned from the party [just before the miners started their march on Bucharest]. Costel Avram, the president of the PRM Hunedoara branch, said in Petrosani today that this decision was made by the PRM Steering Committee, because Cozma has damaged the party's image. Mr. Avram also said that the PRM had helped Cozma unselfishly, simply because he had been sent to prison on political grounds. Now, however, the party is leaving the miners' leader alone to pursue his own trade union policy." (our emphasis, AW)

The miners' counteroffensive*

"In their 'valley of sorrow' the miners no longer know whom to trust. They have lost all hope. But one memory stays with them. They all remember what President Constantinescu told them on the 20th anniversary of the 1977 strike in Lupeni. "I'll lay a wager with the inhabitants of the Jiu Valley. If the reforms don't go through here, they won't go through in the rest of the country either." Here Le Monde Diplomatique comes closer to the truth. In the last analysis, the miners were left on their own, and forced to rely on their own strength. The memories of past victories spurred them on to new efforts. The seriousness of the struggle was determined by the high stakes involved. This was a life and death question for both sides. The miners were fighting for their jobs and the future of their children. The bourgeoisie was fighting to save their "reform"--that is, the programme of the capitalist counterrevolution in Romania. In such a struggle, no compromise or half-solution is possible.

The Romanian bourgeoisie had learned to respect the miners, and were compelled to proceed carefully. Under the governments of Theodor Stolojan (1991 - 1992) and Nicolae Vacaroiu (1992 - 1996) they avoided a showdown. There was relative social peace in the Jiu Valley. But the compromise could not last. The election of the right-wing coalition government in 1996 was a decisive turning-point. The coalition was made up of the "historical parties": the Democratic Party of Petre Roman (a right wing split of from the old National Salvation Front) and the UDMR - the party of the Hungarian minority. Miron Cozma foolishly advised the miners to vote for the right coalition (The Democratic Convention of Romania) .

The bourgeoisie, egged on by the imperialists, decided to grasp the nettle. One of its first actions was to imprison Cozma for his part in the events of 1991. Then the government of Victor Ciorbea began a de-industrialisation policy. To begin with, he closed the pig and chicken factories on the grounds that they were not profitable (1997). Then he bribed the miners with the offer of transforming themselves into prosperous businessmen. Each miner was paid about $2000 to accept redundancies in 1997-98. Needless to say, the offer was a trap. When the miners realised they had been betrayed, their anger boiled over. They decided that pit closures must be resisted.

But this was only the beginning. The next prime minister, Radu Vasile, who took office in April 1998, decided to step up the pace of "reform" in order to convince the IMF and the World Bank that capitalism would be installed in Romania, no matter what the consequences. He promised to fill in the "black holes" of the Romanian economy, closing unprofitable firms. But in fact, the whole of Romanian industry is seen as a "black hole" by these gentlemen, starting with the coal industry. With the vocal support of the mass media, he announced that he would close 38 mines, two of them in the Jiu Valley on the grounds that they were not profitable. The paradox was that the previous government had invested $3 million in one of these mines (Barbateni) which was certainly profitable. In November 1998, Berceanu, the minister of industry and a member of Petre Roman's "Social Democrat" Party, claimed that it would be cheaper to use imported Polish coal than Romanian coal. Meanwhile, Miron Cozma was imprisoned for "attacks on state institutions."

After his release, Miron Cozma tried to negotiate with the government and prove that the 2000-strong Barbateni pit was profitable. The miners will not accept closure without a fight. He vainly tried to talk with the minister Berceanu who replied that he would not talk with an outlaw. In December Cozma warned that if the government pressed ahead with its closure plans, the coal miners would go to a general strike on January 4. The "Social Democrats" were clearly provoking the miners. They refused to talk to Cozma, they would close the mines because they only produced losses, and even told the miners to go ahead and strike, as this would save money, and so on.

The impasse led to a new miners' march on Bucharest in January. After the strike, there has been a sustained campaign in the media alleging that there was a conspiracy to overthrow the government involving Cozma. These allegations are based on the inflammatory speeches of C.V. Tudor, the leader of Romania Mare (Greater Romania Party) calling for the overthrow of the "anti-popular government". But, in the first place, Cozma had already distanced himself from Romania Mare before the strike. In the second place, it is clear that Tudor's appeals for "insurrection" had a purely demagogic character. There was no plan, no strategy and no perspective of taking power. Under the circumstances, Tudor's speeches were highly irresponsible, providing a convenient excuse for Vasile to attack and slander the miners. It is true that a conspiracy existed. But it was a conspiracy of the government in Bucharest to provoke the miners into action and then crush them.

In fact, the situation was even worse than what we have stated. The Economist (6/2/99) reported: "In order to get vital credits from the IMF and the World bank, the government plans to close scores of loss-making factories and 140 coal mines."

On January, 4, the strike began. The miners invited the government for talks in the Jiu Valley. The ministers rejected all the demands. The miners warned that they would come to protest in Bucharest. The government claimed not to be worried. The days of Iliescu were over, they declared. The coal miners had no chance of getting to Bucharest. The hired mass media began a campaign of lies against the miners : that the national debt (8 billions) was because of them (4 billions were put into the mines, declared Berceanu) ; that every year Romania has to pay 400 million dollars because of them; that they had killed people in 1990 and it would be better to keep their mouth shut and so on. This was the language of provocation. The miners felt insulted and outraged. It looked as if someone was trying to provoke a civil war.

The interior minister, Dejeu, an extreme anti-communist declared that the police and the army would use the guns against the protesters. On January 10 he ordered his people to block the roads to Petrosani. Between January 4 and January 16 the miners marched and demonstrated in Petrosani. They decided that if the prime minister would not come to Petrosani, they would go to Bucharest.

The transport minister, Basescu (another of Petre Roman's "Social Democrats) ordered the cancellation of all trains to Petrosani. On January 16, Petrosani was an isolated city. Nobody could enter or leave Petrosani. The main road to Bucharest was blocked with rocks and Gendarmerie. The Romanian Government acted against the Constitution and Romanian law. They were basing themselves on the repressive forces and on the mass media.

The coal miners decided to march to Bucharest--more that 300 kilometres from Petrosani.. They started the long march on Monday, January 18. The first manned barrage was encountered at Bumbesti Jiu, about 30 km from Petrosani. The marchers were not armed. They were disciplined and did not want trouble. One of their leaders, Romeo Beja, a very good speaker, was negotiating with the police. Because they did not want trouble, they decided to spend the night near Bumbesti around campfires.

Unpleasant news reached the government: the local inhabitants expressed solidarity with the miners. Many were awaiting them as liberators! More bad news was in store: the policemen did not want to fight for Dejeu against their kinfolk. The Interior Ministry said that 543 miners had been held "pending investigation." The next day, Tuesday January 19, at 8 o'clock they started out for Bucharest. The police tried to stop them with tear gas, but did not succeed. The local people from Bumbesti attacked the police!

The march continued as in the legends, the peasants welcomed the marchers. Even the priests followed suit. The night of 19 they spent at Targu Jiu, the capital of Judet Gorj. The same thing applied: the majority of the inhabitants looked upon them as an army of liberation. On Wednesday January 20, they marched from Targu Jiu to Horezu (Jud. Valcea). Thursday Jan. 21 was the day of the battle of Costesti. The governor of Valcea was confident that "the coal miners will not pass". More than 3000 policemen and special troops erected a barrier near Costesti. Apart from tear gas, they had army dogs. At about 11 in the morning the protesters--originally 10, 000, but with the sympathisers and coal miners from Oltenia, about 15 000 strong--arrived at the barrier. After a short fight the policemen ran away and the coal miners took the governor of Valcea prisoner.

In the afternoon, they were at Ramnicu Valcea (about 100,000 inhabitants), the capital of Valcea County. The local population was enthusiastic. They had occupied the headquarters of the governor. On Friday January 22 president Emil Constantinescu declared a state of emergency. In the end the 15,000 striking miners never reached Bucharest. Alarmed, Prime minister Radu Vasile agreed to go to a monastery at Cozia for talks with the protesters. A secret agreement was reached on a pay rise and the re-opening of pits closed just before Christmas 1998. In return the miners agreed to go back to their homes in the Jiu Valley. The compromise, negotiated by Miron Cozma and Prime Minister Radu Vasile on 22 January, was intended to avoid a bloody showdown. But it was a fresh blow to the neo-liberal reforms President Emil Constantinescu had promised the IMF. As such it could not be tolerated. He appeared to accept their demands and the coal miners went back to the Jiu Valley, thinking they had won.

The bourgeoisie takes revenge

The news that a compromise had been reached with the miners fell like a thunderbolt in international capitalist circles. The dismay of the bourgeois was echoed in the London Financial Times (23-4 January 1999), which characterised the compromise with the miners as "a potentially devastating setback to the government's flagging efforts to push through market-oriented reforms - including the closure of 140 loss-making coal mines, 49 loss-making state enterprises and a five-year plan to restructure the steel industry with the loss of 70,000 jobs".

The miners' march immediately led to an extreme polarisation of public opinion, in which the mass-media played a key role. Despite all the talk about "democracy" in Romania, the state-controlled TV is in the pockets of the government; only anti - working class opinions are allowed. Other television companies (PRO TV, Prima TV) are controlled by their owners who have huge debts to the banks. Only two independent daily newspapers remain in Bucharest : Cotidianul (strangely enough, owned by Ion Ratiu, a millionaire émigré from the UK and deputy of the NPP) and Libertatea (owned by a Swiss company). These are the only two against which the menaces of the government have no effect.

A vicious press campaign against the miners was immediately set in motion. The so-called "free press" in Romania was howling for blood. Bucharest Adevarul published a report by Violeta Fotache that concludes "The First Conclusions of the Inquiry Are Obvious: 'The Miners' Action Was Thought To Undermine the State Power,'" and "The Organisers Are Not Only Miners' Leaders." All this was intended to prepare public opinion for a show trial of the miners' leaders. On January 30 in an editorial headlined The Law of Force or the Force of the Law?, mass-selling Romania Libera newspaper demanded that the miners be punished. "Justice must prevail in Romania!" thundered Romania Libera, without stopping to inquire about the justice of depriving workers' families of work and bread.

Romania Libera is supposed to be a "respected independent, middle of the road daily". But the "respectable" mask immediately drops when confronted with a mass movement of the workers. Romania Libera screamed: "Parties That Attack the Institutions of a Law-Governed State Automatically Become Non-Constitutional". It is true that Corneliu Vadim Tudor [president of the Greater Romania Party, PRM], demagogically tried to take advantage of the miners' movement. But to use this fact to slander the miners, whose only crime was to fight to defend themselves and their families against the state terrorism of the Romanian bourgeoisie, is a lie and an abomination.

The paper went on: "At the same time, PRM Vice President Miron Cozma [leader of the Jiu Valley miners] was leading an insurrection whose final target was the capital city. According to Article 137 of the Constitution, which regulates the general framework for the political parties' activity, parties operating against the principles of the law-governed state automatically become non-constitutional with all of the consequences ensuing from this. What is more, the authorised institutions of the state are duty bound to proceed without delay against parties acting contrary to order in the state, in favour of unconstitutional institutions, and that publicly assert the right of revolutions to "create their own laws, judicial status, and institutions." Should they fail to do so, the authorised state institutions may be accused of complicity in an attempt to overthrow state order. In other words, they should choose between Constitution and revolution."

The Constitution of Romania is drafted with a view to defend the interests of the nascent bourgeoisie. While pretending to be "neutral" in the struggle between the classes, the state power--that is, the army, the police, the judiciary and the bureaucracy--in the last analysis always defend the power and privileges of the ruling class or caste. The moment this is challenged, all pretence at "impartiality" is cast off. The velvet glove is discarded to show the mailed fist concealed underneath.

President Emil Constantinescu publicly expressed his appreciation of the journalists' "civic attitude" towards the miners' march on Bucharest. The head of state confirmed that Prime Minister Radu Vasile was not empowered to negotiate in Cozia (a negotiation that ended the miners' march on the city of Bucharest). "Economic and social issues have been negotiated in a framework that should not be dangerous for Romania," he added, meaning, of course, dangerous for Romanian capitalism.

Leading the chorus against the miners were groups like the comically misnamed "Group for Social Dialogue" sponsored by the Soros Society, who now proclaim themselves to be defenders of the "state of Law". On Friday January 22, when the miners were at Ramnicu Valcea, they organised two shameful anti-miner demonstrations, one in Timisoara and another in Bucharest. The main theme was that the prime-minister was wrong to deal with the representatives of the miners at Cozia, because they were outlaws. They support the thesis of an "anti-state rebellion" and look for traitors in the ranks of the police, including generals. They have taken upon themselves the role of inquisitors who have to witch-hunt all deviants from "the correct political line".

In all this, of course, the pressures of imperialism play an important role. As in Russia, the imperialists are exerting tremendous pressure to carry through the market "reform" to the bitter end, irrespective of the consequences for the Romanian people. They are using the IMF and the World Bank as battering rams to pound Romania and subject it to their will. IMF officials were due to go to Bucharest in February to negotiate a possible new credit of some $500 million. But, as Le Monde Diplomatique admits: "the recent events will inevitably have increased the IMF's distrust of a government which has not so far delivered on any of the four agreements it signed. And the government, having had such a close shave, is unlikely for the time being to appear over-keen on "shock therapy". But this version is excessively optimistic. The Bucharest government has by no means abandoned the policy of "shock therapy." The duplicity of the authorities, who are trying to divide and disorient the miners with a stick and carrot policy, is shown by the fact that, once the movement appeared to have died down, they reneged on their promises. Government officials denied that any rises had been promised to the Jiu miners at Cozia.

On Thursday the 28 January, according to Rompres (the Government press agency), the Romanian Ministry of Industry and Trade announced that it would entirely implement the programme of mining industry restructuring if the administration and the trade union leaders in the Jiu Valley would not present their own programme of loss-removal to the established deadline within negotiations that had ended the Jiu Valley miners' strike. Secretary of State with the Ministry of Industry and Trade Nicolae Staiculescu said he thought that the Jiu Valley administration, the trade unions, and public opinion would understand that the ministry's solution was "the only one possible". "The government's programme will be implemented as a whole, and the reform will continue because there are no other options." Nicolae Staiculescu told a press conference. Secretary of State Staiculescu says the Jiu Valley strike had no economic determination. He invalidated information according to which during negotiations with the striking miners the government had promised pay rises and a further subsidy to non-profit-making mines, adding that the text of the Cozia agreement did not constitute any reference in this respect.

Witch hunt of miners' leaders

The bourgeois government cannot afford to give the impression to the IMF that it is soft on the miners. Therefore it proceeded to take action against their leaders. The witch-hunt of the miners' leaders was clearly a frame-up and the unprecedentedly heavy sentences are intended to intimidate and terrorise the miners and any other section of the class that tries to defend jobs and rights. The Criminal Investigation Department decided that it had no authority to deal with the case, which was handed over to the General Prosecutor's office, on the grounds that the Jiu Valley miners' action had "an impact on national security."

While collecting evidence, the police force claimed to have discovered "evidence and proof that confirmed the existence of an alleged criminal activity aimed to undermine the state power, which the Criminal Code mentions and sanctions in Article 162." Thus, all the elements of a state frame-up and a show trial were present. Not for nothing were these people trained in the methods of Stalinism! While circulating rumours of alleged "evidence" that the miners' action was aimed at "undermining the state power" and hinting that the miners' leaders were "not the only leaders of this operation", the General Prosecutor Mircea Criste refused -- with only one exception -- to make any statements on this file.

There is no proof whatsoever that the Romanian miners planned either a "putsch" or a revolution in January. They merely mobilised their forces to go to Bucharest, as they had done on previous occasions, to put pressure on the government to withdraw its plans for pit closures. But this time the government and the state were prepared. The repressive forces of the state were concentrated on one objective--to crush the miners. If there was a plot, it was not on the part of the miners, but on the part of the Romanian state against its own people.

As a typical demagogue, Tudor talked about "revolution" but there is no hint of a serious plan to take power. This was just irresponsible talk and hot air. Now Tudor has paid the price of his bravado. He has been stripped of his parliamentary immunity and prosecuted. We need not waste any sympathy on him. But it is scandalous to mix up this question with the movement of the miners. It is a typical Stalinist-type amalgam.

The fact is that Cozma resigned from Romania Mare and the latter have decided not to readmit him. The Bucharest Radio Romania Network (a state-supported central radio station) reported that "the Greater Romania Party [PRM] has decided not to allow Miron Cozma, the leader of the Jiu Valley miners, to become a member of the party again. Cozma had temporarily resigned from the party [just before the miners started their march on Bucharest]. Costel Avram, the president of the PRM Hunedoara branch, said in Petrosani today that this decision was made by the PRM Steering Committee, because Cozma has damaged the party's image. Mr. Avram also said that the PRM had helped Cozma unselfishly, simply because he had been sent to prison on political grounds. Now, however, the party is leaving the miners' leader alone to pursue his own trade union policy." (my emphasis, AW)

The actions of the state have been characterised not only by duplicity but also by extreme brutality. The sentence of 18 years imprisonment is of unparalleled savagery, and is clearly motivated by a spirit of revenge and class hatred. It is also meant as a warning to the Romanian workers. The trial itself was a farce. Cozma was sentenced in absentia. He was arrested while participating in a protest demonstration, which was broken up by police with extreme violence. According to police sources, 70 people were injured and one miner was killed. It seems that the forces involved were special anti-terrorist units. Cozma was then flown by police helicopter to Bucharest for interrogation at a detention centre, and has been kept in isolation together with the other miners' leaders ever since. There are rumours (undoubtedly true) that he was savagely beaten. This would explain why he has not been shown on television. His lawyer, Viorel Dumitrescu, has said that he would lodge a complaint with the International Court in the Hague. But the best defence of the imprisoned workers' leaders is the solidarity of the world working class.

Faced with the revolt of the workers, Vasile wanted to cow the masses by making an example of the miners' leaders in the form of brutal prison sentences. Not to see this fact, or to confuse what is essential with what is secondary, is an extremely dangerous procedure, and one which will inevitably end in crossing the class lines and adopting a reactionary position.

Which way forward?

The miners have once again revealed themselves as the most potent opposition to the movement in the direction of capitalism. But ultimately they cannot succeed unless they put themselves at the head of a revolutionary movement of the whole working class to carry out the socialist transformation of society. The present uneasy compromise will merely be the prelude for new attacks and closures. That is the real meaning of the arrest of Miron Cozma and his comrades.

Lenin was very fond of a Russian proverb: "Life teaches." And life has taught the Romanian masses a very harsh lesson. On a capitalist basis there is no way forward. This idea is rapidly taking shape in the minds of the workers. This fact is admitted even by those who are alarmed by it. "It does not take much imagination to envisage the political consequences of this ultra-liberal programme, writes Le Monde Diplomatique. "Not least among the miners. It fed a nostalgia for the old days of Ceausescu. They missed the days of full employment and their status as social heroes. But among the general public too, 51% think they had better lives before 1989."

The repressive measures of the government has not stopped the workers' movement. New strikes have broken out (of the teachers, of the workers from Comtim, Timisoara), others are in preparation, including one involving the biggest trade union, Fratia. What this shows is that the ground is being prepared for socialist revolution in Romania. As in Russia the experiment in "free market economics" has ended in disaster. The fact that a majority of Romanians now think that they were better off before 1989 is a devastating indictment of capitalism. But what does it really signify? That the Romanian people long for the return of the rule of the Securitate and the dictatorship of Ceausescu? Of course not! What the workers and peasants want is a nationalised planned economy, a society that is run, neither by bankers and capitalists nor by Stalinist bureaucrats, but by the working people themselves. Such a development would have been possible in the revolutionary period of 1989-90--on one condition: the existence of a genuinely Marxist-Leninist Party, a party that stood for the real programme ideas and traditions of Communism, the programme of October, the traditions of the Bolshevik Party, the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky.

Alan Woods
London 25th February 1999.

*Most of the information in this section is taken from a report sent to us from labour movement activists in Romania, AW.(back to text)