On April 1, 2004 around 200 workers of the Slovenian company Comet, the main producer of wet stones in Slovenia, went on strike. They have now been striking for one week and it seems that the strike will not come to an end if the workers do not get what they demand.
In the recent period there has been an ascent in the class struggle in the Slovenian industrial sector. Following the workers' strike in Unior company, which produces all kinds of tools from screwdrivers, spanners, tongs etc., this has been the fourth strike in the industrial sector this year. If one looks at working conditions and salaries Slovenian industrial workers get, this is hardly surprising. The official average salary in the industrial sector is 440 €, but the workers who actually do something do not get more than 260 €, and this is really, or so it is said, the top salary in the industrial sector. What brings the official figure to 440 € are the salaries of a few people in management staff and other administrative layers in the companies.
The strike as such does not mean that workers' conditions deteriorated or that the salaries are worse than in previous years (although, it is true, there has been no rise in wages despite continuous inflation), but that workers feel they do not have to put up with such conditions and low wages anymore, since the profits of the companies have been, despite world recession, steadily increasing in the last years. In the last year pure profits of the Comet factory came to 2.5 million €, and the company is expanding by building a new factory in Russia, meanwhile Comet also bought a German trading company Toroflex of which they are now 100% owners. Yet despite this workers did not benefit from such development.
Jože Sadek, who has worked at Comet for more than 35 years as a process inspector, said: "Our wages are too low, after all I have been working here 35 years and my wage, with all allowances for night work, working age and travelling expenses, is not more than 250€." Marjan Lah, also a worker at Comet, added: "I have been working for Comet for thirty years and in those thirty years we did not go on strike even once, so you can believe me that now we are totally serious in our demands and we will not stop". Srecko Jancic, a young worker who has been working at Comet for 4 years now, supplemented: "There are really bad conditions in the company, we are exploited, everywhere in the company we are being supervised with cameras, and profit is all they are interested in. The youth have no future here." Others said: "They do not take us seriously and if they are stubborn, we are 10 times more." (quotations are taken from the newspaper Dnevnik)
Workers demand that their wages must be raised to 440€, as much as the official minimum salary is already supposed to be. Next they demand that the cameras in the factory, with which they are being supervised, are totally removed because they put workers under enormous psychological pressure.
After a week of striking the workers demands still have not been met. Because of this, when the workers arrived at work on the morning of April 8, they decided that they would not allow the administration board into the factory. After the arrival of police (who have not intervened for now), Ometa Marjan Lorger, the president of the administration board, provided a demagogic speech in front of the workers. Among other things, he said that "no one gets paid without work" and "you cannot achieve your goals by striking, but only through reasonable agreement with peaceful negotiation" and then "we are prepared to raise wages by 8 € to 10 € if productivity raises". Crešnar, representative of the somewhat new trade union Independence, replied to this quite well with "it is really sad that the workers who create all the wealth of the company get salaries which are not enough for the normal survival of one man, not to mention kids and a family, while the owners reap super profits. From any point of view, it is irrational and irresponsible for a representative of the shareholders, after all this is what the administration board is, to say that without work no one gets paid".
When the director of the administration board wanted to leave with a car, workers prevented him from doing so and gave him a wooden baby scooter instead. The director then said in a statement, which was also broadcast on radio, that workers had, besides preventing him from entering the factory and going to his office, confiscated his car: "There is no law that gives you permission to do that. You are only making it worse for yourselves." In spite of this, the police still have not intervened. For now the administration board is staying in a luxury hotel in the town of Zrece near the city Celje where the factory is located.
The workers' strike committee said "we are determined to achieve our goal, now we can only increase our demands". They also said that they were going to remove the supervising cameras themselves. For now, no demands have been met. And one worker has already been fired, supposedly because of some "guilt", which has not been explained.
However, one of the problems of the strike, which can also determine its outcome in the last analysis, is that workers of the factory belong to different trade unions. From a total of 750 workers, only 200 of them are on strike, since only those belonging to the trade union Independence (which supports the strike) have taken strike action. Other trade unions (most of the workers belong to SSS - Svobodni Sindikat Slovenije - Free Trade Union of Slovenia, which does not support the strike) do not support it. Although production is almost paralysed (the administration claims that in this week alone there 80,000 € have been lost due to the strike) some 500 other workers belonging to the trade union SSS were forced to work. This runs against the constitution and inspectors visited the factory on April 8. This constitutional conflict still has not been resolved. In spite of this, there were 50 workers who undertook solidarity strike action with the other striking workers.
The workers' strike committee now also demands that workers should freely choose in which trade unions they will be organized and that top officials in trade unions should support the decisions of workers and not make decisions themselves against the will of the workers. The bureaucratization of trade unions is a big problem in Slovenia, just as it is in other countries, but the further problem here is that trade unions themselves are somewhat amalgamated with the company. It is not ruled out that Independence might stop supporting the workers. The administration board said that "they will solve this dispute with the trade union", but for now Independence "does not cooperate in negotiations," as the administration says.
The administration said that the strike is illegitimate, irrational and, finally, that it is not the right time to strike, since production orders are now higher than in the years before. It is never the right time to strike under capitalism, there is always "a danger of the competition getting deals instead of us," as they say. One thing is that there is big competition from companies from Eastern Europe and China, but another thing is the appetite for profit of the owners. Under world capitalism and its free market there can be no lasting solution. But capitalism, on the other hand, also means private ownership of means of production, which itself produces an appetite for profit for the owners.
The strike continues and its outcome is still uncertain. In order to achieve their demands, all the workers in the factory must come together in unity and solidarity. The workers must break down the barriers between the various trade unions in the factory and struggle together, because the problems and issues they face are the same. One set of workers in the factory cannot succeed in achieving their demands without the support and solidarity in struggle of the rest of the workers in the factory. In any case workers must learn a lesson that under capitalism they will always have to resist and fight against the administrational shadow of oligarchic owners. Workers have our full support and solidarity in this strike and others, but under capitalism working people will always be oppressed. No matter how hard they push the owners to give them better conditions and higher salaries, they will still be oppressed, exploited and will not receive equally to what they produce (and thus what belongs to them) if they do not push capitalism itself, and thus also the owners, beyond the cliff of history.