"Collateral damage" and the workers of the Zastava factory

As the failure of NATO's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia becomes increasingly clear, the number of civilian casualties of this so-called "precision bombing" increase. Yesterday, (Monday April 12) at least ten people were killed and 16 injured after a Nato missile hit a passenger train as it crossed a bridge in south-east Serbia. According to a Press Association wire "reporters taken to the scene by Yugoslav authorities described scattered human limbs, smashed rail carriages and the stench of burning flesh." Western military officials said that the target was a rail bridge above a river that the train "happened to be on at the time" (!!).

This is just another example of the cynicism of NATO generals who have set out to flatten out Yugoslavia without caring about civilian casualties or as they are called in military speak "collateral damage". It seems that the train just "happened to be" on the bridge at the time. So much for the "extraordinary measures to avoid collateral casualties" which NATO claims to have taken.

Last week NATO tried to blame the Serb forces for the destruction in Pristina. In a bitterly outrageous twist, NATO's slimy "spin doctors" suggested that "Serb forces themselves blew up the town." (CNN 99/04/09). Later on Air Commodore, David Wilby, Nato's military spokesman, was forced to change his version and described the bomb which hit a residential area in Pristina as having appeared 'to be seduced off the target' (!!). We could even accept that one of these "smart bombs" failed to hit its target, but "seduced off the target"!?

There are many examples of NATO's bombs hitting hospitals, residential areas, people's backyards, etc. This is also a reflection of the frustration of Western generals about the failure of their campaign.

Last Saturday (April 10) more than 120 workers from the Zastava car and small arms factory in Kragujevac were wounded by one of NATO's missiles. Was that another "mistake"? Did they "seduce" the missile to the factory? Far from that. The workers at the Zastava factory had publicly announced in a communiqué that they would be occupying the site:

"At the shift end, even at the alarm sound, the ZASTAVA workers did not leave their workshops, but remained to protect with their bodies what provides for their and their families' living, that in which they have built in years-long honest work in order to provide for their better future."

They published that statement on March 27 almost two full weeks before NATO's attack. To avoid any confusion they even made known their exact location: "Herewith we advise you that also henceforth, as long as the war operations go on, we shall remain within the factory area of 305 hectares, at 44º N and 20º E." That was therefore not a mistake, an unfortunate error, but a deliberate act of aggression which could have caused the death of many of the 35,000 workers who usually work at Zastava.

But the bombing of this factory, the biggest in Kragujevac, is even more significant because of the militant traditions of its workers who two and a half years ago were involved in a bitter strike to save their jobs during which they raised the idea of self-management of the factory. This is what we said then:

"The discontent of the working class was revealed by the strikes which have occurred on and off for the last twelve months, including health workers, tractor workers and even the employees of the law courts. The most important strike was that of the big Zastava car and small arms factory in Kragujevac last September. The workers' slogan at the beginning was "We want jobs and bread," but later became "Serbia, raise your head!" This reflects a growing understanding that the workers' problems can only be solved by a fundamental change in Serbian society. But this does not signify a counter-revolutionary trend, but quite the opposite direction, as reflected in the article "Strike at Kragujevac: the Price of Hesitation" which appeared in Economska Politika on 23rd of September 1996:

'There is a danger, and it must be said, that this worker rebellion will be described as a 'movement in the opposite direction.' Slogans like 'We are Zastava,' 'The factory is ours' and the like evoke the deep-seated view of the self-management platform. The return of the economy to self-management and Kardeljism could, if taken superficially, get the workers' demands dismissed. The fiercest slogan of self-management socialism, 'Factories to the workers!' -- while it may be the highest reach of a utopia -- remained with the 'energy potential which changes the world.' The destruction of socialism throughout the Eastern bloc with all its consequences was impressive enough to remove any illusion about the possibility of turning back the clock. However, the sinking to these slogans on the part of the workers in Kragujevac reveals something else: It is actually an attempt to disqualify the environment constituting the economic system and those who have declared themselves to be its custodians, in order to get on a road which leads to a definitive surmounting of the crisis.' (Economska Politika September 23rd, 1996)

"These words are significant. The author is clearly a pro-capitalist economist, who is hostile to the workers' class slogans, which he regards as retrograde ("a movement in the opposite direction").The workers are indeed seeking a way out of the crisis, but they approach it from the class point of view of the proletariat. Behind the demand for workers' self-management ("The factory is ours") is the correct idea that the only way out of the economic chaos is by the workers taking the running of industry and society into their own hands. " ("Serbia: Democracy or Counter-revolution" Alan Woods, London 9/1/97, )

These are the workers now being bombed by NATO. Are these targets also approved by Tony Blair and George Robertson who recently said they gave the green light to "all targets of the bombing campaign"? That would not surprise us at all. The last thing these "humanitarian" gentlemen want is a working class opposition to Milosevic. At the time of the mass demonstrations against Milosevic two years ago the Marxists already warned that there was nothing progressive about the leaders of that movement. We insisted that the removal of Milosevic's pro-capitalist regime was the task of the Yugoslav workers themselves. Two years after the leaders of the then "democratic" (read pro-capitalist) opposition are in Milosevic's government (including Vuk Draskovic) and NATO is bombing the Zastava workers who fought under the slogan "The factory is ours". Hardly surprising.

In the meantime Tony Blair insisted: "We will carry on, we will carry on pounding day after day until our objectives are secured".

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