URL for his article is http://emperors-clothes.com/articles/zorich/strike.htm
As Serbian workers
threaten nationwide General Strike -
By Milos Zorich - Special to Emperor's
A Proclamation to the People
Thus writes the Association of Serbian Unions. Urging the Serbian people to protest changes in the Privatization Law announced by the Serbian Government, the unions have called a General Strike starting February 14 at 8:00 AM.
The Core of the Conflict
The current Privatization Law was passed during the Miloshevich administration, a coalition of the Yugoslav Left, the Socialist Party and the Radical Party. If a company was privatized, the first priority in obtaining shares would go to the workers who invested their labor for many years.
Anticipating the present regime's intention to sell companies which are supposedly in bad financial shape to foreign bidders, workers and managers have speeded-up privatization under this law. They are trying to preempt the process before a government sell-out to foreign interests can take place.
Thus a race is underway, with the workers privatizing state and public property, and the government trying to halt it.
This reporter spoke to several people on the street about the proposed sell-off. Here are the words of Vladimir Matvejevic, an engineer and one of 800,000 men and women in Serbia who are unemployed and looking for work:
Workers Ask: Why Give Up Our Shares?
So, nobody is against privatization per se. The conflict is over how to do it. The workers demand to be the majority shareholders. The present regime insists that the major shareholders be investors, whose money, they say, can revive production, introduce more economical operating structures based on up-to-date technology and maximize savings in production.
While this battle escalates, Belgrade is being watched closely by foreign investors and businessmen. Last week a delegation from the European Union visited Belgrade. Also, there was a two-day meeting of the Business Council of the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe with representatives from sixty companies in Europe, Asia and the U.S.
This "Investors Mission" met with 150 leading Yugoslav industrial managers. Mr. Bodo Hombah, special coordinator for the Stability Pact, and Manfred Nusbaumer, Vice-President of the Business Council, held a press conference where they demanded that: "the Belgrade Government provide suitable conditions for business, along with a law that it will guarantee the safety of foreign investments."
"Please, no more help," says Mrs. Brezovacki
The above opinion is not shared by Mrs. Mirosinka Dinkich, a member of the G-17 group of economists. (2) Says Mrs. Dinkich:
But workers counter this, asking, "Who says we will have any job at all if these foreign interests get a hold of our companies?" And Mrs. Dinkic admits that in the first year of the regime's proposed economic reforms approximately 300,000 more workers would be left jobless. Out of these, some 50,000 could find jobs in reconstructed companies and another 50,000 in new companies. What about the remaining 200,000 desperate, hungry people? She recommends spending around $400 million. But this is only to help them during the first year. What about later on? And in any case, where would this money come from? The government has no answer.
"Stop stealing the Electrical Power Assets"
Today (Monday, February 12) the Government will submit its proposal for changing the old Law on Privatization to Parliament. Meanwhile, workers are angry and getting angrier.
Mr. Radomir Smiljanic, President of the Council of the Serbian Association of Unions, says that:
Many workers feel this amounts to blackmail. If you want your pensions, the argument goes, you have to give up your right to shares in companies where you labored with the understanding that you were the shareholders.
Mr. Aleksandar Vlahovic, the Minister of Privatization, argues that, "it is essential that 'strategic partners', those with a fresh money supply, enter the company."
To secure this plan, the new law would immediately halt the current wave of worker-oriented privatizations.
While the conflict between the regime and the workers intensifies, workers in major Serbian companies are sending out urgent messages about the "organized plunder" of national economic assets. "Stop the stealing of Serbian Electrical Power Assets", alerts the paper of the Serbian Electrical Power Industry. The employees say there's been a rapid erosion of asset-value by management. Last Fall management declared the assets to be worth more than $20 billion. Now the figure is down to $4.2 billion.
Last year, around 870 facilities out of a total of 7,000 were privatized under the old Privatization Law. But this year, in the past three months alone, 630 state and public companies have gotten new, private owners.
The Deputy Minister of the Ministry for Economical International Relations, Mr. Boran Karadjola, says "Whether we like it or not, globalization is an unstoppable process, which has to enter Yugoslavia, if it wants to be a part of the world." He has recently signed a document bringing Yugoslavia into the WTO as an observer.
Similarly, the head of the new Serbian Government, Mr. Zoran Djindjic, told a meeting with the Serbian managers of major companies three days ago that, "We want strong foreign capitalists to come in, not shaky ones."
Clearly the government won't willingly back down. It intends to open the door to foreign capital although it is fully aware that foreign bidders will collude to keep the selling price low. (3)
The ongoing conflict between the government and workers is entering a period of great uncertainty. Social upheavals and the further destabilization of the otherwise poor Serbian economy are quite possible. Interviews I conducted with a dozen employees of the largest companies point in this direction. For example, a woman who works at Yugoslav Airlines, told Emperor's Clothes:
And other workers ask, after they buy our property dirt cheap, what prevents them from taking the assets and closing us down?
Such sentiments - that the countrys economic assets are being ripped off, that the country is becoming dependent on foreign powers which, during a protracted agony of economic transformation that they would impose on Serbia, would care only for their own interests - these sentiments of rebellion are the driving force behind the planned General Strike by the worker unions.
Further reading -
1) Two very good background pieces on the so-called civil wars in Yugoslavia are: 'German and U.S. Involvement in the Balkans' by T.W. Carr, at http://emperors-clothes.com/articles/carr/carr.html and Diana Johnstone's classic study, 'Seeing Yugoslavia Through a Dark Glass' at http://emperors-clothes.com/articles/Johnstone/1yugo.htm
2) 'The International Monetary Fund And The Yugoslav Elections' by Michel Chossudovsky and Jared Israel. This article has been reprinted around the world. It documents the connection between the G-17 economists, the present Serbian regime, and the nation-destroying International Monetary Fund and World Bank. It can be read at http://emperors-clothes.com/analysis/1.htm
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