Date: Tue, 23 Feb 1999 21:59:12 -0600 (CST)
Subject: (en) Croatian unions take things into their own hands
From: DAMN <>
Article: 55788
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Source: Evan <>, DAMN's labor topic specialist
Reference: Labour Start http:/

Croatian unions take things into their own hands

DAMN news group, [23 February 1999]

ZAGREB, Croatia—The notion of the good old days has taken on a new meaning in Croatia as workers decide to take things into their own hands, convinced it is the only way to keep their jobs in an increasingly dire economic situation.

Across the country labour unions are setting up crisis committees to save jobs and prevent their firms from going under, prompting observers to ask whether the country is returning to the old socialist days of self-management.

In the soft variant of socialism dominant in former Yugoslavia until the 1990 transition to democracy and a market economy, workers were the nominal owners of companies and had elaborate control systems through which they could influence and overlook the activities of managers.

Having vanished from the workplace, the idea now seems to be returning with thousands of workers setting up ad hoc pressure groups and taking control of companies from new-era owners who emerged from Croatia's sometimes messy privatisation process.

I have worked for this company for 27 years, and I feel I have the right to take part in deciding about its future, said Mira Stambuk, a 49-year-old archivist at the Diona market chain.

She had joined some 300 colleagues at a protest in front of Zagreb's commercial court, calling for it to stop bankruptcy proceedings against the heavily-indebted company, and for the government to save it, along with some 2,500 jobs.

We don't want bankruptcy. We want work, we want bread, read banners carried by a crowd of peaceful but resolved protesters.

Others contained less friendly messages about what should happen to the person responsible—in their view—for their plight, the new-style capitalist Miroslav Kutle who owns Diona.

This is our company much more than Kutle's, because we have been building it for decades, said Stambuk.

Kutle's giant empire, said to contain more than 150 firms organised in the holding company Globus, started falling apart last April when a bank that helped finance its acquisitions went bankrupt and had to be bailed out by the government.

Diona's crisis committee wants the government to take it back from the Globus group and bail it out, just as it did with another three of Kutle's firms that ran into financial troubles—the daily paper Slobodna Dalmacija, dairy industry KIM and kiosk operator Tisak.


In fact, the effective nationalisation of private firms is the expressed goal of many crisis committees—and more than 30 such groups have been set up so far—prompting questions about the efficiency of the entire privatisation process.

The trend was set by workers at Petrokemija Kutina, a giant loss-making fertiliser producer, who staged a protest when their firm was slated for privatisation through a voucher scheme.

They managed to prevent the sale, winning government guarantees to sort out the firm's huge debts to suppliers while it continues to produce fertilisers.

Niko Gunjina, head of one of the major unions involved in the workers' revolution, denied the spontaneous self-organising should be labelled as a return to the old system.

We are pro-market, but we want it to be regulated and have a social component, Gunjina said. We must not allow the kind of wild capitalism we have here to dictate all the relations in the market. The workers need to have a say as well.

He accused the government of not having done enough to prevent politically-connected tycoons acquiring enormous wealth with little money of their own, and then ruining firm after firm along the way by pumping cash out of them.


Left-leaning unions blame the hasty privatisation and the government's liberal economic doctrine for the loss of some 800,000 jobs since 1991.

Croatian unemployment rose to 18.6 percent in December and the number of pensioners and unemployed has reached the number of those working to support them—though extreme levels of tax evasion by companies mean there is little money to pay their benefits.

According to sociologist Marina Kokanovic from SSSH, another union, some 35 percent of Croats live below the poverty line, rather than the four percent claimed by the government.

Zeljko Ivancevic, speaking for an association of employers, was quoted as saying Those committees could be dangerous if they are a hint that workers are prepared to resort to extra-institutional measures to protect their interests in the Vecernji List daily.

His fears do not seem too far off target, judging by graffiti that recently appeared on a wall in the coastal town of Zadar: Give Factories Back to Workers, and Land to Peasants. Power to the People.