Date: Sat, 8 May 1999 13:50:25 -0500 (CDT)
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: BALKANS: Albanian Workers Speak
Article: 63531
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** headlines: 145.0 **/
** Topic: BALKANS: Albanian Workers Speak **
** Written 10:51 PM May 7, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 8:42 PM May 6, 1999 by in */
/* ————— “990517-Attitudes Of Workers At Alba” ————— */

Attitudes Of Workers At Albania Shoe Factory Show Imperialists' Difficulty In Restoring Capitalist Rule

By Catharina Tirse'n and Bobbis Misailides, Militant, Vol.63 no.19, 17 May 1999

GJIROKASTER, Albania—“The plant should not be private. The state should own it,” Perije Late told Militant reporters as she punched holes in leather parts at the local shoe factory here May 4. It was a prevailing view among workers.

“We just work harder and harder and are not paid well. They don’t care about our rights, our security, or our health,” exclaimed Late's co-worker at the next bench, who has worked in this factory for 12 months after many years in a cigarette plant. She didn’t want her name disclosed.

Rekor Albania S.A. is a leather-tanning, rubber, and shoe factory in Gjirokaster, a town of 20,000 in southern Albania. It's one of the few privately owned plants in the country that a Greek capitalist, Spiros Papafotiou, bought an 85 percent stake in 10 years ago. It's also a good example of what it will take for Washington, London, Athens, or other imperialist powers to reestablish capitalism here.

Christos Nanos, a representative of the mother company in Greece that bought the factory in 1989, complained bitterly about the workers' attitudes here in a May 3 interview. “Pardon the language, but Albanians have no sense of responsibility,” he said. “If somebody in the family dies, they take five days off to mourn,” he said. “Do you know how many days they get in Greece? Only three. The Albanians also stay home if somebody is ill in the family, and they don’t even have to produce a doctor's note. We brought technology here from Greece, but the workers don’t look after the machines. They damage them just to get a break.” Nanos also accused the workers of stealing. “Not even India or Uganda is that bad.”

Nanos had been sent to Gjirokaster two weeks earlier to “straighten things out,” as he put it.

Not quite what bosses need

The Greek manager at the factory here was not just expressing his own anti-Albanian prejudices, but also his experience from very real attitudes he and other capitalists have a hard time breaking among working people in workers states.

Rekor Albania S.A. turns a profit, according to Nanos, but nowhere near as much as the Greek bosses need or expect. The company is typical of the investments capitalist from abroad attempt here and in other workers states in Eastern and Central Europe. It is concentrated mostly in services, such as gas stations and shopping malls, and in light industrial facilities like Rekor, where labor costs are much cheaper than Greece or Italy. The median wage at this plant is $100 per month, compared to about $500 in Greece.

Workers produce boots for the militaries in Albania and Greece and work shoes for the telephone and electrical companies in both countries. Productivity is around 1,000 pairs a day, according to Nanos. “We could easily make 1,500 just by raising production consciousness,” he said. “In Greece we would make enough shoes to flood the market with this kind of facility—3,000 a day.” He hopes to impose the kind of “work discipline” necessary to meet this goal in a couple of months. The plant has a leather processing and tanning component and facilities to produce leather clothing, in addition to the shoe production lines.

Flamur Cani, the Albanian manager of what remains a joint venture with the Albanian state, presented a slightly different picture than Nanos. “The capacity is 2,000 pairs per day and we produce 1,250,” he said. Cani was Gjirokaster's mayor between 1986 and 1992. He was dismissed when the procapitalist regime of Sali Berisha came to power and was without a job for six years, he said. He was then appointed director, representing the 15 percent stake of the Albanian government in the plant. He continues to wield considerable power and there's evident tension between him and the two managers from Greece. A dispute among them was a factor in the kind of tour of the facility Militant reporters were able to get, and in our freedom to speak to workers on the job.

Nanos wanted to get rid of 1,000 pairs of shoes of substandard quality in storage by donating them to Kosovar Albanians in town. “I don’t think we should give them defective shoes,” argued Cani. “We should produce 2,000 pairs of top quality and give those to the refugees.”

All workers interviewed sided with Cani. Many have been organizing solidarity with the Kosovars. “We don’t have enough money to have people from Kosova stay in our house,” said sewing machine operator Miranda Zhuli. “But we often go to the camp here and invite a family home so they can shower and get a meal. We do what we can.”

When the shoe factory was privatized in 1989 it employed 1,000 workers. Most of the work was done by hand. Now 330 people work here. A number of workers said they appreciated introduction of labor-saving machinery, but not the capitalist social relations the Greek capitalists are trying to impose along with it, such as this “downsizing.”

Workers' side of story

“This factory has the best pay in Albania,” claimed Cani. “The last two years the pay has been raised 40 percent.”

“That's not true,” said Kiriakos, a mechanic in the department that prepares rubber for the soles, who did not want his last name disclosed. “I used to get 35,000 lek ($10 lek) a month and now I get 40,000.” The mechanics' wage is top scale. Women in the sewing department say they earn 10,000 to 19,000 lek a month.

“The so-called 35 percent raise in the last contract was a sham,” said Angelusa Gaba, 33, with 10 years in the plant. She is the union representative in her department. “They introduced piece rates throughout the company for the first time. And they raised the quotas, so the wage increase was wiped out. We have to work harder for the same pay. In fact some of us now make a little less because the company increased what we have to pay for health insurance and social security.”

The company withholds nearly 12 percent from paychecks for social security along with a tax of 1,000 lek per month for the police force, which was dissolved during the 1997 rebellion against Berisha. This sum is dubbed the “solidarity tax” by the Socialist Party government of Prime Minister Pandeli Majko and most workers are resentful about it.

“I worked in Greece for a year,” said Kiriakos, “and I made five times more money there.”

“My friends who now work in Greece , make 3,000 lek a day and I only get 400. We have exactly the same skills,” says Eli Idrizi, who has worked in the factory for 28 years. Production runs from 6:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. with an unpaid half-hour lunch break between 9:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. They have no paid breaks.

“The daily norms are too high,” said Idrizi. “You even hesitate to go to the bathroom.” Her co-workers in the sewing department laugh at the last comment. It's an exaggeration, but is what the boss is trying to impose.

Secondhand machines

Much of the capitalist “investment” in factories in workers states consists of used machinery. As factories in imperialist countries upgrade their technology, the used machines they replace can be sent to Eastern Europe and “invested” in labor intensive production with low wages.

This is the case at the Rekor factory. “These machines were used when we got them from Greece,” explained Arta Jaupi as she and other operators struggled with the decades-old sewing machines. “They break down every hour.”

In the cutting department workers—all women here too—cut the leather, using power presses without guards or double buttons to prevent the machines from operating if a worker's hand is in the way.

As Militant reporters were talking to workers there about this point, Nanos, the Greek manager, entered. Getting wind of the type of conversation, he began shouting to the Albanian accountant, Spiros Lili, who was showing us around. “You must tell them they have to leave now. They are interrupting the work. I already told them everything they need to know yesterday!”

But a capitalist manager in a workers state is not omnipotent, even though he may represent the owner of 85 percent of the factory.

Lili, who had worked in production for more than 30 years and tended to side with the workers, disregarded Nanos's comments and continued the tour of the plant. He told Militant reporters later that Nanos had argued against the tour, saying he explained everything about the plant in the interview the day before. “ `But these are real journalists. They can’t just get the picture from you. That was what was done during [Enver] Hoxha's time. They have to talk to the workers,’ I responded,” Lili said. Hoxha headed the Stalinist regime in Albania until his death in 1985.

Eleven workers—all male—work in the department that prepares the rubber for the soles. As Militant reporters approached, most of the workers who have been out in the yard - something Nanos complained about—hurried into the shop, where only two machines were running out of more than a dozen. “We work as much as we are asked,” said Philipa Vlasi, the chief of the shift there. “Most of us are out of work now because there aren’t enough orders.”

No guards or emergency brakes

Two workers were pressing rubber together between two rotating rolls, feeding sheets of rubber into the machine with their hands.

“Most workers here are recently hired and unskilled,” said Kiriakos, the mechanic. “They are not trained properly.” While there, we witnessed a horrible accident. An operator's arm was squeezed between the two large steel rolls pressing elastic for soles. The machine had no guards and an inadequate emergency break. “Accidents like this happen frequently,” we were told.

“Look,” Kiriakos said, “he works for a small piece of bread and now he has probably lost his hand.”

“Papafotiou will get the picture that we will not stand for this too long,” said Gaba, the union steward. One fact not lost on the bosses is that these workers are armed. They have had Kalashnikov rifles at home since they revolted against Berisha two years ago. It's the attitudes of these workers that the bosses have to break.

Nanos, the Greek manager, indicated he was afraid to go out into the town. He lives in the plant compound and spends the whole work week inside the locked and guarded factory gate.