Date: Mon, 8 Nov 1999 22:36:50 -0600 (CST)
From: Greek Helsinki Monitor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [balkanhr] AIM: Protest of Workers in B&H Federation
While prime minister of the Federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina Edhem Bicakcic was opening the bridge in Aleksin Han near Jablanica 40 days before its completion had been planned, more than 30 thousand workers from parts of B&H Federation with Bosniac majority population demanded “bread because we are hungry”. Workers from parts with Croat majority population were not there—they do not have an organised trade union organisation except in the Aluminium Combine in Mostar.
On 25 October, a protest gathering of workers, pensioners, demobilised combatants and disabled veterans was held in Sarajevo. They were forced into the street by unemployment, irregularly paid and small salaries, unpaid retirement and disability insurance, uncertainty of those who have the status of “waiting for work”. Presence of 50 thousand workers was expected at this gathering. But, although just this smaller number of workers were there, supported by members of the trade union primarily from the Republic of Srpska, but also from France, Belgium, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia and also the International, European and World Confederation of Trade Unions, the workers stated their demands and set deadlines for them to be met.
The first demand of the workers is that the Labour Law be published in the next issue of the Official Gazette of B&H Federation (one of the pretexts for the failure to publish this Law was—lack of paper!?). They also demanded a social welfare program with ensured financing (time limit 30 days), signing of the general collective contract with B&H trade union (within 15 days), and branch collective contracts with branch trade unions (within 30 days), reduction of taxes and contributions levied on salaries—immediately, and payment of unpaid salaries and contributions for social and health insurance, also immediately… It was demanded that until the end of the year at the latest, the governments and parliaments on all levels adopt programs of economic development in which it would be explicitly determined that the biggest share of the money be invested in production and increase of employment, that privatisation be revised and all purchase deals that may have been illegal be nullified. Meeting of these demands should begin immediately and be a permanent task. It was demanded that work be intensified of all relevant institutions on revealing and publishing names of those who are becoming rich thanks to bribery and corruption and then property acquired in this way, be immediately confiscated.
“Workers agree to privatisation, but not to plunder… The failure of the authorities to meet the justified demands of the workers will result in a ‘hot winter’ and early parliamentary elections”, said president of B&H Trade Union Sulejman Hrle. To the directors who had prevented the workers of their enterprises to come to the gathering in Sarajevo he sent word that they were “tiny little mice” and that they would lose their posts, that none of the local power wielders and feudalists would save them. Apart from Hrle, the workers were addressed by representatives of cantonal trade unions, but there were no workers among the speakers. Their voices were registered only by the media: “It cannot go on like this any more, we are more often hungry than we are full”, a large number of the interviewed strikers said. At the same time they observed that they could hardly change anything with the protest gathering: “It does not depend on us, others make decisions for us, but perhaps this gathering will help us get at least some hope”, workers said far from the microphone on the platform.
Federal prime minister who was expected to give most of the answers did not address the workers—he had said a long time ago that he would not come. A few days before that he declared that never had he seen similar protests except perhaps once in Poland. He stated that the ministers in the government of B&H Federation should decide for themselves whether they would appear at the gathering, and to directors that there would be no free bus transportation, nor special trains for discontented workers if they were not paid for in advance. He also demanded engagement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in checking whether everything had been paid for. Organisers of the gathering then replied to the prime minister that he might as well give an answer where the money came from for the daily allowances of the ministers when sessions of the government were held outside Sarajevo or whether the Ministry of the interior was engaged to check whether ministers and their deputies paid their own travelling expenses when they travelled to the sessions in Mostar or whether they did it with the money from the budget. As concerning their—workers' transportation to Sarajevo—they had collected a part of the money on their own and a part was donated to them by the World Trade Union Movement.
But, not only the federal prime minister, but nobody else from the authorities of the state of B&H or the entity of the Federation either addressed the workers. Only the unconstitutional co-chairman of the Council of Ministers of B&H, Haris Silajdzic, from a business trip from somewhere, sent a telegram of support. There was a rumour that the Bosniac member of B&H Presidency was ready to meet the workers, allegedly he wanted to rebuke them, but after his principled approval, the organisers did not invite Alija Izetbegovic again. According to one source, he had even set out to go to the gathering, but the organisers recommended him not to come because his appearance could be understood as an act of political marketing. Indeed, the workers themselves, or rather B&H Trade Union, just a few days prior to the gathering, sent word to political and party leaders that they did not wish to have them at their gathering—because it was not a political gathering and they did not wish to be used as a propagandist testing range for anybody. At the same time rumour goes that local party leaders of the ruling Party of Democratic Action (SDA) saw trade unionists off from their towns to Sarajevo with threats and labelling them as the “red gang” and similar.
In the end of the day, it appeared as if nothing had happened and as if the workers had come out for a pleasant holiday walk. Prime minister Bicakcic declared for a Sarajevo newspaper that he had heard the workers' demands precisely and concisely presented for the first time in media reports from the gathering in Sarajevo: “We would have responded earlier had we received specific demands instead of general complaints”, prime minister said and added something that could have meant that there had actually been no need to go into the street because activities of the government were moving in the direction of the workers' demands. He said that a contract would be signed with branch trade unions, that the labour law would be published “according to the scheduled time-table”, and that the government was already considering reduction of the contributions on salaries and talks had started about reduction of taxes. He also said that legal privatisation would reveal illegal acts, and abuses would then be punished. Bicakcic announced a demand for reconstruction of the Trade Union, probably just to pull rank. He also made it clear that he had done all kinds of important things in Aleksin Han—he had visited the road toward Blagaj which was under construction and which was an investment of the Kuwaitees of 10 million US dollars, and he had visited the Serbs, the Croats and the Bosniacs who were returning to their homes in the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton. As if they were returning on only that very day and never again!
Those who had predicted that spring this year would be marked by workers' and social revolt and unrest were late in their forecasts for six months. A new strike has been scheduled to take place in Sarajevo which is expected to gather 35 thousand discontented workers of the textile, leather and footwear industries: “We will demand to be told what funds the motor pool, mobile phones and entertainment allowances are paid from while we are starving, whether from the fund for the management's salaries or from the budget”, textile workers said in the announcement of their strike. After that, new strikes should be expected—the workers' discontent could turn into a final showdown with those in power who have through the war and the postwar period brought Bosnia to where it is now—on the verge of nothing and on the road to nowhere.