Date: Sun, 31 Jan 1999 00:28:35 -0600 (CST)
From: “Workers World” <email@example.com>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: Romania: Miners Win in the Streets
“The government has capitulated.”
That was the extraordinary newspaper headline in Bucharest, Romania, on Jan. 23 after details emerged of a settlement with coal miners. Fifteen thousand miners had been marching toward the capital from Petrosani, 210 miles away, since Jan. 18. They had been on strike since Jan. 5.
By the time of the settlement, the miners were within 100 miles of the capital. They had already fought two pitched battles with riot cops, smashing through police barricades that the government had set up to stop them. They were demanding a 35-percent wage increase and a halt to closing two pits in Petrosani.
Clashes erupted soon after the miners left their home city. On Jan.19, workers armed with clubs faced off against riot police with tear gas and batons. They smashed through the first barricade, sending the cops running.
Holding a spent tear-gas canister, miners' leader Miron Cozma called for the dismissal of the interior, justice, transport and industry ministers. “They fired on us, and they must pay for that,” he warned. His confident tone is a reminder that not too long ago Romania was a workers' state.
Two days later, the government deployed 3,400 elite police troops to try to block the miners again at Costesti. These are the “new” kind of police that the U.S. has been organizing in Eastern Europe.
Again, the mine workers charged through the lines, this time with homemade bombs made from dynamite provided by sympathetic residents. Many of the residents in the region work in explosives plants for the Petrosani mines and the surrounding Jiu Valley.
“Miners are attacking us in an organized way, like an army,” complained government spokesperson Rasvan Popescu.
As the march descended on Bucharest, tearing through barricade after barricade, President Emil Constantinescu prepared for all-out war. Just before the settlement, Constantinescu dispatched an armored convoy that stretched 1.8 miles, including tanks and armored trucks. He threatened to declare a state of emergency and introduce military rule—a “legal dictatorship,” as the government called it—if the miners did not turn around and go home.
But in this showdown, it was the government that blinked, not the miners. The settlement reportedly keeps the two pits open and grants the workers a 30-percent raise.
Romania was part of the socialist camp until 1989, when a palace coup ousted and murdered then-President Nicolae Ceaucescu. Since then, successive governments have pushed, at varying rates, for the dismantling of the former socialist economy.
Ex-President Ion Iliescu was one of the engineers of the anti-Ceaucescu coup. However, he favored a slower pace of dismantling the planned economy. When what the capitalist media calls “democrats”—those favoring a rapid transition to capitalism based on support from the imperialist powers— demonstrated against Iliescu's slow pace in 1990, miners marched on Bucharest and won back the streets.
The coal miners marched on the capital again in 1991 when the prime minister refused to meet the workers' economic demands. That prime minister resigned after the march, showing the instability of the new capitalist regime.
Miron Cozma, the leader of the most recent march on Bucharest, was a leader of both the 1990 and the 1991 marches. He spent time in prison for his role in those actions after Christian Democrat Constantinescu took power in 1996.
Constantinescu, an advocate for rapid dismantling of the socialist state, settled a deal with the International Monetary Fund in 1997. The IMF, a superbank dominated by U.S. finance capital, offered the government $430 million in credit if it promised to cut subsidies that were holding down prices on some necessities.
It also had to pledge to privatize the state-owned sector of the economy. In the final months of 1998, the Romanian government announced the closing of some 30 mines, including the Jiu Valley pits.
These moves put Romania's workers on a collision course with the IMF and Western imperialism, the Romanian government's only prop. Imperialist support for Constantinescu is guided not by any love for him and his “democrats,” but on the belief that they can break up the state-owned economy most effectively. By 1997, almost 60 percent of the country's gross domestic product came from the private sector.
In this recent confrontation with the miners, the European Union saved Constantinescu's neck. Hours before the settlement was announced, the EU Council promised a “substantial increase” in aid—essentially paying for the settlement. Union leader Cozma says the workers won “substantial aid from the EU for the mining industry.” Romania has applied for membership in the EU, but the European imperialists are in no mood to bail out Romania's entire state sector.
Whether this settlement is anything more than a temporary truce is far from certain. An IMF team is due in Bucharest in coming weeks, and will certainly be looking for evidence that the government is determined to resist further workers' demands.
Romania's working class knows what indebtedness to the IMF costs. Even before the 1989 counter-revolution, Ceaucescu himself had taken IMF-backed loans to develop the country's industry. He attempted to pay them off quickly to get the imperialist bankers off the country's back. But to do this, his government demanded onerous sacrifices from Romania's working classes.
At that time the imperialist media was sympathetic to every sign of popular opposition to the austerity. The U.S. government took advantage of the discontent to encourage the overthrow of the government. Now that there's a pro- capitalist regime in place, however, the imperialists are fearful lest the miners' militancy turn into a political challenge to the regime.
The Jiu Valley miners say they are prepared to resume their struggle, and they are wary. “If we have been betrayed, we are prepared to resume our movement tomorrow,” 31-year-old miner Cornel Suceveanu told the French news agency AFP on Jan. 23.