Saturday, August 29, 2009

As we speak there is a wave of strikes across the country of Serbia, one of the successor states to the ex-Yugoslavia. Sad to say these fragments of Yugoslavia which was once a far better socialist alternative to the Russian Empire's so-called "communist" (read managerial ruling class) regimes have proven, post-Tito, as one more example of how a Leninist experiment leads to disaster in the end. Never mind how it has been conclusively!!!! proven that Marxist propaganda can never eliminate ethnic hatreds. That is the saddest thing. What is also sad is that the new ruling class (usually recruiting heavily from the old managers) seems to be repeating the worst patterns of larceny that occurred in the ex-Soviet Union. Those to whom the Serbian state sold assets have been engaged in a systematic pattern of theft, looting the factories, violating contractual obligations, refusing to pay wages for work already done. etc.,etc.,etc.. The word kleptocracy has been coined to describe such behavior in the former communist states and in parts of the Third World.
The following article from the Inter Press Service describes the situation and the response of ordinary Serbian workers to this looting. People won't take this laying down, but the general hope for a "solution" in re-nationalization is, in Molly's opinion a vain hope. The Serbian state is divesting itself of property for many good reasons. Calling for re-nationalization is a vain hope, a dream of a past utopia that never was as good as memory makes it (during Tito's regime Yugoslavia's main export was workers for foreign firms). The anarcho-syndicalist alternative of factory take-overs and reorientation of production is nowhere so obvious as in this sort of situation. While the Serbian anarcho-syndicalists presently lack a website(even though they are quite active) many of the other states near to Serbia have such. Molly urges her readers to consult the 'Other Anarcho-Syndicalist Links' section on this blog for further information on this part of Europe and workers' struggles there.
BALKANS: Strike Wave Sweeps Serbia:
By Vesna Peric Zimonjic
BELGRADE, Aug 28 (IPS) - A very hot summer of workers' discontent has taken over Serbia. Some 33,000 people go on strike daily in 40 to 45 firms, according to union statistics. They are mostly employees of privatised companies who have not been paid salaries or social and health security benefits for months now.
Since mid-August, protesters have been blocking traffic for hours outside the offices of the Serbian Privatisation Agency and other government buildings in Belgrade.
Earlier this month, in central Serbia, police were called in to remove hundreds of workers who lay down day after day on railway tracks near Lapovo town 150 km south of Belgrade. The now private owner of the company manufacturing spare parts for automobiles and electricity generation has not paid them for months.
In a dramatic case, a worker from the southern Serbian textile factory Raska, 254 km south of Belgrade, cut his finger off in public to protest against a new business owner.
"We are desperate, afraid for our future, betrayed by our new owner," says Stevan Sreckovic from the Ikarbus bus factory in Zemun. "Ours is one of a thousand factories throughout Serbia that have been ruined by privatisation," he told IPS at a protest last week outside the offices of the Serbian Privatisation Agency.
Since the ousting of former leader Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, the Serbian government has relied heavily on privatisation to revitalise the economy. (or simply to pay the bills by selling the family jewels ????-Molly)The state has received some 2.9 billion euros (3.7 billion dollars) through privatisation since 2002.
The government has sold 1,828 public firms, and now only 300 remain to be privatised. That is due by the end of 2009.
The protests this summer point to what workers call "the ugly face of privatisation". They come after the Privatisation Agency admitted in mid- August that of the 1,828 privatisation contracts, 472 - almost 25 percent - have been annulled because the new owners failed to honour the deals.
According to the law on privatisation, the new owners are obliged to pay the government for their newly acquired companies in up to five instalments. They are also obliged to compensate workers they cannot keep in line with an agreement with the Privatisation Agency. The sum mostly ranges from 100 to 800 dollars.
The agency is obliged to monitor developments in newly privatised companies for two years.
"After that, we practically have no further obligations," head of the Privatisation Agency Vladislav Cvetkovic told IPS. "Our task is to prepare privatisation, announce tenders and collect necessary documentation, and to make this part completely transparent."
Analysts say that the state sold many assets hastily because of an urgent need for fresh funds. Most sales were done by early 2006.
"The climate for such sales was very good, and the state filled its coffers with badly needed money," economics professor Milojko Arsic told IPS. "The money was supposed to go to pension fund, further investment in Serbian industry, and bring new jobs."
But things have been going wrong over the past year after the end of supervision by the agency.
In March, machinery from the privatised textile factory Clothing in Leskovac, 282 km south of Belgrade, was taken by its Cypriot owner to Romania earlier this year.
In May, workers from the textile factory 7. Juli in the southern town Kursumlija learnt that their machinery was gone. The Serbian owner apparently sold it abroad as scrap.
"New owners refraining from fulfilling their obligations, such as revitalising production, paying regular salaries and health insurance to workers is surfacing now," analyst Slobodan Kostic told IPS. "This is bringing people to the streets and is leading to strikes."
International consortiums from tax paradises ("tax paradise"- I love that term-Molly )are often involved in purchases. Kostic says many assets were sold to people with a murky past and with murky money.
Several heavy industry machinery and textile factories have been sold to consortiums located in Cayman Islands, Cyprus or Virgin Islands, only later to be made sites for luxurious apartment blocks or shopping malls. ("luxury apartments" and "shopping malls" in Serbia ? Molly senses an extra layer of criminality beyond the obvious here )
The agency says merely that new owners did not meet their obligations. "It is not our job to control financial resources," says Cvetkovic.
A major tycoon sought earlier this year to buy the industrial zone of Belgrade harbour and turn it into a marina to be surrounded by lavish apartment blocks and high rises. Public outcry stopped the sale.
Amidst mounting speculation that privatisation was not regular in many cases, Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic (not related to Vladislav Cvetkovic), who was head of the Privatisation Agency in 2003 and 2004, admitted to reporters last week that "by the end of that period we became aware that something was wrong." He did not elaborate.
"I will personally insist that all the contracts that have been annulled be checked," he added. But to many workers this is not enough.
The striking workers have their critics. "What we hear more often now among workers' demands in strikes is calls for the state to take over their companies," Miroslav Prokopijevic from the Free Market Centre told IPS. The Centre is one of the leading Serbian NGOs backing a free market economy. ( Welllllll...Molly has given her opinion of this above. )
"That sounds like the times of socialism (the Serbian and former Yugoslav version of communism), when the state took care of everything, and provided lifelong guarantee of employment, but those times cannot come back," he said.
Just for amusement let's do a little cross cultural survey of what would be labour's response to such things in various countries. Let's begin at the bottom. The usual American (in a country where you sue a restaurant if you spill hot coffee on yourself) response would be a lawsuit. Up here in Canada there would be an endless series of appeals to this that and the other government agency, punctuated with a possible battle on the picket lines and a stirring resolution from the NDP. The whole matter would be eventually be exhausted by endless debate. Over in Italy they'd have their riot and rapidly move on to the next occasion. Down in the land of the tango the factory in question would have been occupied a long time ago, and the present battle would be about its legalization. Over in France the factory would have been occupied and the managers kidnapped. Not so bad actually, as they would get to eat really good cheese and drink really good wine (no McDonald's fare for those hostages) until a compromise was worked out. In Korea the factory would have been occupied, and this would have provoked the government to send a para-military force to recover it. In China the workers would have rioted and killed the managers. All told I prefer the Argentinian solution. Can it be used elsewhere ? I certainly hope so.

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