First Steps of Workers' Movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina
As it is known Bosnia and Herzegovina has passed through civil war and explosion of nationalism which caused not only devastation of economic resources but also division of working class along ethnic lines. In Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia working class had rights known never before but very often it was not able to exercise them because of continuous tensions it had with ruling bureaucracy. Regardless of that working class had possibility to be a decision-maker in some enterprises and its social position was very strong. Trade unions were under de facto control of the communist party although not in the degree they were in countries of Soviet bloc. Our workers have not had experiences in class struggle. They supported system that claimed to be socialist and where they were not truly ruling class. |
Destruction of Yugoslavia and of socialist values caused great disappointment and disorientation among workers. Soon after formal dissolution of communist regime, civil war began and workers were involved in national armies. They were enclosed by nationalist sentiments. Everything that was happening in the country not only during the war but also after it to the very present moment strongly influenced working class in negative sense so it is not capable of playing any independent role in social struggles. It could be even said that organized workers' movement doesn't exist yet in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina don't have much experience in class struggle. jost of them spent half of their working life in enterprises where they were highly protected and even had right to manage and elect and control their managers. After that they fought in war and many of them lost workplaces as a consequence of war and privatizations after the war. Those who remained at work don't have many rights as employees and they are under constant threat of job losses, not only because of enterprises' bankruptcies but also because of employers' tyranny.
In such situation, it is more important than ever to develop organized struggle for workers' right. But it is rather difficult. Official trade unions quickly re-established their infrastructure after the war. There appeared two organizations created along ethnic divisions. Alliance of Trade Unions of Republic of Srpska is bureaucratic association acting in Republic of Srpska, while Alliance of Independent Trade Unions of Bosnia and Herzegovina is such association acting in Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Both of them were formed from remnants of former Alliance of Independent Trade Unions of Bosnia and Herzegovina that existed until the beginning of war. Although bureaucratic structures have been renewed relatively quickly, this didn't mean that real lively organization has been established. Workers in state-owned enterprises continued to be formal members of trade unions. They practically renewed their pre-war membership status. However, trade unions do not really exist as serious organizations. Basic trade union organizations in enterprises do not hold regular meetings. Workers assemble only in order to formally elect their union board which is not really responsible to its members and in many cases do not have many activities. Trade union leaderships do not submit reports about their politics and activities. Higher trade union leaderships are being elected in totally bureaucratic manner without real possibility of militant workers to successfully run their candidacies. Workers pay membership fees in a way that accounting officials of enterprises where they work seize jost often 1% of their gross salary and transfer it on account of trade unions. Few years ago information appeared that Alliance of Trade Unions of Republic of Srpska received financial grant from the government of Republic of Srpska.
Few years ago oppositional trade unions appeared. They have been created as a result of factional struggle in the framework of union bureaucracy. These trade unions don't have different principal programme or method of activities than the official ones and they are also jostly composed of union bureaucracy. Ordinary members of trade unions have not had aljost any role in decisions about split in official trade unions. Right now two official trade union organizations cooperate through Confederation of Trade Unions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is not new trade union organization but rather only loose coalition of two official trade unions. This Confederation, as well as its components, is attached to International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
It is impossible to say the exact number of members of trade unions. It is quite sure that practically all workers in state-owned enterprises are members by the mechanism of automatism. On the other hand, rank-and-file unions do not exist in privately-owned enterprises, except in former state-owned enterprises that have been privatized recently. To understand how important is this fact one has to have in mind that economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina is composed jostly of small and medium size enterprises, after big systems built during socialist regime have been destroyed. In each of these enterprises small number of workers is employed and they do not have even basic social rights. Trade unions have done nothing in order to organize them and facilitate their working conditions. Some sources have claimed that 40% of workforce is employed in black sector. Even if we don't know for sure if this data is exact it can't be far from true if one has in mind following: official rate of unemployment is 44%, although different estimations of real unemployment vary from 21 to 31%. This contrast between official and real rate of unemployment is a result of a method of figuring of unemployment. Official agencies register all people who search for job and who do not have regular job, which involves not only those with part-time job but also those with full-time jobs but who work in black sector and therefore are not registered anywhere as workforce. Workers in private sector are totally unprotected. Very often they work 12 or even 14 hours a day although there are strict legal norms about 8-hours working day and 40-hours working week. As could be seen, problem of protection of working class in private sector of economy (already dominant until now) has become very significant.
Official trade unions have claimed that workers in private sector have not shown interest for union organizing. This is only half true. Namely, it is not correct that workers have not shown interest but that they are frightened to organize through unions. Having in mind that unemployment is very high and that workers are totally unprotected as workforce those who presume to protest as union organizers very easy lose their job. And workers who are exploited the jost hardly usually work in small enterprises or stores where it is aljost impossible to organize a strike or similar action if workers from more shops are not connected and in solidarity. Until now we have not seen readiness for such an action. Moreover, workers who work in these enterprises are jostly the young ones, who don't believe in possibility of struggle. jost of them are frightened, inexperienced and, which is very big problem, with provincial state of mind. It is for sure that official trade unions have not tried to organize these workers in alternative forms of organization or to give them additional forms of help in order to organize them.
Few years ago Alliance of Trade Unions of Republic of Srpska organized one-day general strike which totally failed. It was organized without clear aim or concrete demands and workers, who have already lost confidence in union leadership, in many cases refused to participate. In 2002 the same trade union organization organized day of protest all over Republic of Srpska. Workers and pensioners gathered at city forums, presenting their demands. These protests were attended poorly. In the city of Bijeljina, for example, where 50.000 people live, there were only around 400 workers and pensioners. Workers' Communist Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina participated at this rally on its own, distributing leaflet with concrete demands that workers should raise. We also demanded from organizers to formally participate at the rally. Since it rejected our proposal, we sent our comrade to address protesters as a representative of „independent pensioners". At the beginning of this year Workers' Communist Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina proposed to local leaderships of trade unions and pensioners' association in the city of Bijeljina to organize joint action as a protest against decision of municipal parliament to increase mayor's monthly salary to 1.600 euro (which is then seven times bigger than average salary) but they refused to participate on the pretext that the issue is not in their competence and that they do not want to be part of any party's action. In fact, trade unions refuse to cooperate with political parties and do their best to show their non-partisan character although few years ago oppositional trade unions of Republic of Srpska participated in protest action organized by the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, while leadership of Alliance of Independent Trade Unions of Bosnia and Herzegovina had a meeting with a delegation of the Social Democratic Party in 2002.
In many cases rank-and-file unions organize actions which are not approved or supported by trade union central leaderships. Strikes are mainly organized in the sectors of health care and education. They are often led by trade union officials who belong to central trade union leaderships and they are sometimes quite successful. Unfortunately, it could not be said for trade union officials in other sectors, especially in sectors of industry and trading, which are jostly economically devastated and where workers are jostly exploited. When rank-and-file unionists or workers in enterprises organize strikes they demand help of their leaders but they often say it is too late for a strike and are not ready to provide strikers even with technical or legal support. On the other side, our strikers in some cases have strong will to strike but they do not have any experience. Sometimes, they are compelled to create rank-and-file organization anew or to create striking committee where trade union organization doesn't exist at all. But sometimes they think it is necessary to have more than a half of workers involved in strikes and if this condition is not fulfilled they sometimes quit the idea of strike. In some cases, activists of the Workers' Communist Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina helped militant trade unionists with legal or organizational advices. Those were cases in cities of Modrica, Banja Luka and Bijeljina. In Banja Luka, during meeting of 600 workers in a large enterprise president of the Workers' Communist Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina addressed those who attended. In the city of Bihac, during 100-day long hunger strike, communist magazine The Voice of Freedom wrote about workers' struggle and it has been spread by strikers themselves. In the city of Zenica, workers from one factory included parts of Workers' Communist Party platform on the list of their demands and in Sarajevo workers who blocked traffic read our telegram of support.
Generally, militant workers are more numerous on rank-and-file level. So, even if one can't talk about organized workers' movement in the country, it could be said that its first contours exist in the form of mutually unconnected militants without enough experience and with very unclear vision of what and how to do. jost of them are clearly left-wingers although non-partisans, with respect for Yugoslav revolutionary traditions but without revolutionary outlook. jost of them respect Workers' Communist Party's wish for cooperation and assistance but they are frightened that any connection with communists would make their struggle more difficult. However, dozen of them accepted our idea to organize conference of militant trade unionists and to create Coordinating Committee of Workers' Trade Unions. This Conference supposed to be hosted by our party. Unfortunately, neither we nor our comrades from trade unions had enough money to organize to. Although they expressed readiness to meet each other and even to participate in this Committee they are still not ready to make a break with trade unions to which they formally belong.
Official trade unions have accepted dominant neoliberal ideology and they give full support to the process of privatization. Although they stressed necessity of realization of social programmes they have never said how it could be achieved. Developed programmes of economic and social measures that governments would apply have never been presented by trade unions. So, it could be said that they really do not have either programmes of principles or any idea about the means which are jost appropriate in order to achieve any aim. In 2002 leaders of trade unions had a meeting with the High Representative and they accepted necessity of realization of policy of bankruptcy. Their official position is as follows: transition to market economy based on private ownership is necessary and even useful although it should be enriched with social programmes that should support those who would lose job in the process of privatizations and bankruptcy.
Militant trade unionists have something different position although they think that anything but struggle for immediate and very modest demands would be pure utopia. However, in many cases they demanded revision of privatization of their enterprises and sometimes actually quite successful (enterprise "Alhos" in Sarajevo or "Zitoprerada" in Bihac), while in some cases the process of revision is going on (two cases in Bijeljina and some other cities). Militant trade unionists, without primordial impetus or even support of their leaders from higher levels of organizational structure, exploited radical methods of struggle in order to achieve the aim of revision of privatization. Some of them organized hunger strikes while the others blocked traffic or governmental institutions. In these actions they were supported by workers from other cities. In few cases, Workers' Communist Party organized symbolic solidarity actions. In big enterprise called "Cajavec" in Banja Luka independent trade union launched demand that has been one of the jost radical until now. It demanded from the government to cancel privatization of 35% of state capital in enterprise and to give to trade union on management. We strongly supported this demand. In an enterprise in big industrial center of Zenica workers bought shares and became majority owners. Despite these positive examples, workers in jost enterprises don't have a clear picture what to do after the revision of privatization. We tried to convince them not to stop on this demand because after revision of privatization there would follow new one which would not improve their position at all.
As a conclusion, it could be said that workers' movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina exists in its elementary contours. Workers quite well understand who their enemies are and where their problems come from. They also understand quite well that ethnic division of working class would lead them nowhere but to new and profound defeats. jost trade unionists belong to older generation of workers. Young workers are included in struggles in negligible proportion. Our workers need help from their comrades from abroad in order to learn how to fight and to behave in concrete situations as well as help which would facilitate establishing of class trade unions.