Serbian Workers Movement – Initiative for Building Balkan Resistance
It seems that years of workers struggles against corruption prevalent in the process of privatization might finally produce more significant results in Serbia. Pressured by the workers movement, the new Serbian Government promised to conduct a thorough investigation into a number of illegal privatizations that resulted in a loss of production capacities, increase in unemployment, and deprivation of workers’ rights. Should this revision become effective, it would call for a halt to a vicious circle of deindustrialization and impoverishment that started in 2001 with coming to power of new, neoliberal government. Since then, it has only served various foreign and local tycoons to reap profit out of privatized social property and benefit at the expense of nation's misery. Two of this year's protests organized by POKRET ZA SLOBODU – on April 17 and September 14 2012 – were intended to show the authorities that their promised investigation will be closely monitored.
POKRET ZA SLOBODU (Freedom Fight Movement) is an organization dedicated to creating the broadest social resistance possible. It has supported various workers and peasants groups in their struggle for saving jobs and improvement of their social status in Serbia. Over the years, its activities have thwarted a number of harmful privatizations and led to many privatization contracts’ terminations, after series of organized actions, protests, demonstrations, and public discussions. This year, honoring the legacy and role model of recently deceased Verica Barac, president of Serbian Anti-Corruption Council–which influenced European Parliament Resolution concerning 24 cases of contestable privatizations–POKRET ZA SLOBODU organized protests in front of the Government, Presidency and Privatization Agency, fighting corruption and illegalities, exposing a number of companies that, despite their criminal and ruinous privatizations, still haven't been featured in the EU Resolution.
For the time being, this Movement’s aim is twofold: a) to create and strengthen regional and national networks of workers-peasants organizations, in order to establish a broad Balkan resistance movement; and b) to encourage, lead and assist specific workers’ and peasants’ struggles, especially their resistance toward damaging privatizations and land grabbing.
In all countries of former Yugoslavia, as well as in neighboring Balkan states, years of civil wars established a habit of perceiving local economy as an isolated phenomenon, preventing workers’ and peasants’ groups from exchanging experiences and creating larger functional entities. Some ill-conceived labor unions turned workers’ and peasants’ rights into mockery, limiting their activities to negotiations of salary raises exclusively. In those circumstances, POKRET ZA SLOBODU managed to gather a considerable number of associates, working on their struggles individually as well as joining them in protests and around shared platforms. Its first-established Coordination Committee of Workers Protests, structured as a board uniting strike organizing committees all around Serbia, grew into Coord ination Committee of Workers-Peasants Organizations in 2012. By now this Committee includes an unmatched number of self-organized strike committees and workers’ and peasants’ organizations from dozens of cities and municipalities across Serbia. At the same time, POKRET ZA SLOBODU has created multiple connections with workers of other ex-Yugoslavian countries, and recently, as part of international delegation of support, has visited workers of occupied Greek factory Viomichaniki Metalleutiki, sharing experiences with workers struggles and adding new valuable links to its already established Balkan contacts.
This large network is bypassing dysfunctional official channels originally created and capable of expansion. In previous years POKRET ZA SLOBODU has already tested this network's efficiency by successfully breaking several privatization contracts in accordance with its proclaimed goals to resist deindustrialization. This was the appropriate response to shameless machinations, fake investments, sell-outs and mortgage hikes by which local and foreign investors managed to leave thousands of workers and small shareholders without jobs and property. This year, the struggle reached a version of heyday when authorities finally acknowledged POKRET ZA SLOBODU's demands and Serbian President's Counselor publicly promised to take every possible action in order to investigate more than 24 contestable privatiz ations so that jobs and production in those companies can be saved. Moreover, the Counselor asked POKRET ZA SLOBODU to assist in this process by providing allegedly unknown information on their owners' violations and on histories of their downfall, as well as to mediate between workers and authorities. This unusual reversal of events followed after two protests organized by the Movement. During these protests led by POKRET representatives of dozens of Serbian factories rebelled against big capital and its devastating effects. The first one was held on April 17, 2012 as a tribute to late Verica Barac, ending by public reading of Anti-Corruption Council's reports before the Government and sending a letter of appeal to the Balkan Representative of the European Commission. This letter contains summaries of reports and proposals. The second one, held on September 14, 2012, continued the same initiative by sending the following demands to the President: 1) Workers' rep resentatives ought to be allowed to actively participate in state investigations of contested privatizations; 2) Restoration or preservation of production in companies damaged by irregularities in privatization; 3) The list of contested privatizations should be extended to greater numbers of companies; and 4) All workers' rights ought to be improved. The result was the delegation’s reception at the Presidency and above mentioned promise. Will it be kept it remains to be seen.
In any case, POKRET ZA SLOBODU won't be satisfied with forthcoming investigation only if, at the same time, production in damaged companies isn't restored. POKRET is already preparing new protests in order to emphasize this resolve and working on new platform for overall radical reform. It is determined to continue its struggle for better future of all Serbian people; ready to advance from demanding particular to more systemic changes.
The same year, following international alliance against land grabbing launched by international peasants movement La Via Campesina, POKRET ZA SLOBODU held the conference "Toward Workers-Peasants Movement." During this conference, various Serbian agricultural groups made presentions concerning monopoly in agriculture, possibilities of independent cooperatives, and threats of agribusiness corporations. These presentations were enhanced by Genevieve Savigny’s analysis. Ms. Savigny is a representative of the European Coordinating Committee of Via Campesina. That was also an opportunity for Serbian peasants to connect with one of the most progressive international movements, exchanging strategies and experiences, and laying the foundation for a future cooperation. POKRET ZA SLOBODU is standing against w hat is already known worldwide under the name of land grabbing. In Serbia this is another version of the same economic process which already erased so many jobs in the national industry. In the agricultural field this process is manifested through privatizations of large areas of fertile land, once owned by the state or agricultural cooperatives and now delivered in the hands of tycoons and criminals, some existing from the Miloševic's time. If Serbia becomes member of the EU, they would most likely sell all that land to multinational agribusinesses, for that's the fastest way to make profit of it. This is exactly what POKRET ZA SLOBODU tries to prevent, counting on support of Via Campesina, a partner with whom POKRET participated in a number of joint activities.
POKRET ZA SLOBODU also organized several protests and actions against Serbian connections with NATO. It followed sentiments of the majority of Serbian people, people so revolted by the NATO bombing and its consequent politics, that they burned down the American Embassy in Belgrade in 2008. This time, the people also expressed their great dissatisfaction with the present US foreign policy. It is a general sentiment that people responsible for NATO’s bombing of Serbia, such as Madeleine Albright and the former NATO general Wesley Clark, shouldn't be allowed to come to Kosovo aiming to buy mines and telecommunications. This especially applies to Madeleine Albright who, in one public meeting in Prague, when she was presented with a picture of Serbian children murdered by NATO bombs, had nerves to lash out: & quot;Get out, you disgusting Serbs". And the irony was that the person who presented that photo was not Serbian, but Czech.
Vladimir Bogicevic is author and doctoral candidate at the Belgrade Faculty of Philology, Department of General Literature and Theory of Literature. He also works as a translator and can be reached email@example.com.
Pokret za slobodu is available at:www.freedomfight.netand can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
VIDEOS: Protests of Serbian workers-peasants movement POKRET ZA SLOBODU in front of the Government (on April 17 2012) and in front of the Presidency and Privatization Agency (on September 14 2012).