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A Photo Essay on Factory Blockades and a Privatization Tragedy


 

Privatization of Zrenjanin’s Sinvoz, a railcar manufacturing and repair plant, began in 1990, as required by the Law on Social Capital.  By 1993, when privatization efforts were suspended due to hyperinflation, the Sinvoz workers had acquired 14% of shares in the company.

In 2004, privatization was reinitiated under the new Law on Privatization. Sinvoz workers and retirees held 30% of company shares, while the state sold the remaining 56% to Nebojsa Ivkovic, who personally attended the share auction. At the time of the share auction, Sinvoz employed approximately 870 people. 

As per an agreement with the Privatization Agency, Ivkovic was obligated to invest further in Sinvoz, with further ownership shares being dependent on such investment. Ivkovic "fulfilled" this contractual obligation in 2005 by arguing that five mothballed steam locomotives purchased for scrap metal were in fact an investment in Sinvoz‘s basic operation, netting him a 76% ownership share. Worker shareholders informed the Privatization Agency about the nature of Ivkovic‘s "investment" (see photos below), and requested control over fulfillment of contractual obligations related to privatization. As a result of the worker-owners’ demands, the Agency sent several investigators to Sinvoz in the next two years, but their findings consistently found that investment was proceeding as per the privatization agreement.
 

In the summer of 2006, for the first time ever, Sinvoz workers went out on strike over the issue of unpaid wages. With the intervention of the Ministry of Finance, the strike was suspended after two weeks, but it almost soon apparent that the majority owner had no intention of fulfilling the strikers’ demands.

As soon as his contractual obligation to maintain uninterrupted production ran out in 2007, Ivkovic stopped work at Sinvoz, and began firing an ever-larger number of workers under the guise of a technology related surplus. Worker-owners began organizing protests demanding cancellation of the privatization agreement. Ivkovic‘s reaction was to fire the president of Sinvoz’s independent union, Mita Lisica.

In November of 2007, Sinvoz went into bankruptcy. The leading bankruptcy trustee appointed was a company also owned by Nebojsa Ivkovic. Approximately 470 worker were employed at Sinvoz when it became bankrupt; all of them lost their jobs on the same day the trustees were appointed.

On December 28, 2007, about 400 Sinvoz worker-shareholders blockaded the factory and demanded the cancellation of privatization agreement with Ivkovic and relief from bankruptcy. In response to pressure brought to bear by the workers, the Privatization Agency’s last investigation confirmed that Ivkovic had not invested in Sinvoz as required by the privatization agreement but did not cancel the contract, instead giving him an extra 15 days to complete the required investments.

The worker-shareholders of Sinvoz, together with the worker-shareholders from the Zrenjanin factory BEK (which was also privatized and then forced into bankruptcy), have called for a public meeting at the Union Hall. Representatives of the Ministry of Finance and the Privatization Agency have been invited. The workers are demanding the privatization of Sinvoz be cancelled and bankruptcy relief for both companies.

 

 Photo essay:

A workers’ assembly

 

                                         

Ivan (Freedom Fight) working out strategy. Questions are raised about the need to offer support to the ‘Frape Behr’ workers in Barcelona

A pot of welcoming tea

Snacks

More refreshments

Currently there are two layers of protection and oversight over the Sinvoz factory. One consists of oversight by factory workers, as ordered by the workers’ council, while other protection is provided by the court-appointed GMG agency (one of them is visible in the corner of the photo). The court’s chosen agency was previously engaged by Nebojsa Ivkovic.

Filmmakers previously involved in the production of Naomi Klein’s ‘The Take’ reporting on the Zrenjanin workers’ movement. They had originally intended to film events at Jugoromedija, but upon their arrival learned of the injustices at two more factories.

 

Factory Tour

 

The so-called ‘investments’

A worker explains that this modification and falsification of a locomotive’s serial number is the same as tampering with the license plates on your car.

Workers in front of Nebojsa Ivkovic‘s ‘investments’

 

Some black humour re. Ivkovic‘s ‘investments’

New train cars almost ready for sale. Sinvoz is ready to get back to work and on the market – it has not failed. So why is it in bankruptcy?

A Tragedy

An apology letter from a worker who, believing management claims, did not protests but continued to work. But realizing that he had been duped and that management would not make good on their promises, he committed suicide. As a gesture of respect, his work friends posted his letter on the machine he had operated. It reads:

I do not deserve the firm’s treatment of me. Those who run it should have me on their conscience!

To my children: your father loves you very much. Forgive me.

Dragan

 

Never again!

Freedom Fight

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