Chronology of fight for Jugoremedija

Chronology of fight for Jugoremedija

Although without jobs for two years, the workers of «Jugoremedija» refused to quit. Their militancy and creative direct actions made them a symbol of resistance to neoliberal capitalism in Serbia.

The Recuperated Factory Movement Spreads to Eastern Europe: Jugoremedija Pharmaceutical Factory Workers Face Eviction

Serbian pharmaceutical factory «Jugoremedija», from the town of Zrenjanin, was privatized in 2000, in such a way that 58% of the shares were given to the workers, and the state took 42%. In 2002, the state sold it’s shares to Jovica Stefanovic, an infamous local capitalist, who made his fortune smuggling cigarettes, and who was wanted by Interpol at the time he bought the shares of «Jugoremedija». As all the other buyers in Serbian privatization, Stefanovic was not even investigated in money laundering, because the Serbian Government’s position at that time was, and still is, that it’s better to have dirty money in privatization, than to let workers manage the company, because that will “bring us back to the dark days of self-management”.

Allow us to give you a little context.

The first attack on Yugoslav self-management happened before the break up of socialist Yugoslavia. The first organized attempt to dismantle the system of self-management in Serbia dates back to the times of Slobodan Milosevic. But the real full-blown process of privatization and curtailment of workers rights happen after Milosevic was sent to the Hague Tribunal. In this context in transitional Serbia of the 21st century, with the transition to capitalism and parliamentary democracy, everything became allowed in the fight against what the new neoliberal government saw as the “ideological monster of self management” – even if it means the government and the court break laws.

Breaking all the rules, the state allowed the new co-owner of Jugoremedija, Stefanovic to become the dominant owner of the factory. Through various illegal maneuvers the ownership structure was changed: Stefanovic was given 68% of the shares and the workers portion was reduced to 32%.

In December 2003 the workers began a strike, and factory occupation, as well as a lawsuit against the recapitalization. This was the first work place occupation in the post socialist Yugoslavia!

In May 2004 the state, pressed by the workers, investigated privatization of «Jugoremedija» found that Stefanovic’s investment was in violation of the contract.

The state did nothing to enforce the violation of the contract. In response the workers, mainly women, came to the capital, Belgrade, and occupied the state’s Privatization Agency for one whole day. Only after this occupation did the state begin to take the violation seriously. Meanwhile the factory occupation continued.

During summer of 2004, Stefanovic’s private army tried several times to take over the factory, but the workers, with breathtaking courage, kicked them out. Sometimes using their bodies to block the military vehicles. This kept the boss out. … but he returned …

In September 2004, the private army was joined by the Serbian police, who had the order to evict the workers from «Jugoremedija». Police and the private army forced their way into the factory, resulting in the hospitalization of many workers and the arrest of four of the leaders of the strike. The workers were then charged with disturbing the peace. Criminal proceedings are still taking place. Now that he physically emptied the factory he illegally fired the two hundred workers.

After participating in a Peoples Global Action conference in Belgrade, in August of 2004, workers from «Jugoremedija» joined with workers from other factories to form the Union of Workers and Shareholders of Serbia. At first the Union’s mission was limited to fighting against corruption in privatization, but after experiencing different aspects of Serbian privatization, the Union came out with another demand – the call for a constituent assembly. They believe that the people should make the decisions that effect their lives and work places, and a new constitution can help make this happen. Graffiti appeared on the walls of Belgrade asking, “ Who owns our factories?”

Although without jobs for two years, the workers of «Jugoremedija» refused to quit. Their militancy and creative direct actions made them a symbol of resistance to neoliberal capitalism in Serbia.

Finally, as a response to a series of direct and legal actions, in May 2006 the Serbian Supreme Court reached the decision that recapitalization was in violation of the contract, and ordered Zrenjanin Economic Court to re-open the case. Last Friday, Zrenjanin Economic Court brought ownership structure back to 58%-42%.

According to Serbian law, workers-shareholders need three weeks to call for an assembly of all shareholders, in order to appoint their management. Stefanovic needs to be prevented from dividing up the company, and a court injunction would allow the workers to democratically decide who manages their factory, and how.

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