On May 25, 2009 in the city of Raca, near Kragujevac in Serbia, a new wave of protests has been unleashed by workers of the Zastava Elektro factory. The factory produces electrical goods and is the only remaining enterprise in Raca that continues to function to this day. The workers began their protests with marches and more recently by seizing the municipal council building. For the last few days, the workers have been standing guard occupying the council building in shifts.
We talk to Milan Sreckovic, a Zastava Elektro worker and Freedom Fight activist, who explains the situation in his own words:
"Zastava Elektro was privatized in 2006 and handed over to a consortium of private stakeholders headed by Ranko Dejanovic, the husband of the current president of the Serbian Parliament Slavica Djukic Dejanovic and a one-time founder of JUL’s Raca chapter.*
The factory made a deal with the Polish multinational Delphi and received financial support from the State Agency for Foreign Investments and Export Promotion for the deal. The number of workers soon jumped from an initial 300 to an additional 500 workers hired on a short-term basis. However, by the end of last year, Zastava Elektro’s accounts were blocked, Delphi severed the contract, dismantled the plants machinery and returned it to Poland. In our correspondence with Delphi they made it clear that the partnership with our factory was halted due to the poor work of the factory’s management and its owner, who – in addition to everything else – had placed the factory into substantial debt with a number of commercial banks. Zastava Elektro’s workers haven’t been paid their salaries for months, haven’t received acknowledgement of their accrued workdays, and the factory’s owners have appropriated the money that Delphi delivered into our accounts in order to pay those working abroad for Delphi."
What do you intend to do now?
"Our main goal is to prevent the factory from going into bankruptcy, like the thousands other factories throughout Serbia that have been ruined in privatization scams. The strike began with the demand that the owners pay us what they owe us, but now we are insisting on the annulment of the privatization deal and the renewed start-up of production. With the current management of the factory all we can expect is further decline and bankruptcy. We are expecting the municipality to actively become involved this time around since the failure of the last remaining factory in Raca would translate into the whole city’s ruin. Raca’s other factories have already fallen victim to Serbia’s recent spate of wild privatization.
Therefore, we have put forward a demand for the annulment of the privatization agreement since the draft agreement on investments was violated. The "Dama-M" company, owned by Dragan Mostic, who is a member of Dejanovic`s consortium, ordered some machines from TAS in Bosnia, and then resold them for a much higher price to Zastava Elektro. This equipment was never used in our factory, which means that the mandatory investments in the initial agreement weren’t carried out in accordance with the document (either in terms of the amount or in functional terms). Proceedings have been initiated in Raca’s Municipal Court against those responsible for a conflict of interests in the purchase and resale of this equipment from Bosnia."
What is the plan once the privatization agreement is annulled?
"The municipality needs to now show its interest in Zastava Elektro and actively participate in what we are doing – that is to say it should join us in pressuring the Agency for Privatization to annul this privatization agreement. After this, the municipality should help us bring back our foreign partner Delphi to resume its work with Zastava Elektro. The local governing bodies can no longer justify their non-involvement by saying they don’t have any jurisdiction over privatization and that their support can only be limited to letters of protocol. In the correspondence with Delphi, the company stresses its desire to resume the partnership with Zastava Elektro. Now we in Raca must show that a serious capacity for business partnerships exists in this city. Delphi never had an issue with the workers. The bosses are the problem and they are the ones who must leave."
Therefore, your struggle is geared towards a longer-term solution to the problem of unemployment in the city?
"Exactly. We saw how the workers in Zrenjanin accomplished this, and we believe that linking up at the local level is the most effective road to assuring that our destiny remains in our own hands. The local authorities haven’t shown much interest in the socio-economic problems of Raca’s citizens until now, and this is something we need to change. We must now all mobilize around the question of local industry – which means immediately around the struggle to preserve the last factory in Raca that is still working, and in the future, I am sure, to start-up once again production at Izolma* and other enterprises in Raca that are now bankrupt. This requires the engagement of the entire local community."
*FREEDOM FIGHT (Serbo-Croatian: Pokret za slobodu) is an organization devoted to working on issues of worker, refugee, and students’ rights. Among other projects Freedom Fight organizers produce Z-Magazine Balkans, a printed version of Z-Magazine in the Serbo-Croatian language, as well as monthly bulletins such as Workers’ Voice, Refugee Voice, etc. produced by and for affected communities.
* JUL stands for the Yugoslav United Left, a ‘neo-communist’ political party of tycoons that was formed in the 1990s by Mirjana Markovic, the wife of former Serbian and (later) Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.
*IZOLMA was a Raca-based producer of insulation materials used in construction.