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Letter of Support to Factory Occupations in Serbia


If you would like to sign this letter of support, please send it to the following addresses, thank you:

[email protected],
[email protected],
[email protected],
[email protected],
[email protected] 

Dear Sir, Madam
 
I am writing to you following the information I received (please see attached) regarding the privatisation and bankruptcy of Zrenjanin’s factories, Shinvoz and Bek, and the destiny of over 1000 worker-shareholders who were employed in these companies before the bankruptcy.
 
Since October and December 2007 they have been occupying their factories and demanding the cancellation of the privatisation contracts as well as the recovery of the factories from bankruptcy.
 
I am asking you and your institution to do everything in your power to protect the worker-shareholders of Bek and Shinvoz’s rights to work and private property, to prevent the robbery of these two factories and the destitution of over 1000 families in a city already devastated by privatisation.
 
Seeing that your government strives to establish democracy in Serbia I am sure that you realise that the protection of the rights of worker-shareholders is key to the success of democracy. A country that only respects the interests of the rich and not the rights of other citizens cannot become a free country but a land of slaves. 

Yours truly,

 

Dear friends, 

A year and a half ago, more than 60 prominent intellectuals and activists of the world supported the struggle of the workers-shareholders of Zrenjanin pharmaceutical factory Jugoremedija. That support was key to the most important victory of Serbia’s workers over the past eight years: on March 1st 2007, Jugoremedija became the first factory in Serbia controlled by its workers-shareholders.

Today the Jugoremedija workers-shareholders are supporting the struggle of other Zrenjanin workers for their rights.

We are asking you to read the following description of the circumstances that forced us to occupy our factories and to start the fight for our right to work and live a decent life.

Zrenjanin, the city that used to be the industrial core of Yugoslavia, has now an unemployment rate of 35%, according to official data. Most of the factories that Zrenjaninian workers built during socialism and lived off for decades are closed today. Seven years ago, during the beginning of the transition in Serbia, neo-liberal experts warned us that the entire Serbian economy would be forced into bankruptcy unless it was privatised as soon as possible. This is how Shinvoz, a company producing and repairing trains and locomotives, was privatised in 2004. The meat processing plant Bek was privatised one year later. Despite privatisation the neoliberal threats came true: both companies went bankrupt.

To someone not well informed about the situation in Serbia, it may seem strange that the new owners forced their companies into bankruptcy. There are very simple reasons for this. Let us explain two of them:

Privatisation in Serbia decreed that a minority of shares should be distributed to the workers of the company (in Shinvoz they have 44% of ownership, in Bek 30%). Although the majority shareholders can control the company, it remains impossible to control it absolutely as long as the workers are co-owners. Serbian bosses therefore use a simple tactic: they appoint management with no worker-shareholder representatives and use this absence of control to make bad business deals through which the company becomes indebted. Yet the trick is that the debts are to shell companies owned by the same person. When the factories go bankrupt, they can, as owner of the shell companies, rebuy them on the grounds of debts, this time with 100% of the shares.

The collective contract between union and management that protects the rights of workers in Serbia is cancelled when the company goes into bankruptcy. All workers are laid off and the union ceases to exist. When a former major owner regains the factory after bankruptcy there is no more collective contract and the owner chooses whom to re-employ. Any union that is reinstated will be under full control of the boss and his/her new management.

The fact that the main creditors of Bek and Shinvoz are the same people that privatised our factories and led them into bankruptcy through their mismanagement, is evidence of the reasons explained above.

After the workers-shareholders of Jugoremedija fought for their rights and showed all workers in Serbia how solidarity and persistence can be effective, the workers-shareholders of Bek and Shinvoz started the fight for their own factories. 

The occupation of Bek began on the October 8th and that of Shinvoz on December 28th 2007.

Through pressures on the Privatisation Agency to stop breaches of contracts and illegal activities in our factories, the privatisation contract was cancelled at Bek, thus returning 70% of capital back to the state. Although the government admitted that their tolerating of illegal activities contributed to Bek’s bankruptcy, it still refuses to take responsibility for it. The government also refuses to work with workers-shareholders towards the recovery of the factory, thus not protecting its 70% of capital, which, as public funds, belong to all Serbian citizens. 

In Shinvoz, the Privatisation Agency established that the majority owner breached both the privatisation contract and the law. Yet it didn’t cancel the contract with him. On the contrary he was awarded a delay of 15 days to «correct his errors» and to make the obligatory investments (3 years too late!) in the very corporation that he led to bankruptcy. 

On January15th, over 1000 worker-shareholders from both factories are going to Belgrade’s Union Hall. They will remain there until Shinvoz’s privatisation contract is cancelled and an agreement with the government is reached about how both companies can get out of bankruptcy.

We ask for you support in our struggle by appealing to the president of Serbia, Boris Tadic, as well as to the relevant government institutions. They must accept our demands and participate in the recovery of companies that are out of business today due to the illegal activities of their major owners and to the inefficiency of government institutions supposed to control the respect of the law and the privatisation contract.

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