Serbian Gangster Capitalism

Owen Jones owen_jones at
Sat Oct 14 06:18:09 MDT 2000

 Extremely interesting article. I hope Louis and other like-minded comrades
will read it very carefully and perhaps reconsider their analysis of Serbia
as a form of workers' state faced with counterrevolution. Who are they going
to side with - workers seizing the means of production from corrupt gangster
capitalists, or the corrupt gangster capitalists?

 A sensible move in Serbia now would be to call an all-Yugoslav congress of
strike committees with delegates from each - or am I off in the clouds


Angry factory workers root out fear, favours and fat cats

Spirit of Serbian revolution reaches the shop floor
Jonathan Steele  in Belgrade
Friday October 13 2000
The Guardian

Two dozen workers were sitting at a long table in their factory's conference
room, discussing their strike demands. Tension hung in the air as
pervasively as the smoke of hundreds of cigarettes.

A senior official had drawn a gun on a group of workers elsewhere in the
administration building a few hours earlier. Upstairs the workers had posted
their own guards in the accountant's office. "We need to prevent documents
being removed," explained Predrag Jelic, a member of the hastily formed
crisis committee.

With a staff of around 3,000, Trudbenik is one of Serbia's biggest
construction companies. It has put up hotels in Belgrade, Baghdad and
Beijing. When scores of other firms across Serbia went on strike last week
to demand an end to Mr Milosevic's election fraud, Trudbenik carried on
working. Now it is in uproar.

"We have used this moment to gather our strength and raise our voice. This
is a political moment but our demands are not political," said Mr Jelic, a
man with long years of service in the company.

Yugoslavia's new president, Vojislav Kostunica, used the wave of strikes and
street blockades to help to topple Slobodan Milosevic last week. But now
that he has been sworn in as president, he has condemned the factory
occupations as vigorously as has Mr Milosevic's Socialist party.

Nebojsa Covic, who leads one of the parties in Mr Kostunica's coalition, the
Democratic Opposition of Serbia (Dos), has been visiting factories, urging
workers to get back to work and trust Dos to bring change.

The strike committee at Trudbenik is having none of it. "We don't need
political sup port, and we won't accept any demands for restraint from Covic
or anyone else from Dos," Mr Jelic stressed.

Their suspicions are the legacy of the hybrid system of communism and
unregulated capitalism that Mr Milosevic fostered. Everyone joined the
ruling party, whether they were managers or trade union leaders.

Political connections were vital not only for the company to get privileged
access to capital, licences and subsidies but also for every factory's
aspiring elite. Promotion was rare if you were not in the ruling party.

In the early 1990s, as a crude market economy and phoney privatisation
spread through eastern Europe, Mr Milosevic joined the bandwagon. He allowed
large companies to break into smaller units and fix their own commercial
contracts. Union leaders were as eager as managers to exploit the new chance
of riches.

"The trade union secretary practically ran this company," said Mr Jelic. "He
got rid of the last managing director in 1995 and chose the new one. Under
privatisation the trade union secretary formed a company called Sind which
built upper-income flats in Belgrade.

"They won their workers' loyalty by paying them DM5 (£1.50) an hour,
while other workers here get DM100 (£30) for a whole month," he added.

The trade union leader also decided who was laid off with so-called holiday
pay in the long periods when there were not enough orders. Instead of
rotating the layoffs, he used the system to punish workers he did not like.
The union also   kept control of the flats given by the state solidarity
board and intended for needy families. It sold some and kept others for its

It was not cronyism by a handful of people at the top but a system of fear
and favours which benefited hundreds of factory and party officials. No
wonder the crisis committee's demands include the sacking of the managing
director, the entire board of directors and the trade union leadership.

Now that Yugoslavia is about to reopen to foreign trade with the lifting of
sanctions, the country's economy should start to grow.

A lot of money will be made, and the strike committee wants to be sure that
the new rulers from Dos do not just reproduce the old system by imposing
so-called democrats on factories.

They have suffered too much from opportunism in the past. The same Mr Covic,
who has become Dos's troubleshooter in urging workers to end the factory
seizures, was the Socialist mayor of Belgrade and the third most senior man
in Mr Milosevic's party until he switched sides in 1996. Yet during these
past four years of "opposition" he has been able to remain managing director
of a profitable company making tin cans.

To prevent another round of musical chairs, the strike committee at
Trudbenik wants a proper system of accountability in the company, credible
financial public accounts and no further role for party politics in factory
appointments. It will not just blindly put its faith in Dos.

Mr Jelic was finishing his explanation when the door burst open and a
red-faced man stormed in.

"It's Dusan Djuraskovic, the managing director. He told us yesterday he
would be on a business trip today," Mr Jelic explained while we watched in
astonishment as he made his way to the head of the table, shouting all the
way. He was too worked up to notice or mind the presence of foreign

"No provocations, please. I'm here and I want peace and dignity," he
bellowed, his anger undermining his presumably prepared opening words of

Then he launched a tirade of promises and threats, constantly pounding the

"I don't recognise your crisis committee. But I'll sign your request for my
resignation. Call the police. Call whomever you like. I'm ready to go
because I want peace and quiet, and for the sake of my family.

"We're so close to killing each other here. It needs just a little thing to
set if off. You can see all the company's papers. There's nothing to hide.
Sue me if you want to. But if I leave here, the company will lose. I'm
running it well."

He took a blank piece of paper, and signed it. "Fill in whatever you like,"
he shouted. As the tirade went on, workers started to whisper. "He must be
drunk. He had to work up his courage somehow," one surmised.

"Excuse me, who invited you here?" a worker shouted. That piece of lip set
off a new torrent of words ending with the managing director's final threat:
"I'll go off and see Covic tomorrow, and the other Dos leaders."

"All right," someone shouted. "We'll be here in the building all night and
we'll have reinforcements tomorrow from all the rest of the company's

"And don't use your company car any more," another voice chipped in as Mr
Djuraskovic stormed out of the room as furiously as he had come in.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

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