Conference: ''Social struggles in Serbia: future of workers-peasants movement''

On the day of 22nd December, conference Social struggles in Serbia: future of workers-peasants movement took place in Media center in Belgrade, where gathered the representatives of workers and peasants organizations that collaborate with Freedom Fight movement (Pokret za slobodu) in the struggle for preserving enterprises and agriculture. During the conference, first were presented two platforms which had been adopted after a number of discussions which members of Freedom Fight movement had led with workers and peasants groups and organizations. Freedom Fight movement is organization that works on advancement of workers and peasants associations and tries to facilitate alliance of actors of various social struggles in order to create the basis for wider mutual solidarity and support.

During the conference, first were presented two platforms which had been adopted after a number of discussions which members of Freedom Fight movement had led with workers and peasants groups and organizations. One platform was workers’, the other peasants’.

Workers’ platform was presented by Ljubica Stjepanović-Muhić from Coordinating Committee of Workers Organizations, who works for Prosveta publishing house.

In 2009 Freedom Fight movement established Coordinating Committee in order to connect workers groups and strike committees on equal basis for united support and exchange of information and experience. In the moment of creation, Coordinating Committee consisted of larger number of strike committees such as strike committees of Zastava elektro from Rača, Ravanica from Ćuprija, Šinvoz from Zrenjanin, Vršački vinogradi from Vršac, Srbolek and Trudbenik gradnja from Belgrade, Sever from Subotica, etc. However, today Coordinating Committee consists mainly of local workers organizations which arose out of workers protests, such as Association Solidarnost from Subotica, Association Ravnopravnost from Zrenjanin, Građansko-sindikalni front from Vršac, workers representatives from individual enterprises, etc.

„In Serbian privatization great errors were made; those errors are of systemic character, not isolated incidents, and the way in which privatization is carried out must be radically revised. Authorities, however, take no action to determine responsibility for breaking the law and causing damage to the firms, not even in enterprises in which contracts were broken. Instead of revising the wrong policy, they persist in application of model which proved to be disastrous to the economy and to the whole of society“, said Ljubica Stjepanović-Muhić. She said that Coordinating Committee supports decentralization of decision-making in economy and in privatization, and that for carrying out decentralization it is necessary to acknowledge previous experiences of Serbian workers and small shareholders in their struggle against theft in privatization, for survival of their enterprises, jobs and assets.

 „There is still a large number of enterprises in Serbia which haven’t been privatized, as well as those in which privatization contracts were broken, but which have good prospects. If their privatization proceeds under current model, their chances for survival will be as good as they coincide with interests of dirty money, speculators, importers lobby, and similar structures which constitute ’economic elite’ in Serbia. In other words, their chances are almost none if process of privatization in future won’t rely on interests of those who depend on them – of workers and small shareholders“, stands in the platform of workers-peasants movement.

Peasants’ platform was presented by Miroslav Grubanov from Association Paori from Crepaja. He said that Freedom Fight movement supports systemic reform of agricultural sector so as the possibilities of production could be advanced and social condition of agricultural producers improved. „Participation of peasants and workers in making decisions about future of our country is the goal for which we gather numerous workers’, peasants’, and other groups around our movement. Till now, we’ve had to make authorities listen to us by organizing strikes and protests, after all previous appeals to the institutions had been discarded. We’ll try to further develop the strategy for finding a way out of this situation in which farmers are every year forced to blockade the roads in order to improve their economic condition, the situation in which everybody promises milk and honey for agriculture before the election, but forgets all about it after the election“, said Grubanov.

Ivan Zlatić from Freedom Fight movement, secretary of the Council For Struggle Against Corruption, journalist and author of documentaries about workers protests in Serbia, said that presented platforms resulted from direct experiences of workers and peasants organizations and from their activities in overcoming problems and obstacles posited by financial as well as political elite. One of the demands stated in workers’ platform was that the responsibility for Serbian state property in remaining unprivatized enterprises should be divested from Agency for Privatization and assigned to local home rules, so that the process of privatization in future could achieve at least a minimum of democracy – but also that towns and communes should be provided with capacities for execution of these jurisdictions, meaning that central authorities shouldn’t make them obstacles, lest it happen that local self-governments instead of real jurisdictions in privatization should actually get just a bunch of problems which they can’t deal with.

In November, Freedom Fight movement joined at that time launched International Alliance against Land Grabbing, established by international peasants movement Via Campesina, which Aco Popadić, sociologist and editor of internet magazine Kontrapunkt (magazine concerned with activities of national social movements), talked about. “Land grabbing is a worldwide phenomenon of unprecedented size and speed. In Mali, over the last few years, the government has leased more than 800 000 hectares of arable land to investors, on 30-year, renewable contracts. It is estimated that in the whole of Africa, more than 30 million hectares have been sold or rented. The figure is 60 to 80 million hectares for the whole world, but, given the secret, sometimes illegal, nature of the contracts, this figure is only the visible tip of the iceberg. Some people describe these land grabs as “investments”, but in reality, they are nothing short of theft. It is also a violation of peasants’ rights. In these land grabs, small-scale producers, breeders, indigenous peoples - women and men- are robbed of their heritage and means of subsistence. Peasants and small farmers who defend themselves and their vital interests are beaten, imprisoned, and even killed”, reads in presented platform.

Meeting was supported by Branislav Gulan, associate of Serbian Chamber of Economy and member of Board for Village of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. He called attention to tycoons’ sudden alleged recognition of importance of agriculture, when in fact the main reason for their buying land is to sell it to the foreign corporations as soon as possible.

Workers of Srbolek and Jugoremedija talked about coupling of the state, tycoons and importers lobby. The oldest pharmaceutical company Srbolek went bankrupt and its assets are on sale. Patients can’t acquire a number of medications produced by that company, or they are forced to buy more expensive, imported drugs. Jugoremedija is under constant stroke of rigged affairs, whose purpose is to destabilize workers-shareholders management of the firm, said Branislav Markuš from Zrenjanin Association Ravnopravnost.

Jelena Veljić from student collective Odbrani filozofski talked about possibilities for students to use the knowledge they obtain at college to support activities of workers-peasants movement.

During next week, the platforms of workers-peasants Freedom Fight movement will be presented by local workers organizations in other Serbian cities.

Conference was supported by Foundation Roza Luksemburg.

Recording from conference can be seen HERE and HERE.






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