FRI, 02 MAY 1997 22:38:25 GMTTrade Union on the Eve of the First of May
The former custom to quickly find means to put out fires started by workers' discontent has been interrupted. There is simply no money to interrupt social unrest any more. Montenegrin Trade Union is organizing a protest gathering on the occasion of the First of May
AIM Podgorica, 24 April, 1997
After the possibility of introduction of the "perper", as the independent Montenegrin monetary unit, had been announced due to inflationary pressures coming from Serbia, monetary discipline was introduced in the federal state and Serbia. During the first two months of this year, the National Bank of Yugoslavia reduced the total money supply by 620 million dinars. In the end of March there were only two billion 336 million dinars in circulation. The amount of cash was also reduced: 433 million dinars of cash was withdrawn, so its share in the total money supply is about 48 per cent. The key economic problem nowadays is the shortage of money, which is also reflected through the drop of value of foreign currency on the black market. There is simply no money. Entrepreneurs are increasingly reducing trade to barter, and it is almost impossible to follow the trail of numerous contracts on cession, so the inflationary pressure is comparatively low. But economic experts warn that social discontent may exert a new significant pressure on primary issue, and by defnition this is what creates inflation.
Restrictive monetary policy cannot offer a response to the question of liquidity. Unmet commitments of illiquid firms amount to over seven billion dinars (more than the total money supply), and when debts of those who are illiquid are added to it, than the total internal debt in the country rises to over ten billion dinars. This makes the problem of public expenditures even more complicated. As an example, in Montenegro, the total of 222 million dinars was collected in December for public expenditures, while in January it was reduced to only 170 million, and in February raised just symbolically to 182 million dinars. It is obvious that delays in payments of pensions, salaries of the employees in non-productive branches of the economy and social welfare, which Serbia has been facing for a long time, will continue to increase. After all, the economists warn, social pressures and fear of social riots will sooner or later force the authorities to change their monetary policy. The announcement of the "perper" has, therefore, only temporarily interrupted the logical and the only possible economic and monetary trends in the country which is under the outer wall of sanctions and with the economy in recession.
"We are demanding that all political barriers which prevent Montenegro and Yugoslavia from joining world financial institutions be immediately removed". This demand made at the latest, extraordinary session of the republican council of the trade union, and the overall activity of Montenegrin trade union, was sufficient foundation for many observers to reach a conclusion about closeness of the commitment to reform of the Government and the trade union. The question whose side the workers will take in current conflicts within the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) is heard more and more often.
The workers have decided to speak out about their misery. It is difficult to list all the enterprises where workers are on strike every day. At the moment, the most topical are strikes in Pljevlje where about 150 foresters have been occupying the administration building for a week, and the end of the strike of employees of Velimir Jakic enterprise is not in sight. Workers of all three plants of Niksic steel works are also on strike. The next step is probably a general strike of all Niksic metallurgists, and the Director General Vojo Djukanovic, despite all the posts he has overtaken, is not capable to stop and pacify the workers' rebellion. (Apart from the director's post at the steel works, Djukanovic is also the vice prime minister of the federal Government, President of the Montenegrin Chamber of Commerce and, at least until the next session, a deputy in the Montenegrin parliament). The general strike of 19 enterprises gathered into the holding system called Radoje Dakic, was interrupted after the talks with Prime Minister Djukanovic and his promise of financial support to start-up of production in Radoje Dakic, as well as agreement with the demands of the workers that the current management assume responsibility.
This is not the end of the story on strikes. Many minor enterprises all around Montenegro did not work in the month of March: Rudes and Breznik in Berane, machine-building factory Gradjevinar in Pljevlje which is part of Radoje Dakic, salt-works from Ucinj, Termovent from Andrijevica, electric-motor factory from Obod, Marko Radovic from Podgorica, Dekor and Kristal in Rozaje, etc. It is almost impossible to tell whether an enterprise is not working because it has lost its market, has no raw-material or production materials, or because it is on strike. Most commonly the reason is a mixture of all these problems accompanied by current misunderstandings about the program of transformation, which all together symbolize bankruptcy which a big portion of the former socially-owned and self-managing economy has gone into.
Hardly anybody takes the strikes in industries seriously. Workers are politically divided, sent off on forced leave, in fear of lists of those who are surplus labour, former big industries have been fragmentized, and often the first victims of the workers' rebellion are managements of their trade union organizations. Although the authorities had in time protected themselves by rules of the so-called minimum process of work in fields financed from the budget (which in fact deprive these workers of the right to strike), they are making a big effort to prevent social instability in the budgetary domain by introducing additional methods.
The former custom to quickly find means for putting out fires started by workers' discontent was suddenly interrupted. There simply is no money which anyone can "create" out of nowhere for interruption of social unrest. It is clear to everybody that money which cannot be found in the country, must be sought abroad. That is the only way how new jobs can be opened, and revival of production and improvement of the standard of living expected. The Montenegrin trade union is also aware of it. That is why the key demand from the last extraordinary session of the headquarters of the trade union was the one from the beginning of this text.
The Montenegrin model of privatization has not even started yet (so far it has been nothing but transformation on paper), and the political blockade of the country and the outer wall of sanctions are threatening to interrupt it completely. Many foreign investors, who toured Montenegro before the election theft in Serbia, with the intention to buy enterprises, were raising hopes about the possibility of a comparatively quick modernization of production, or more precisely appearance of Montenegrin economy into the world market. This was a significant pre-election trump card of the DPS. (Accusations that Prime Minister Djukanovic has changed the election program of this paerty on his own are just partially true in this sense. The support the Montenegrin President of the Republic offers to Milosevic destroys chances of Montenegro to attract foreign capital and set economic development in motion, which could be considered to be a change of the optimistic pre-election program). All things considered, not a single foreigner has so far (at least legally) invested money in Montenegrin entrprises. Funds have managed to sell to domestic buyers only 54 minor enterprises (on credit) which employ about four thousand workers.
The Montenegrin trade union will organize a central protest gathering on the First of May, which will, according to some, further complicate the political circumstances of a chaotic vicious circle which economic and social life in the republic was trapped into. Among the trade unionists there are quite a few supporters of the threat with the demand of early elections.
This brings us to the current conflict in the DPS (which in fact can be presented in a simplified manner as the expression of a central conflict in the political life of Montenegro) and its encounter with the latest social offensive of the trade union scheduled for the First of May. The workers themselves will give their answer to the challenge of the First of May and the call of the trade union.
Dragan DURIC (AIM) Podgorica