A daily newspaper in Romania, Adevarul, reported on a recent strike by Dacia Renault factory workers announcing the end of the myth that Romanian workers "come cheap".
The local trade union in reported that more than 80% of the 13,000 strong workforce in the Dacia factory in Pitest (a town in Southern Romania) went out on strike from 7 am, last Monday. The main demand of the workers, who are currently earning about 285 euros a month, is for a wage increase of 60%. "We work the same hours as in France but we are paid peanuts", said one worker. The trade union declared that it is time "to fight for wages like in France".
Renault, the French owned carmaker, bought Dacia, in 1999, and has produced the Logan car in Romania since 1999. Of course, even if Romanian workers got the wage increases they demand, they will still earn less then French workers (a worker at Renault in France earns an average wage of 2,200 euros pre-tax). Nevertheless, the demand "to fight for wages like in France" is very important, as it is an attempt to overcome the division between workers in different countries. One of the main slogans at rally held by the workers, on Thursday 27 March, in Mioveny city, was "Unitate" (Unity).
The Renault management reacted very angrily to the strike. They tried to get it banned by the courts and the legal case is still to be decided. The trade union was able to get postponed any decision by the courts until the 2 April. In a letter to a newspaper, ’Evenimentul Zilei’, the general director of Dacia, François Fourmont, threatened the striking workers with the closure of their factory. Fourmont wrote on the wage demands, "Those demands can endanger the future of the factory, taken into account that before 2010 Renault factories in Marocco, India and Russia will be operating and are capable of producing the Logan".
The threat to move production to countries with even lower living standards is one which workers in Western Europe know very well. During the last few months, big Western corporations moved parts of their production to Romania or threatened to do so. The American car manufacturer, Fords, recently bought the former Daewoo factory in Craiova and Nokia, the mobile phone producer, has plans to close its plant in Bochum, Germany, and to open a new plant in Cluj Napoca, Romania.
Romania - a paradise for bosses?
Companies are blackmailing their workers in France and Germany with threats of relocating to countries like Romania, where the costs of production are lower. There first aim it to get workers in Germany and France to accept lower wages or longer working hours.
The Romanian government, and the Romanian taxpayer, does not get a new multinational factory for free. For the planned Nokia factory, the Romanian state, and the district of Cluj, spent about 33 million euro.
Gas, electricity and water connections have been installed on the isolated factory grounds and the local authorities even built a railroad from the village to the factory! There are also poor working conditions. At Romsteel Cord (a subsidiary of Michelin, another French multinational) Romanian workers are fighting against unpaid overtime, a ban to take their holidays and ’trial periods’ of up to 18 months. Romanian workers in the new Nokia factory will earn 7 to 8 times less than their colleagues in Germany.
However, the increased cost of living in Romania, together with the low wages, has already had the effect that whoever can afford to do so is leaving Romania. Four million Romanians, or 20% of the population, already work abroad, although it is very difficult to get a work permit. Economic experts warn that Romania’s capitalists are threatened with a shortage of labour. Employers have started to import workers from even poorer countries like Moldavia and China to work in Romanian factories. In February 2007, 400 Chinese textile workers in Bacau, in Northeast Romania, went on strike. The Moldavian government published a report this week stating that 75,000 Moldavian children grow up as ’virtual orphans’ because their parents are working abroad.
"A strike is not ballet!"
The anger and the self-confidence of workers in Romania are growing. Dacia Renault factory made record profits in 2007, up 17% on the year before, and now the workers want to get their share. "We aren’t a French colony," said an angry worker to the Romanian Press Agency Rompres. The Renault factory workers produce a car every 52 minutes, but profits taken out of Romania for the profit of bosses in France. The rising cost of living means that it has become very hard for workers to feed their families. Some staple foods, like milk or meat, are even more expensive than in France or Germany. The price for cooking oil, for example, almost doubled and went up by 44.1%. The price of bread increased by 13.27 %, over the last year.
The low level of unemployment (because of so many Romanians working abroad!) has boosted the self-confidence of the workers. The newspaper, Cotidianul, expressed the fears of the bosses: "The golden age of privileges for the multinationals is over; the lack of workforce has started to build a new dictatorship of the proletariat".
Four days of strike have put enormous pressure on the bosses. According to the unions, the strike has cut the production of 1,300 cars a day. The media are speaking about losses as high as 10 million euro, for each day of strike action. The employers reacted by improving their previous offer of an increase in wages from 12% to 16.7%. The workers turned the offer down. On demonstrations, they chanted, "Mafia", "thieves" and "We are here to stay".
Ariel Ungureanu, an adviser at Barnett McCall Recruitment, referring to a planned investment by the American car manufacturer Ford: "The American group which at the moment is planning its investment in Romania will now think, of course, that its workers will, in the course of the next two years, demand wage increases of 70 per cent".
His prediction might not be so wrong if the workers of Dacia are successful. This will lead workers in other factories to follow their example. At a workers’ rally on the fourth day of the strike, workers from Avione Craiova, Posta Romana, as well as from the new Ford factory in Craiova, were present. In total, 1,500 workers from other factories came to Mioveni to express their solidarity. Representatives of the French trade unions were present and the Renault workers in France voted a solidarity motion.
A spokesperson from the shop stewards committee at Dacia declared (to the Romanian news agency Rompres) that he expects the conflict to radicalise over the next days: "A strike is not ballet, the workers can use clear language. Perhaps not at the first day, but it’s possible to do so during the next days. People know that they can only gain their rights through strikes and are ready to protest several days."
The strike by Dacia car workers, and their demand for higher wages, like the strikes taking place in France, could be the first step to stop the downward spiral of wages through relocation to Romania. Particularly in an international enterprise like Renault, international solidarity and joint demands and action are vital.
Workers across Europe should learn from the example of Dacia. If the company tries to make up for lost production by organising extra shifts in the other Renault plants, workers have to refuse to engage in this strike-breaking activity. If big corporations try to play off workers from different countries against each other, with threats of dislocation, reduction of jobs or starvation wages, there is only one effective answer: the transfer of the enterprise into public ownership, under democratic workers’ control.