Shipyard workers in the Croatian port cities of Pula and Rijeka started their strike action on 22 August. These militant workers are demanding the immediate payment of wage arrears. But they don’t stop there. After years of frustration and distrust, they have demanded that the management steps down.
Uljanik is the largest ship-building company in Croatia owning the shipyards in Pula and Rijeka, employing about 4,500 workers. The Pula plant was partly privatised around five years ago. Although the state and workers maintain some control of the plant, workers’ conditions have deteriorated since the privatisation process began. The European Union is an obstacle to state intervention to improve wages and conditions. In fact the EU is pushing for the complete privatisation of the shipyards across Croatia, as part of the accession to the EU Croatia had to privatise four of its shipyards.
One of the largest workplaces in the country will be lost if full privatisation takes place. Including component suppliers this would lead to a loss of up to 10, 000 workplaces. Workers fear that this place may be turned into part of the tourism industry, replacing well-paid jobs with low-paid, precarious jobs. Workers believe that the current management is aiming to sell the place, or change it altogether through a so-called “restructuring plan”- rather than aiming to improve production. Hence their key demand is for the management to step down.
On the first day hundreds of workers gathered outside the gates of Uljanik. The plant was shut down as the majority of workers participated in the strike. The unions representing the workers were put under intense pressure to articulate the demands of the workers but showed themselves unequal to the task. So having lost trust in some of the union leaders, the workers formed an unofficial strike committee to lead the fight against the management. Due to the workers’ militancy, union officials were forced to say that the shipyard board will replace the management if the workers’ demands are not met.
Around mid-day on 27th the workers decided to march to the city council and across the city to highlight their demands. No one from the city council came out to speak to the workers. However the march made clear how much support the strike had in the city as all the workers in the shops and other places came out to greet them. Every car driver honked their horns in support. The shipyard is a central workplace for the city and everyone has some connection to the workers there.
Since then, the strike is continuing and there have been several demonstrations in Pula as well as a demonstration in front of government headquarters in Zagreb, with over 1,000 workers participating. The pressure from below has now forced the government to guarantee that the wages will be paid and the present management has agreed to step down. This is a tremendous result achieved through powerful action.
But there is a general understanding that this is only the beginning of the struggle to keep the shipyard open and improve conditions. The workers are up against the EU directives and the corrupt Croatian government and private investors whose sole aim is to milk more profits. There is also an understanding that the defence of the Pula shipyard is in many ways a defence of the city.
We call on all trade unions, union fighters, activists to send solidarity messages to the strike committee and build support for their struggle in any way you can.
Please send copies to:
• The immediate payment of all unpaid wages
• Release state subsidies to improve workers’ conditions regardless of EU directives
• Open the books of the Uljanik Group and all of its big business investors like Danko Končar for the workers to identify the financial situation of the shipyards
• Strategy and programme for the operation of the yard to be under the workers‘ control
• Removal of the current management. Establish workers’ control and management to run the shipyard in the interests of the workers and city inhabitants – not the bosses and the billionaires