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Workers must raise their own demands

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Issue 1717


Workers must raise their own demands

A GENERAL strike swept across Serbia on Monday as the opposition to Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic gathered a new momentum.

Milosevic was defying calls to concede outright defeat to his rival Vojislav Kostunica in the first round of elections for the presidency.

Milosevic was forced to accept that Kostunica won more votes than him, but denies that the opposition won over 50 percent of the vote. The strike came after mass rallies in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, and in other cities, calling on Milosevic to go.

The movement against Milosevic has brought years of suffering from economic collapse to a head. Some 7,500 miners struck at the giant Kolubera opencast mine, 40 miles south of Belgrade, on Monday.

Dragan Pantic, a 41 year old miner there, pointed to his worn out shoes and told journalists, “We are not going to give up. Look at what I’ve got after 19 years here.”

He earns about 100 a month.

Western economic sanctions have increased ordinary people’s suffering, while businessmen, state officials and the bosses of nationalised industries have emerged unscathed.

The tens of thousands of people who have taken to the streets since the election two weeks ago are not pro-NATO. Ordinary people who hate the corruption and chauvinism of the Milosevic regime also opposed the NATO bombing of Serbia, which destroyed bridges, power stations, hospitals and other infrastructure, and murdered civilians.

Kostunica and the 18-party opposition movement which he leads have also condemned NATO. But his programme for change is limited to removing Milosevic and his clique from office.

Bitterness at unpaid wages and austerity is fuelling Kostunica’s campaign. However, he is committed to the kind of free market policies which have been a disaster in Eastern Europe over the last decade.

Kostunica calls for “a modern economic ideology for the Yugoslav economy”, “balancing the budget”, “mandatory privatisation”, public spending cuts and higher taxes on workers through the introduction of VAT.

There is a gulf between the aspirations of those who are taking to the streets and striking in Serbia and the economic policies on offer from Kostunica.

Some radical opponents of Milosevic also remember that in 1991 and in 1996 there were sustained mass protests against the regime but Milosevic still held on to power.

He was able to withstand mass demonstrations because they did not start to challenge the loyalty of rank and file troops or fight for economic power in the factories and workplaces.

Sanja Horowic, a lawyer in the province of Vojvodina, told journalists, “The opposition doesn’t look strong enough in itself or eager to take anything other than Ghandi-like attitudes. And that’s not enough.”

Milosevic hoped to split the opposition by calling a second round of elections for Sunday of this week. But the movement against Milosevic has the potential to defeat him and win even more.

Whether or not it succeeds depends on whether the strikes and protests deepen and put workers’ demands at their centre.

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