Reclaiming the factory: a story from Bosnia (opendemocracy)

tuzla                                Workers on break in Tuzla, Bosnia. Flickr/Kingmoor Klickr.

by Andjela Pepic. 15 June 2015

Privatisation processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina from the 1990s onwards have gradually transferred ownership and power from the socialist state to private entrepreneurs. As elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world, this process, in most cases, was accompanied by a large number of lay-offs. Company assets floated in the market and were bought and sold at unusually low prices, dismantling large factories and industrial giants of former Yugoslavia.

Financialisation/globalisation became embedded in Bosnia especially in the wake of the Dayton Accords. The workers, who were once deemed to be the owners of the enterprise, overnight became proletarians, deprived of fundamental rights and any form of possession over the production process. This was pretty much the case across the entire East-Central Europe, although the case of Yugoslav socialism was different, as the workers, through the self-management system, had had a much more direct control of the means and objects of their production units than anywhere else in the so-called countries of “really-existing socialism”.

Yugoslavia’s dissolution and transition to free market capitalism was also different in that it set in motion a bizarre process of primitive ethno-accumulation, i.e. primitive accumulation on the basis of ethnocratic-conflictual lines. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a typical example.

Among the many examples of the negative effects of privatisation processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, one that was under the media spotlight in the past two years, is the case of “Dita” detergents factory from Tuzla, an industrial city in the central part of North-East Bosnia. The factory was privatised in two rounds (2001 and 2005) and become part of retail chain, “Lora”, from Sarajevo, who owned the majority of shares. The privatisation of “Dita” resulted in more than 20 million Euros in debt for the enterprise and over 20 wages being unpaid, affecting a four-year retirement plan, also due.

In the end, this led to the official bankruptcy of the enterprise. A series of workers’ strikes ensued in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The 2014 February protests started as joint protests of workers from several factories and enterprises in Tuzla (Dita, Konjuh, Aida) requesting the government of the Tuzla Canton to resolve the outstanding issues and waive the blame attributed to workers. The workers claimed that the cause of the crisis was and is the privatisation process and irresponsible management. These protests turned out to be the trigger for wider social protests in several cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In early 2015, the Tuzla Canton government decided to revise the privatisation process of several enterprises, including “Dita”, starting an orderly bankruptcy procedure in view of enabling the creditors to get their money back while creating possibilities for re-launching and reviving production. The problem with the bankruptcy procedure (according to the existing legal framework) is that the workers are the last in the list of priorities: the “investors” and bureaucratic agencies will have to be paid first, and whatever is left over would go to the unpaid wages, pensions etc.

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