A wave of public sector strikes has taken place in Slovenia since the beginning of the year. Teachers, nurses, and even the police and the secret service have gone on strike in the last couple of months.
The strike wave has taken place against a background of substantial economic growth over the past few years in Slovenia. This has resulted in the first budget surplus since the independence of Slovenia, in 1991, and a forecast of 5.1% growth for 2018 and 3.8% for 2019. The fact that workers are not benefiting from the positive economic development has fueled massive anger. As Jakob Pocivasek, the unions´ head of strike coordination, described the situation: “Although this is the fifth year of economic growth, some wage restrictions imposed in 2012 have not been lifted yet. It is time to scrap all restrictions and increase wages.”
With Public Administration Minister Boris Koprivnikar claiming that “if we increase the cost of labour in the public sector by one billion euros, we’ll break macroeconomic balances. As a society we cannot survive that,” the government is clearly showing no intention of giving workers their share of economic growth. The government want to secure Slovenia as a country with low labor costs.
To derail the strike movement and distract from other scandals, Prime Minister Miro Cerar was forced to resign and announce early elections. New elections are expected to take place in May or June 2018.
The current movement joins a series of important struggles and social movements over the last few years. There was a mass movement against corruption and austerity in 2012, student protests and occupations, the United Left entering parliament in 2014, as well as important strikes and industrial conflicts involving dock workers at Koper. There was also the struggle of the workers at the foreign owned transport company, Arriva, and the current struggle of miners at Velenje, Slovenia's last coal mine.
These struggles need to be linked up against the whole corrupt system that has not been able to deliver on behalf of the working class since the collapse of the former Yugoslavia.
The CWI stands in solidarity with all those resisting exploitation and oppression in Slovenia and the in the region, and will continue to support workers and young people in their struggles.
Below we carry an interview with a striking teacher:
Since the beginning of the year, a wave of strikes in the public sector has taken place in Slovenia. Who is striking and what are the reasons for these strikes?
The general demands of all the strikes have been a unified wage payment system, removing of wage anomalies caused by a law in 2012 (an 8% wage cut due to the crisis) and pay rise of 12 to 16%.
In addition, the education union demands higher valuation of class teachers' work. Classroom teachers currently get €1.5 per month for this really difficult and responsible work with children, teenagers and their parents.
The first “general” public strike this year was on January 24th. it was organized by a part of the public sector trade unions [involving 16 trade unions - public sector unions are not united, they are divided into two large groups), state administration, administration, financial administration, national TV and radio, parliament, AJPES (an institution gathering data and information on business), health care (but not doctors) and higher education all took part in the strike.
The first group to strike, on February 12th was the police union. Then on February 13th the union of employees in health and social care institutions struck, and on February 14th SVIZ (the fields of education, science, culture).
One of the main reasons for the strikes was the doctors’, but not nurses and other health care employees, pay rise in November 2017 (estimated up to 20%, but not for younger doctors, as well as a pay rise for school headmasters and public institution directors of up to 20%.
What has happened, so far? How many people have gone on strike? How is the mood amongst those on strike?
In the public sector strike in January there were 30,000 on strike. The police union led a strike of 9,000 employees on February 12th, and there were two strikes organized by the Education, Science and Culture Union on the 14th of February and the 14th of March, each involving 40,000 workers.
There have been demonstrations during most of the strikes, apart from the police and healthcare institutions and some others who cannot leave their workplaces.
The most massive demonstration was held in Ljubljana on February 14th with 20,000 people attending. On March 14th there were teachers’ demonstrations in 10 Slovenian cities, with approximately 15,000 people. The mood was very angry and there was a strong feeling of solidarity, but I can only speak for my union and the two demonstrations I took part in.
How are the strikes connected to the neoliberal policies that the government in Slovenia has implemented since the financial crisis?
Wages were cut in order to help the country during the crisis but now when things are getting better wages remain on the same level. It was said that those restrictions would last until the crisis was over but that is obviously not the case.
The economy in Slovenia is growing quite well. Do workers get their share?
In the public sector, no. Education, no as well.
The Prime Minister of Slovenia has resigned over the strike and scandals around an infrastructure project. New elections are going to take place before the summer. What do you think will they have in store for working people?
The Prime Minister has resigned but I don’t think the reason is strikes or infrastructure projects. I think that was a kind of maneuver to regain some points before the coming elections. The prime minister’s party has not had high ratings recently.
The general feeling in Slovenia is that we do not trust any pre-election promises. They may sound great but the next day real life is on stage. I personally don’t expect much for working people.But I am counting on all of our trade unions to continue with the activities and the struggle for workers' rights.