Strikers win biggest wage increase in 15 years!

Three weeks of strike action, with countless rallies and protests, have ended with a victory for workers at the car-maker Dacia plant in Romania. The workers won a wage increase of 300 Lei a month (around 90 euros) backdated to January 2008. Next September they will receive another wage increase of 60 Lei. The workers also won the right to an extra month of pay at the end of the year (a ‘13th month’). This tremendous victory represents the biggest wage increase for Romanian workers in the last 15 years. The average wage of Dacia workers will go up by 450 Lei a month. The bosses of Dacia, a Romanian subsidiary of Renault, originally offered only 112 Lei. The workers started their struggle demanding an increase of 550 Leai, an annual bonus and higher Easter and Christmas bonuses. These demands were not met by the management. Nevertheless, the success of the strike at Dacia has motivated workers in other industries and will have a knock on effect.

ArcelorMittal workers on strike

On 14 April, 14,000 workers of the steel company ArcelorMittal, in Galati, also went on indefinite strike for higher wages. The management offered them a 12% wage increase; the workers demanded three times as much. Last Monday, they organised a rally at the factory gates. The workers were inspired by the success at Dacia and used the same slogans. Workers at Koyo, a Japanese owned tire factory, in Alexandria, started to prepare for strike action.

The spread of strike action for better wages is scaring the foreign investors in Romania. Management in Dacia were eager to downplay the effects of the strike while it was still on. Now that a deal has been reached they cannot stop lamenting the consequences.  

The strike cost management at least 13 billion euro (some experts put the figure higher, at 50 billion). The agreement with the strikers will cost the company 1.6 billion euro, a month. However, there is no reason to pity management, owners or shareholders. Dacia sold 17.4% more cars in 2007, compared to the year before. The first two months of this year saw sales rising by 62%.

Romania is a paradise for foreign capitalist investors. They benefit from the second lowest wages in Europe and a 16% flat rate of tax. The Financial Times (15/04/08) expressed the concerns of the Western multinationals, when they compared the prospects of wage rises in Eastern Europe to earlier developments in countries like Spain.

“A similar pattern seems to be spreading in Eastern Europe. If it took roughly 20 years for the low cost cycle to run its course in Spain; the current one looks like it will lost only 10 years in Eastern Europe. Companies may need to search even further a-field for long term solutions to their costs”.

In other words, capitalism offers no long-term solution to workers. As soon as workers fight for a decent wage, the bosses threaten to move production in search of lower wages and higher profits.

This approach by the bosses fuelled the anger of Romanian workers during the last weeks. A spokesperson for the car workers’ trade union declared: “They said we would be members of the European Union but the only thing that reminds us of the Europe Union at the moment are the high prices for goods”. 

“One hot meal a day for the workers”

The Dacia managers pat themselves on the back with their ‘philanthropy’ for their employees. They are proud to announce that they are offering one free hot meal a day for the workforce. But the factory workers do not want charity. Maria, who has worked for 25 years at Dacia, explained to the French newspaper Autojournal: “What good is a warm lunch to us when we don’t have anything to offer to our children for dinner”. Another worker, Gheorge Gheorghu, a 40 year old financially forced to live with his parents, declared: “I take the bus to work because petrol is too expensive. We thought the collapse of Stalinism would grant us living standards of a European level”. Generally, the feeling dominates that the reintroduction of capitalism cast the people of Romania from the frying pan into the fire.

The Dacia strike was not only important for the concessions extracted from the French car owners. It has also showed that workers from different countries are no longer prepared to be played off against each other. Ion Diamcomescu, who has been at Dacia for 24 years, and has a second job as a window fitter to supplement his income to feed his family, explained to a journalist from the French newspaper Le Monde “It was important for us to hear what a French worker at Renault earns. It is not acceptable that in Europe different wages are paid for the same work”.

Most of the workers see the outcome of the strike as a victory. This is expressed in the many comments that have been appearing on countless website blogs created during the strike. Nicu Oprea, another car plant worker, was quoted in the French newspaper Liberation: “Every evening [during the strike] I was asking myself how I could face this and how to pay my bills. And then, you have seen it, we won! This is the highest wage increase which has been won by workers in Romania for the last 15 years”.

A better agreement would have been possible if the workers had continued the strike. Workers consider this victory as a first stage in their fight to get a decent living wage. The trade union secretary has already announced that at the beginning of 2009 new negotiations will take place with management.

The provocations of the bosses continue. They demand that workers work extra shifts on Saturday and Sunday to catch up with production lost during the strike. Management is demanding that five days of holidays, scheduled in April because of the Orthodox Easter, are cancelled.

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