"They want to starve us out,"
The solidarity campaign with the ZOO Papier workers in Ruzomberok is reaching an important stage. Today, a meeting between management and workers is planned. This is the first official meeting since Austrian management sacked 14 workers because they organised a new union.
Please sign the online petition to support the struggle in Slovakia at http://www.petitiononline.com/zoopmond/petition.html
Austrian multinational bets on time against Slovakian workers.
Half a year ago Mondi BP, the Austrian paper producing multinational formerly known as Neusiedler, sacked 14 workers from their paper mill in Ružomberok, Slovakia. They were made redundant for launching a petition in the factory demanding higher wages after the official trade union, ZO OZ Drevo, continued to ignore the demands of the majority of the workers at the plant. The workers from Mondi BP decided to form a new trade union, ZOO Papier, so that there struggle could be officially recognised.
Neusiedler management responded to these developments by sacking all the workers it suspected of being involved with the attempts to launch the new trade union. It also started several court cases against the ZOO Papier leaders.
Half a year later, none of the court cases is even near to reaching a conclusion. Mondi management refuses to recognise the new union even though it is obliged to do so by Slovakian law. They are hoping that now the sacked workers have lost their entitlement to unemployment benefit (as a result of the fierce neo-liberal ‘counter-reform’ of the Slovak government) they will have to give up their struggle. These workers have gone through hard time supporting their family on poverty benefits, barely enough to pay the rent, send children to school and feed their families. The international solidarity campaign set up by ZOO Papier leaders, which the CWI is involved in, has succeeded in putting tremendous pressure on the management of Mondi BP but is only just beginning to collect money to sustain the struggle.
When I asked Jozef Krncan, one of the ZOO Papier leaders, whether support for the new trade union is still solid in the factory he does not hesitate: "You bet! Although the threat of redundancies, company terror in the workplace and legal uncertainty forces people to be careful about showing public support for ZOO Papier. Once we have fought our way back into the factory everything will be different. This is a fact Mondi and the old trade unions are aware of and why they want to prolong all legal proceedings as long as possible".
While we where talking one of the paper mill workers stops us to ask about the latest developments, and in doing so provide us with instant evidence of the support for the new trade union amongst the workers.
Broadening the struggle
"Groups of workers from other workplaces are asking us to help them with their problems. We are thinking about setting up a committee to prepare for the launch of a city-wide trade union organisation, so we can work with them," adds vice-chairman Jozef Danis.
None of the members of ZOO Papier can understand why a company like Mondi BP can openly break the labour law for half a year with attracting any attention from the courts or from the authorities. One of the workers offers us his explanation: "It is easy – when Neusiedler bought our paper mill they bought the whole city with it. Everything depends on them". What happened to Jozef Krncan recently proves the influence Mondi has in the region. After he was sacked in the Mondi paper mill for organising the petition he found a new job as a skilled worker in a local textile printing company only to be dismissed again, allegedly after pressure from the Mondi management on his new employers.
"We know that they will ensure that none of us will get job in this region. But we are intending to finish what we started" states a determined Krncan. "We have to thank to all our supporters who wrote protest letters and made sure attention was given to this case internationally. This has really annoyed the company management."
Building links with Austrian workers
ZOO Papier members have tried to reach out to Austrian workers and their trade unions to support them in their struggle against Mondi management. With the help of SLP members, the CWI section in Austria, they visited the Mondi factory in Hausmening to talk and discuss with workers. The Austrian trade unions have links with the management friendly trade union in Slovakia and could put a lot of pressure on Mondi management if they would recognise ZOO Papier and force management to do the same
One of the workers expressed it like this: "People here do not understand why trade unions in other Mondi factories, especially in Western Europe, support the management friendly and corrupt Slovak trade union. Everybody can count: from the moment Mondi bought and modernized the paper factory in Ružomberok they challenged workers in Western Europe and particularly in Austria. One day they will come to our Austrian colleagues and demand that they take a wage cut or see production moved to Slovakia. How will the Austrian trade unions think to fight back against Mondi management if they are linked with a corrupted and unrepresentative trade union leadership in their Slovakia? If the Austrian trade union leadership does not understand this, we have to make sure the Austrian workers do."
Just before I left Josef Krncan took me to aside to tell me that when he was in Hausmening he could see that the Austrian workers were worried about the big paper mill owned by Mondi in Slovakia. "You could read the fear for their jobs on their faces. They think that we are going to take their jobs. Let’s change that,"
Support the ZOO Papier workers by sending text messages of protest and emails to
Otto Pichler, president:
Miloslav Curilla, CEO:
GSM: +421 905 555363
Milan Filo, co-owner:
GSM: +421 907 802485