Macedonian public sector workers win minimum wage, 2002

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The strike itself began on May 20, but the campaigners had made various declarations of intent prior to that, and had also held a small march on May 1.
May 1,
2002
to
May 29,
2002
Location and Goals
Country: 
Macedonia
Goals: 
Minimum wage legislation. The strikers also wanted new laws regarding employment and insurance for the unemployed, a revised law on health care, and a new law on military service.
 

In the beginning of 2002, many workers in Macedonia – both private and public sector – were unhappy with their salaries and benefits. In the private sector, many industries were not making a profit, and as yet, had no security regarding future employment; their unions had proposed early retirement for the 37,000 workers at issue, but the government claimed that they did not have sufficient money to enable such a solution. The government, having faced many recent economic crises and a budget deficit, was dependent on money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and, as a result, had to consult with them before making many budgetary decisions. In response to various economic difficulties the previous year, the government had made an agreement with the IMF to have a 6 month staff-monitored program beginning on January 1, 2002, which would have lasted through June.

Some private sector workers took action on May 1, 2002, conducting a small march for workers’ rights. On May 10, workers blocked various roads between Macedonian cities in order to get concessions on insurance and a resolution of labor issues in loss-making companies. The workers in loss-making companies continued to demonstrate, and organize roadblocks in this period. These protests do not appear to be directly connected to the later public sector strike, but the employees of loss-making companies became allies during the public sector campaign, and had many overlapping demands.

In the meantime, Macedonian public sector unions declared their intent to go on strike beginning May 20 unless the government established a minimum wage for public employees. The strikers also wanted new laws regarding employment and insurance for the unemployed, a revised law on health care, and a new law on military service.

In response to the declaration, the government asked that the unionists postpone the strike for two weeks, as officials at the time were in negotiations with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and could not respond to the workers’ demands before more meetings with the international financial organizations.

The union organizations refused the government request for extra time and went on strike according to plan on May 20. The strike was the first general strike among public workers in Macedonian union history and had many public sector unions participating. Vanco Muratovski was president of the Trade Union Federation (SSM); within this federation were the Trade Union of the Ministry of the Environment under President Zorica Dimova, the Independent Trade Union of Health, Pharmacy, and Social Care under the leadership of Simon Siljanovski, the Defence Trade Union, led by Secretary Zoran Ninovsi, the Independent Trade Union for Education, Science, and Culture under President Dojcin Cvetanovski, and possibly others.

The strikes had high participation rates. 99% of educational facilities joined. Approximately 20,000 health workers participated in the strike. In total, 80,000 workers were on strike. They declared their intent to continue the strike until SSM and the government agreed on a lowest salary for the public sector. This intent came in the face of government opposition, and many workers put themselves at risk by striking. Particularly, those in the educational and judicial sectors were risking 60% wage cuts by striking. However, those in the education and science union had support from international organizations; the International Association for Education and the World Organization of Education Trade Unions both wrote letters of support on May 22.

On May 24, the striking employees started protesting on the streets, where workers from industries that were bankrupt joined them. They intended to block roads around the capitol of Skopje, block other roads around the country, and block entrances to parliament and the ministries of finance, labor, justice, and social policy.

On Monday, May 27, workers declared that they would start protests in the cities of Kumanovo, Stip, and Kocani the next day. They expected that workers in loss-making companies would join the strike at this point. On Monday, they also made clear their demand that the government determine a minimum wage by Friday, threatening to spread protests into the capitol city of Skopje otherwise. They believed that protests there would have over 100,000 participants.

On Wednesday May 29, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and SSM President Muratovski reached a minimum wage agreement for the public sector of approximately 83 Euros. This figure was close to halfway between the government’s initial offer of 50 Euros and coalition’s demand of 120 Euros. At this point, the workers returned to work.

The government concession had serious repercussions in that they were not simply going against their own desires, but also those of the IMF. The IMF had demanded that the government make no wage concessions, and on hearing of the government deal, announced that it would suspend some of its aid to Macedonia. The IMF believed the wage bill was a threat to the more viable spending policy they mandated. Ultimately, the wage bill interfered with the monitoring program they had begun in January as well as negotiations on another arrangement.

Although the deal achieved the stated goal of receiving a minimum wage for public sector workers, it left unresolved problems for many of the participants in the campaign, insofar as those employees in loss-making companies did not see any change in circumstance as a direct result of the campaign.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The judicial sector went on strike for 80 days from December of 2000 to February of 2001. For several months before the 2002 campaign, as well as during the campaign itself, workers in loss-making companies were protesting, blocking roads, and marching (1).

Sources: 
“BBC Summary of World Broadcasts.” 17 May 2002. From Macedonian Radio, Skopje. Accessed through LexisNexis

“BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 20 May 2002. From MIA news agency, Skopje. Accessed through LexisNexis

“BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 22 May 2002. From MIA news agency, Skopje. Accessed through LexisNexis

“BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 27 May 2002. From MIA news agency, Skopje. Accessed through LexisNexis

Goran M. and Alex A. “Massive Strike Wave Hits Macedonia.” 27 May 2002.

http://www.marxist.com/macedonia-strike-wave270502.htm

Weston, Fred. “Macedonian Workers Force Government to Back Down.” 30 May 2002. http://www.marxist.com/macedonia-workers300502.htm

[Article on Macedonian economy] http://www.historycentral.com/nationbynation/Macedonia/Economy.html

Additional Notes: 
Edited by Max Rennebohm (14/07/2011)
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Alison Roseberry-Polier 08/03/2011