Friday, May 2, 2008


SARAJEVO, Bosnia (May 2,2008) - "Parliamentarians, shame on you!" read a sign in Bosnian carried by four union workers in downtown Sarajevo yesterday.The workers hoisted the banner above their heads and joined a procession through the Bosnian capital city to mark International Workers Day May 1 and to call on the government to protect their rights.

"It was a message for our government and Parliament that finally they have to start to think about workers rights, because in this country we don't have worker rights," Ismet Bajramovic, president of the Trade Union of Metal Workers of Bosnia, and one of the protest organisers, said.

International Workers Day, also known as May Day or Labour Day, celebrates the working class. Workers take to the streets each year to demonstrate their solidarity and to commemorate the struggle of workers worldwide.

May 1, 1886 marked the day labour unions in North America declared that eight hours is a "legal day's work" and started a general strike.

"The first of May is, in fact, our day," said Bajramovic, who is also executive committee member of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bosnia.

"Today we use this day, our day, just to send a message that we will do whatever we have to do. If it is necessary, all of us will spend day after day after day in the street, asking for our rights. We will not give up," he said.

Demir Mahmutcehajic, Sarajevo-based organizer of the DOSTA! (Enough) movement, said that the May Day street action in Sarajevo was "very special" because the unions spoke in "strong, direct language."

"What happened today was the first time that any union in Bosnia raised a proper voice, raising proper demands, and taking a stand," said Mahmutcehajic, who described himself as a "grassroots street activist".

Government statistics say about 45 percent of the country's one million-strong labour force is unemployed. But with many people working unofficially, the real figure could be around 25-30 percent.

Much of this is a hangover of the past. The Serbian,Montenegrin and Croatian aggressions against Bosnia in the 1990s brought an 80 percent drop in production. Today, about 18 percent of the nation's 4.5 million citizens live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

Union leaders have started a campaign to demand that the Bosnian State Parliament reject proposed legislation to increase parliamentarians' salaries to 8,000 Bosnian Marks (about 6,500 USD) a month. An average family earns that much in a year.

Fatima Fazlic from the unions confederation pointed out that the minimum monthly wage in Bosnia is 343 Bosnian Marks (about 280 USD) and the minimum monthly pension is 282 Bosnian Marks (about 230 USD).

"They want 8,000 Bosnian Marks!" said Fazlic. "Our message is: You (the Parliament members) will not do that. We ask first (for) our salary. We ask for the worker's rights."

Some union members held up banners saying they would not vote in the October elections for any parliamentarian who supports the legislation.

But Bajramovic, who worked for 15 years as an engineer in a metal factory before joining unions, isn't overly confident. "We don't have any expectations because they don't want to listen to us. They don't want to solve the problems."

The trade union confederation, which represents 267,000 workers in 24 branches, is planning bigger protests this month and in June.

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