Who needs the enterprise?
Furloughs and lay-offs are the main topics at the Combine throughout 1990 and 1991. Workers are furloughed usually when there are no materials or funds to acquire materials, or when another enterprise supplying products necessary for production cannot make the delivery.
From summer 1990 to spring 1991, hardly a day goes by when some Borovo workers are not furloughed. In the most dramatic episodes, such as November 1990, factory halls are eerily empty, and more than 15,000 workers are furloughed. In such conditions, there are problems even in the enterprises “whose balance”, as stated in the Weekly, “was positive – as is the case with the Rubber and Technical Goods Factory (GTR), the Machines Factory (Strojara), the Workers’ Hall (Radnički dom)”. Individual enterprises are now forced to adapt to the new reality.
Early furloughs begin in 1990, in the Machines Factory, a smaller among the major Borovo enterprises (approximately 500 workers), which supplies other enterprises (i.e. factories) of the Combine with machines and parts. From March 1990 to the beginning of the war, only 50% of the Machines Factory workers actually work. However, in capitalist conditions, the Machines Factory is one of the more promising Borovo enterprises: the number of employees is relatively small, the percentage of highly skilled workers is above the Borovo average, the production is specialized, and technological solutions are often original (devised by them for their own purposes). According to our interviewees, in terms of organization, the Machines Factory tried to keep up with the times. Before the onset of the war, in collaboration with experts from Zagreb and Osijek, a new work organization plan was devised on the principles of Shigeo Shingo, the maker of the so-called Toyota production system, and employee training was already underway. Apart from that, the Machines Factory was ready to take radical measures in order to hold out. At one point, there was an attempt to solve the problems by selling, i.e. renting machines out to the workers. Since it was responsible for the maintenance of the entire Combine, it could be said that it was a factory of strategic importance. Namely, its liquidation would necessarily cause disruptions in the entire Combine. The outcome of the events surrounding the Machines Factory therefore raises broader questions about the strategies used in implementing restructuring measures.
As a result of the outstanding debts owed to the Machines Factory, which exceeded 7 billion convertible dinars, production for other Combine enterprises is discontinued in March 1990. Half (250) of its workers are furloughed due to lack of work. The majority of these workers will never return to work again. After holidays, work in the Machines Factory continues with less than half the employees, while the rest of the workers stayed at home, receiving 60% of their personal income. There is an attempt to organize a strike at that time, but the strike committee was left without a quorum. The Machine Factory workers object, feeling that the problems of the Combine are being solved at their expense because of the fear of the “shoemaker masses”. Namely, larger enterprises, such as the Rubber and Shoes Factories, use available funds to pay their workers, even though they owe money to the Machines Factory. Such practices are justified by the fear of a mass workers’ rebellion.
The situation in other Borovo enterprises was similar in terms of furloughs. In May 1990, production stops in the Tire Factory as well. This time workers were furloughed due to lack of materials. In September, workers were furloughed again because of an insufficient delivery from Italy. The real wave of furloughs was expected to happen in the period from November 19 to December 2, but the Rubber Shoes Factory furloughs their workers earlier, causing delays and furloughs in other places. At the Rubber Shoes Factory, the production started in mid-January (January 11) 1990, after a delay of almost two months. This was a period of great anxiety for the workers. K. Ošust, one of the workers, said: “We were furloughed already in early November. During all that time I felt lost and thought I would never go back to work again. I’m still not sure that everything will be fine. I lost confidence in everything. The worst thing is that we didn’t have any information… Rubber Factory workers were overwhelmed with uncertainty so we kept calling each other on the phone… But none of us had any information, and stories started spreading that frightened us even more – that delays will continue even after January 8, that there will be no work at all, that we will get fired…” R. Kalaba added: “To tell the truth, I thought I will never work again… I met colleagues from work and they were all afraid that we won’t start working.” At the Leather Footwear Factory (Tvornica kožne obuće), another major enterprise, workers return to production for a short time in December, after which they are furloughed again until mid-January. Faced with the completely new situation of a long-term lack of work, the workers wonder “how long the furlough is going to last and what it actually means”, and insist on receiving personal income before they are furloughed. As of November 11, work has been delayed at the Leather and Rubber Footwear Factories, Poly, the Tire Factory, GTR – in total, approximately 15,000 workers were on furlough!
Apart from their mass character (in November 1990, factory halls were almost completely empty), another important aspect of furloughs is their long duration. Also, stoppages in late 1990 and early 1991 are not isolated events anymore: they affect several enterprises within the Combine at the same time, and they last ever longer. In 1991, following the mass stoppages of late 1990, work is delayed for several weeks at the Tire Factory, Rubber Rolling Factory (Valjara), Rubber Footwear Factory (Gumara), and Poly, while production stopped in parts of the Tire Factory (radial tires) and parts of GTR (serpentine belts) for longer than a month. It is important to note that during stoppages in some enterprises, a thousand or several thousands of workers would be furloughed at the same time. Furthermore, it should be kept in mind that such periods are often, almost regularly, accompanied by delays in payment, i.e. the lack of payment.
Furloughs result in additional anxiety because they are accompanied by the permanent and long-lasting threat of dismissal (i.e. being made “redundant” and laid off). Although dismissals had been the constant topic of discussions at Borovo throughout 1990 and 1991, it is impossible to find an unambiguous answer in the factory paper about who should make the concrete decision on whom specifically to fire. At workers’ councils, responsibility shifts between the workers’ council, the union, experts, executive directors… The Weekly writes, “the worst part will definitely be deciding the names of the people who should leave because nobody wants to take responsibility. The executive director of the enterprise is not ready to do so, especially because property relations have not been resolved, so the factory is officially still owned by all of its workers.”
The GTR Workers’ Council meeting of January 1991 is a good example of how complex the question of property and redundancy was. Borovo’s 700 GTR workers were made redundant, and the workers’ council had to decide how to get rid of them. (At this enterprise the decision on redundancy was shifted to the executive management and the workers’ council.) There are three options: bankruptcy (workers are sent to the employment bureau, and the state takes responsibility for them); redundancy declared without bankruptcy (workers are sent to the bureau, but the enterprise pays for their unemployment benefits); and keeping all the workers (which are then furloughed in rotation, depending on the state of production, receiving 60% of their salary). Although the executive director recommended bankruptcy as “the best solution for the enterprise”, the workers’ council voted for the second option.
- “Poteškoće zbog struje”, Borovo 3154, December 7, 1990↲
- “O dugovanjima”, Borovo 3119, March 9,1990, 4↲
- “Kako će strojarci proći u besparici: Platiti ili iseliti”, Borovo 3119, March 9, 1990, 4; “Mnogo novih poteza”, Borovo 3122, March 30, 1990, 4↲
- According to our interviewee (a project manager in the Machines Factory at the time): “The Machines Factory claimed about 1,500,000 German marks within the system, which is about 1,500,000 euros, and about 500,000 euros outside the system.”↲
- “Obustavljena proizvodnja”, Borovo 3120, March 16, 1990, 1,3; “Različite ocjene”, Borovo 3121, March 23, 1990, 4; “Mnogo novih poteza”, Borovo 3122, March 30, 1990, 3.↲
- “Sve slabija pozicija”, Borovo 3138, August 17, 1990, 4↲
- “Zastoj zbog sirovina”, Borovo 3129, May 18, 1990, 1.↲
- “Stoje zbog čeličnog korda”, Borovo 3142 September 14, 1990, 1↲
- “Lijepo je ponovno raditi”, Borovo 3157, January 11, 1991, 5↲
- “Poteškoće zbog struje”, Borovo 3154, December 7, 1990, 3↲
- “Teško naplativa potraživanja”, Borovo 3158, January 18, 1991, 4; “I ovog tjedna u zastoju”, Borovo 3167, March 22, 1991, 2↲
- “Dosta radnika na čekanju”, Borovo 3164, March 1, 1991, 1; “Sa pola kapaciteta”, Borovo 3158, January 18, 1991, 5; “‘Radijalke’ se ne proizvode”, Borovo 3160, February 1, 1991, 3; “Isplativije stajati”, Borovo 3163, February 22, 1991, 1↲
- “I daje silazna linija”, Borovo 3170, April 12, 1991, 1; “I ovog tjedna u zastoju”, Borovo 3167, March 22, 1991, 2; “Teže nego ikad”, Borovo 3173, May 17, 1991, 1↲
- “Nezadovoljstvo isplatama”, Borovo 3146, October 12, 1990, 1↲