1990 June strike

In June 1990, on account of wage index changes, Borovo’s Leather Footwear Factory (TKO) went on strike. At the very outset, a strike committee is formed, consisting of the representatives of each of the factory’s accounting department. The committee presented their arguments to the workers’ council and started negotiations. On the first day of the strike, the executive management ignores the workers.[1] On the second day, the workers, “about one hundred of them“, break into the offices looking for the managing director, throwing verbal insults: “Let's see where you're idling!”, “Get out, you rats!”. “Some of them were ready for a fight. They were getting into each other's faces, threatening, swearing”.[2] At that point, Mirko Vujanović, the managing director of the Footwear Factory comes outside the factory building (he was “taken by a group of workers”), and he says: “This strike has been planned for over a month in order to destabilize the factory. I am not responsible for another person's schemes. This was staged from the outside, with a formal reason to mobilize the workers … I suggest a referendum that would reveal the truth.” Although the workers' council supports the demand for a referendum, the gathered workers do not give in, but stick to their immediate demands for wage disbursement and removing the managing director from office. After initial meetings with the management and insights into the situation, the trade union concludes that the Combine is not able to pay out wages for June, so they, together with the strike committee, propose that the workers end the strike and return to work. At that moment, prompted by the workers' dissatisfaction with such a proposal, a new strike committee is founded.[3] Prominent people of the new committee are M. Tvorek, G. Petrušić, B. Zadro (chairman of the Borovo Naselje HDZ branch), and T. Merčep (chairman of the Vukovar Municipality HDZ branch and newly elected member of the municipality assembly). The cited trade union text notes that Petrušić and Zadro became members of the strike committee even though they were not TKO employees. On the third day, 2000 Rubber Shoes Factory workers join the strike, alongside 7000 TKO workers. The executive management agrees to meet the strikers' demands, except for the payment of June wages.[4] TKO managing director Mirko Vujanović tenders his irrevocable resignation, demands immediate restart of production, but keeps claiming that the strike was politically motivated.

During the strike, “a group of citizens from the Vukovar Municipality”, represented by Merčep, send a request to the Parliament that a special commission be sent to Borovo, because “executive managers” are destroying the Combine.[5] On the fourth day of the strike, at the Combine’s Worker’s Council meeting, managing director Egić states that the media press release by the chairman of the Vukovar Municipality HDZ branch aims to destabilize Borovo: “I'm speaking as a man on whom pressure has been exerted for reasons political and nationalist.”

On Saturday, the fifth day of strike, workers gather in front of the Borovo Naselje sports hall. Zadro addresses them, again referring to the managing directors as “thieves”: “If they hadn't robbed and stolen from Borovo, we would now have one thousand, one thousand five hundred German marks. We are, on the contrary, on the verge of a disaster.”[6] In their speeches to Borovo workers, Zadro and Merčep emphasize their HDZ membership. Zadro even explicitly says that, if they do not solve the situation in Vukovar, they will go to Zagreb, and “install new people” in the municipality. The strike committee announced the arrival of “someone” from the Parliament for this occasion, but after three hours of waiting and ultimately forcefully grabbing the microphone away from the municipal assembly chairman (Slavko Dokmanović), only Merčep and Tvorek address the workers. It is important to emphasize that from the beginning of its activity the new strike committee has been suggesting to the workers that the help would come from the Government and the Parliament. On June 25, after the gathering in front of the Borovo Naselje sports hall, the strike committee departs for the Parliament and the Government. The committee members claim that the visit was successful. On the same afternoon, Petar Šale, Assistant Minister of Industry and Mining, arrives in Borovo and addresses the workers. Speaking in very general terms, Šale neither promises nor offers anything concrete to the workers: “The Government of the Republic of Croatia will do everything in their power to solve the problems of the Borovo Combine for the long term, through a process of restructuring, establishing ownership, and creating a good market position for Borovo.“ The Government will “provide full support in those processes”. The strike committee, however, informs the workers that the Government is sending the wages money “already the following day”, speculating with, as will soon become clear, completely random figures. Šale, along with the strike committee, had a meeting with managing directors of the Shoes and Tires Factories, respectively, where he changed his story completely: “The time when the state took money from successful companies and gave it to the unsuccessful ones has passed,” he explains.[7]

The following day, on Tuesday, June 26, the strike committee meets again. The agenda is changed ad hoc, new items are thrown in, the managing director and his deputy are relieved of duty, and the meeting is used to spread the news that “Zagreb [republican government] sent the money”, i.e. that the executive management actually has the money, but they do not want to spend it on the workers’ wages. After the meeting, a female member of the committee uses the factory’s PA system to read a proclamation, in which she implies that the executive board members were able to withdraw the money independently. As expected, the executive management denies the allegations the following day.

During the strike, the workers are not united in supporting the strikers’ demands. They disagree on shutting down production. Namely, on June 21, the workshops were locked. P. Brozović (a Borovo weekly journalist as well) wonders in the regional newspaper Glas Slavonije: “Why was a part of the workers who wanted to continue working practically banned from their workshops”.[8] The Factory paper also mentions threats of physical violence among the workers. The “Work Committee“ is founded, supporting the strikers' demands, but advocating going back to work.[9] Similar information circulate at the Workers’ Council session. Delegates claim that “fifty people” blocked workers from going back to work. Managing director general (Egić) says that “there are rumours in Poli that Serbs wanted to work but Croats did not”. Worker delegate B. Grmuša adds that “the strike committee is led by people who steal, lazy people, alcoholics...some are even involved in illicit shoe trade.“

The June strike is the first and the most significant instance in our archive where ethnic/national divisions between the Combine workers are mentioned. For this division, the trade union rather unambiguously blames the new strike committee, particularly B. Zadro and G. Petrušić. In their evaluation, they mention that during the strike, “someone” handed out pamphlets with T. Merčep’s media statements to Borovo workers of Serbian nationality. The trade union distances itsels from the local HDZ.[10] The TKO Workers’ Council takes the trade union’s side: “This strike is very different from other Borovo strikes.” The Workers' Council also singled out strike leaders who do not work at the TKO. They conclude that the goal of the strike was to “appoint people in Borovo that suit the ruling party of the Republic.”[11] Vjesnik journalist Vlado Rajić comes to a similar conclusion when he writes in Glas Slavonije (the article was reprinted in the Factory paper) that HDZ is behind the strike: “someone high up in HDZ threatened to “destroy Borovo” only because the municipality leadership was of different political colour.“[12]

  1. “Zanemarena upozorenja sindikata”, Borovo 3138, August 17, 1990, 3
  2. “Štrajk zbog koeficijenata”, Borovo 3134, June 22, 1990, 2
  3. “Zanemarena upozorenja sindikata”, Borovo 3138, August 17, 1990, 3
  4. “Nastavljen rad”, Borovo 3135, June 28, 1990, 1
  5. “Nastavljen rad”, Borovo 3135, June 28, 1990, 1
  6. “Nastavljen rad”, Borovo 3135, June 28, 1990, 1 A part of this speech can be found in an episode of the Heroes of Vukovar series, dedicated to Blago Zadro, approximately two minutes in.oko druge minute.
  7. “Nastavljen rad”, Borovo 3135, June 28, 1990, 1
  8. P. Brozović, “Dan odluke”, Glas Slavonije June 25, 1990,14
  9. “Dio ljudi želi raditi”, Borovo 3135, June 28, 1990, 4
  10. “Zanemarena upozorenja sindikata”, Borovo 3138, August 17, 1990, 3
  11. “Prihvaćena procjena povoda i posljedica štrajka”, Borovo 3138, August 17, 1990, 7
  12. “Borovo”, Borovo 3135, June 28, 1990, 2