Summer of 1988: “We want wages, we want bread”

On Saturday, July 2, 1988, the second shift workers of the Leather Shoes Factory held a Workers’ general assembly meeting where they discussed collective vacations, the payment of wages and allowances, and the prospective provision of production materials. Since they could not reach an agreement, they scheduled a new meeting for Tuesday, July 5. Managing directors did not come up with a solution acceptable to the workers by then, so the workers walked out on Tuesday morning. Trade unions backed up their move, and a column was formed which marched to the centre of Vukovar, to the Republic Square and the Workers’ Hall, carrying party and state flags. In the city centre, the 1,500-2,000 Leather Shoes Factory workers were joined by those from Borovo’s GTR and Poly Factories. Their numerous demands primarily concerned an increase of personal incomes and a guarantee that materials for production would be provided regularly. The managing director general reminded them that “the money for the last payment was also borrowed” and requested (clearly disapproving of the workers’ radical demands) that “the action be led by the trade union”. He also said that the responsibility rests with former leaders, who were unsuccessful, i.e. with the “great number of people who led the COAL for years”.[1]

Since their demands for an increase of personal income were not accepted, and instead they were told that the increase should be the result of an increase in production, about 1,500 workers started walking towards Belgrade. The column of dissatisfied workers went from Vukovar to Lovas and Tovarnik, where, after more than 20 km, buses caught up with them, sent by the municipal trade union in order to transport them to Belgrade. They arrived in the federal capital early in the morning. A police cordon had been in front of the SFRY Parliament already since 2 a.m., expecting their arrival.[2] Pavluško Imširović says, and our interviews confirm, that the police was forcibly preventing any contact between Belgrade and Vukovar workers. He says that the route of the Vukovar strikers’ column was surrounded by tight cordons of police, fully equipped for combat (Imširović, 2009). Apart from the trade union and political leadership, a lot of media were waiting for the Borovo workers at the Trade Union Hall. In the morning of the next day, unconvinced of the promises they were given there, the workers decided to continue their strike in front of the Federal Assembly. It should be noted that the day was very hot – 40 °C, according to the media, a day to faint. Apart from the slogans “We want wages! We want bread!”, the workers also shouted: “Changes! Changes!”[3] In the afternoon, apart from the telegrams of support, approximately 3000 workers arrived in Belgrade.[4] It was only after 30 hours of strike, when workers lost their patience and burst into the Parliament, that Dušan Popovski, president of SFRY Parliament, delivered a speech. He informed them that upon consultation with Raif Dizdarević, chairman of the Presidium of SFRY, Stipe Šuvar, chairman of the presidium of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, Miloš Milosavljević, vice-chairman of the Federal Executive Council, and other partners, a conclusion was unanimously reached that the solution could be found in direct dialogue, and announced that Branko Mikulić, prime minister of Yugoslavia, was willing to visit Borovo within several days. Workers were told that foreign currency funds were secured for the supply of reproduction materials, guaranteeing production. Although a part of the workers expressed their suspicion that they would be manipulated again, the gathering ended some 15 minutes after midnight, 40 hours since the beginning of the strike. The dramatic undertaking of the Borovo workers had powerful reverberations in the public: “there was not a newspaper, a radio or TV station which did not express their opinion on the Borovo workers’ demands.”[5] After the strike, the workers went on a collective vacation, and, as a result of the agreement reached the previous day in Belgrade, they received their personal incomes and vacation allowances.

On July 7, 1988, the SOUR Borovo Workers’ Council welcomed the proposal of the “Program of Measures to Eliminate the Causes of the Disruption in the Business Operation of the Combine”. The proposal was formulated by the joint committee of the Parliament of the Socialist Republic of Croatia and the Combine, and was supposed to be discussed at a session in late July. The proposal was to restructure Borovo through technological, economic, staff and financial consolidation.

  1. “Štrajk radnika prve i druge smjene”, Borovo 3037. July 6, 1988, 3
  2. Svoboda, D., “Još bez rješenja”. Glas Slavonije, 7.7.1988., 3. Vjesnik wrote at the time: “There were no Belgradians in front of the assebly this time. The police learned their lesson at the Zmaj workers’ strike, so the Pioneer Park was completely blocked, as well as all the roads leading to the Assembly.” (Tašić, P., “Usijanje na plus četrdeset”. Vjesnik, July 7, 1988, 5)
  3. “Radnička nezadovoljstva”, Borovo 3040, August 12, 1988, 2
  4. “Nastavljena obustava rada u kombinatu ‘Borovo’: Borovski radnici pred skupštinom SFRJ”, Glas Slavonije, July 7, 1988, 3
  5. “Radnička nezadovoljstva”, Borovo 3040, August 12, 1988, 2