The workforce in big industrial systems such as Borovo, although grouped within the Combine wire fence, is not homogenous. The level of participation in direct production, the presence in the factory, the degree of qualification, additional sources of income (in particular, agriculture), the association with a particular enterprise within the combine; all of these elements present the basis, real or potential, for divisions among Borovo workers. In the period studied – at the moment of crisis and the time when socialism is being abandoned – the fragmentation of workers is intensified under the pressure of market imperatives.

Divisions between Combine workers which escalate in this period take on different forms. Negotiations about the new income distribution cause divisions along the production/ “direction” and production/“engineers” lines. Also, in discussions about redundancy, a division is created between workers who earn their income only from working at Borovo, and those who own land and, to a greater or lesser degree, work in agriculture as well. Reasons for such conflicts and divisions lie in the fact that productivity and workers’ qualifications are criteria of the new income distribution, but also in the fact that at this moment, there is not much to distribute in the Combine (in contemporary terms, “the material base of self-management has been diminished”).

At the time of crisis, Borovo’s collaboration with foreign companies increasingly boils down to selling its workforce through lohn contracts. In the entire country, inflation has been causing an unprecedented increase in costs, and legal preparations have been going on for an economic reform promising more “markets”, “risks”, and “competition”  – both for enterprises and for workers.[1] This presents a great change for the economy and the society where the difference between the highest and the lowest wage are still relatively small (see Table 2), and the highest wage in the Combine, in July 1989, is not earned by the company executive, but the “skilled boot and shoe clicker” from the Leather Shoes Factory. The Combine executive director’s wage is at the 147th place, while “the lowest wages are in Informatics and General Affairs, regardless of the fact that their level of qualification is the highest in average”.[2] As expected, such situation was accompanied by frequent and open criticism of uravnilovka (wage-levelling) in the distribution, especially coming from engineers. Throughout 1990, one of the frequent causes of numerous minor strikes – as well as the major one in June of the same year, when ethnic differences were politicized for the first time – are suggestions to increase the wages of the skilled personnel, alongside the (already common) question of downsizing “direction”.
The division between “production” (“proizvodnja”) and “direction” (“režija”) refers to the difference between workers directly involved in production (in the factories) and those who are not, and whom the Factory paper calls “white collar workers”. At this time, “direction” was a fluid term, signifying idleness, lack of productivity, and needlessness: everyone who was called “direction” in the workers’ skirmishes faces the risk of being implicitly declared redundant. In very practical terms, “direction” consists of workers whose income does not depend on productivity measurable in working hours.[3] For instance, if there are no materials or export is stopped, production workers cannot collect the points necessary to achieve or exceed their quota, which directly affects their wage. This does not apply to those working outside the factory: in the same situation, their wage remains the same. However, in the situation when there is production, factory workers can increase their income through overtime (and, often, shift work in difficult conditions), while there is no such option for “direction”. The conclusion following from this is that production workers were, as far as the price of their work is concerned, more exposed to the market, while “direction” represents workers whose income was less dependent on market factors, and more on the self-management agreement on the distribution of income within the Combine. Workers with different qualifications can, therefore, be classified as “direction”: from highly educated engineers, through bookkeepers, to security service.

This is how a bookkeeping manager defends her workers from accusations of idleness in the article about the sales bookkeeping department, entitled “We are not direction”:

These little women, all of them mothers, do work – see, they are young, their children are small – they work afternoons, and Saturdays. But their work is not paid, unlike production work. Our quotas are not set – there are deadlines, and they change according to production: as the collective grows, our workload increases, but its price does not. The price goes in the opposite direction – it drops. We are even deemed dispensable. We don’t mind, but if we are dispensable – why is our workload increasing day by day.

Another worker referred to bookkeeping as “administrative proletariat”, claiming: “we are working class”. The manner in which such a view is defended is indicative: workers say that bookkeeping is “physical work: we type, we calculate, we don’t dwell upon work”.[4] Such glorification of physical work as the ideal type of work shows that there is truth in the claims, frequent in the Factory paper at this time, about “the fetishization of physical work” at Borovo, as well as in the Yugoslav society in general.[5] This is supported by a story of a bookkeeping worker who says that production workers “treat us differently when we go for lunch, because we don’t wear blue dust coats, and we don’t need, as they say, the best quality food because we don’t have to maintain fitness.”[6] Her colleagues emphasize that prior to direction, they worked in production, and that they are in a different position than highly skilled workers, who can “find a solution outside Borovo”.[7]

At this time, experts leaving Borovo presented a real problem. According to research conducted among the Combine’s highly skilled personnel in September 1988, only a quarter of those workers are not thinking about leaving Borovo, whereas the rest justify their desire to leave by the lack of development programs, as well as their inability to influence strategic decisions.[8] In early September 1988, the Factory paper announces the strike of pneumatics engineers, who complained about “routine work” being more valuable than “brains”.[9] Production workers, on the other hand, expected that experts “be constantly present and prove themselves”, especially on the shop floor.[10] Since wage increases can only be agreed upon through self-management practices – through a referendum decision of all workers – in the conditions of general scarcity, engineers, a significant minority (less than 2%), do not have any chance of improving their status through the usual direct democratic procedures. Despite promises and expectations of reform, in the spring of 1991, when the Combine and its workforce are left to the “free” market, there is no work for Borovo engineers either, and payment is delayed for months. While until recently the idea was that they can start a private business relatively easily, the problem that arises now is the lack of seed capital.[11]

About 40% of the Combine’s employees were “pure proletarians”, persons who lived in apartments in the city, without other sources of income, while 60% of the workers partly worked in agriculture as well. This division was particularly apparent at times of crises, and in the context of possible dismissals. Workers who also doubled as farmers – which include children of peasants, i.e. the first generation of urban workers, who, in the conditions of crises, partly turn to the land – could secure minimal social security through agricultural work.[12] Criticism directed at “land workers”, summarized in one worker’s claim that those “who have something on the side care less about their jobs” – could also rely on the phenomenon of mass sick leaves, which the Factory paper mentions repeatedly.[13] Taking sick leave in order to do agricultural work was a common occurrence in the Combine, and one which the trade union tried to put an end to.[14] Another phenomenon frequently addressed in the discussions of redundancy were workers without work, whose number grew as workload reduced, and materials became less available.

Dismissals in Borovo are a constant topic of discussions throughout 1990 and 1991. At workers’ council meetings, responsibility is constantly shifted between the workers’ council, the trade unions, experts and executives about who should make the decision on dismissals. Determining redundancy is a problem “particularly because property relations were not resolved, so the factory was still owned by all of its workers”.[15] Besides that, in the conditions of an open rebellion of a part of Croatian Serbs and extremely tense interethnic relations in general, every potential dismissal is inevitably burdened by the question of ethnicity (both of the one dismissing and the one being dismissed). Undoubtedly, this is the reason why making a list of redundant workers is described as an “extremely difficult and arduous task” which everybody avoids.[16]

Table 1: The structure of Borovo COAL (Composite Organization of Associated Labor; SOUR) employees on December 31, 1987

Qualifications Number of employees %
university 416 1,82
two-year post-secondary school 486 2,13
secondary school 2.713 11,88
highly skilled workers 1.227 5,37
skilled workers 7.846 34,35
semi-skilled workers 2.968 17,37
non-skilled workers 6.182 27,08
TOTAL: 22.838 100,00

Table 2: A survey/overview of the average Borovo COAL personal income in the period between January 1 – June 30, 1988

Average personal income Amount (dinars)
COAL 223.409
university 310.326
highly skilled workers 284.032
non-skilled workers 191.065

(Source: “Institut: Jesmo li potrebni?”, Borovo 3048, October 7, 1988)


Radelić, Zdenko. 2006. Hrvatska u Jugoslaviji 1945.-1991.: od zajedništva do razlaza. Školska knjiga, Hrvatski institut za povijest, Zagreb.

Sajler, Mirko. 1988. “Ima li nade za novo rađanje Borova”, Vjesnik, July 3.

Sinovčić, Tomislav. 1973. Ekonomika i organizacija privrednih poduzeća: priručnik za polaganje ispita za kvalificirane i visokokvalificirane radnike. Narodne novine, Zagreb.

  1. “Za tržišnu ekonomiju”, Borovo 3096, September 22, 1989, 1; “Ključno pitanje je u organizaciju ‘Borova’ unijeti elemente rizika, samostalnosti i pune odgovornosti”, Borovo 3046, September 23, 1988, 3
  2. “Sjekač na prvom mjestu”, Borovo 3093, September 1, 1989
  3. In the 1973 handbook of “economic and business enterprise organization,” direction expenses are defined as expenses that “have not been made while producing a commodity, but in order for the production itself to take place (Sinovčić, 1973: 81).
  4. “Nismo mi režija”, Borovo 3047, September 30, 1988.
  5. “Raspodjela osobnih dohodaka po kategorijama zaposlenih u kombinatu”, Borovo 3051, October 28, 1988
  6. “Nije nama ništa bolje”, Borovo 3050, October 21, 1988
  7. “Nismo mi režija”, Borovo 3047, September 30, 1988
  8. “Iskorištenost VSS kadra”, Borovo 3046, September 23, 1988
  9. “Znanje pred ispitom dostojanstva”, Borovo 3045, September 16, 1988.
  10. “Najprije selekcija među stručnjacima”, Borovo 3046, September 23, 1988
  11. “Stručnjaci još uvijek čekaju”, Borovo 3171, April 19, 1991, 2
  12. “Veća plaća – mala korist”, Borovo 3046, September 23, 1988; “Radnici su rekli” Borovo 3107, December 15, 1989
  13. “Valjda će biti bolje”, Borovo 3015, February 19, 1988; “Svaki peti na bolovanju” Borovo 3044, September 9, 1988; “Bolovanja remete ritam proizvodnje”, Borovo 3049, October 14, 1988; “Dosta im preporuka”, Borovo 3077, April 21, 1989.
  14. As “outlets” that help improve the workers’ position in a situation of crisis, Radelić mentions “mass sick-leaves, working abroad, illicit work, stealing equipment and materials, not paying utility bills” (Radelić, 2006: 494).
  15. “Nezadovoljstvo isplatama”, Borovo 3146, October 12, 1990, 1
  16. “Najteže sa ekonomskim viškom”, Borovo 3159, January 25, 1991, 4