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January 18, 2022
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General strike, rather halfhearted

Although they are extremely dissatisfied with the Government’s announced austerity measures, public sector employees who were threatening to take part in ample street protests starting on June 1 did not really jostle each other to defend their rights. Sociologists explain the failure of the trade union movement through lack of strike solidarity.

The important trade union organizations threatened last week that over one million public sector employees will go on general strike starting on May 31, and that hundreds of thousands will protest throughout the country against the Government’s announced austerity plan. According to the Romanian media, that million shrank to approximately 400,000 persons that protested on Monday and to an even lower level on Tuesday against the backdrop of poor mobilization of those employed in the public sector: local and central public administration, education and health sectors, police etc. It is difficult to precisely pinpoint the number of public sector employees that went on strike, considering that exact figures from both official and trade union sources are non-existent. An increasing number of trade unions are giving up their protests either because of direct threats or out of fear that they could end up having their salaries for the month of May “amputated” because of the strike. Nevertheless, public sector employees took to the streets in some of the country’s large cities yesterday, their numbers ranging from several dozens in Arad to one thousand in Timisoara, Targu Mures, Buzau, Botosani, Galati and Alba, 1,300-1,500 in Craiova and Pitesti and 4,000 in Iasi. In Bistrita Nasaud the National Union Block (BNS) gave up its protest outside the Prefecture since no trade unionists showed up. Wherever they showed up the trade unionists called for the Government’s resignation and for a referendum on impeaching President Traian Basescu. “Pensioners in hell, criminals in Government,” or “Down with Romania’s pirate” were some of the more “colorful” slogans that targeted Romania’s current leadership and the Head of State. In Timisoara protesters threw eggs at the Prefecture, with one of the protesters being fined RON 2,000 for disturbing the peace. In Arad 40 teachers that started a spontaneous protest outside the Administrative Palace were scattered by policemen, the latter arguing that the teachers lacked a permit for their protest. The teachers were forced to move on a nearby sidewalk, to drop the placards that carried anti-Government messages and to stop using their whistles.


Complications


Things are even more complicated within the education system considering that the general strike coincided with the high school graduation exam’s foreign language test. Minister Funeriu stated on Monday that 35 per cent of the members of the teaching staff (83,158 out of a total of 242,837 teachers, members of the auxiliary teaching staff and of the non-teaching staff) took part in the strike. Yesterday in some Counties the teachers announced that they will give up their strike and will return to the classrooms starting today. That happened in Vaslui and partially in Suceava. In Harghita, a County where Magyars form the majority, the teachers expressed their determination to carry their protest to the very end.


The Federation of Free Trade Unions from the Education System (FSLI) announced yesterday that it will file a criminal complaint against Minister Funeriu, claiming that he ordered the replacement of the members of the high school graduation exam’s commissions despite the fact that only the secretary of state has that prerogative. In reply, Funeriu stated that each person is free to file complaints against whatever it pleases.


Partial solidarity


The strike that the transportation employees were scheduled to start yesterday in Bucharest and that was supposed to paralyze traffic turned out to be a great hoax. Although traffic was affected in the main intersections during the morning hours (but doesn’t that happen on almost a daily basis in Bucharest?), Bucharesters benefited from a hiked number of buses (since the bus drivers’ trade union was obviously a strike breaker) meant to compensate the fact that the subway, the tramcars and the trolleybuses were inoperable. Bucharest General Mayor Sorin Oprescu explained that traffic was affected because many Bucharesters chose to drive to work. After a two-hour strike the tramcars and trolleybuses resumed their normal schedule, their presence on some routes being doubled by that of buses. The subway opened its doors shortly before noon. Its strike was cut short by four hours thanks to a fund-raising concert for the construction of a new pediatric hospital in Bucharest. Nevertheless, trade union leader Ion Radoi warned that two weeks from now the Bucharest subway could go on general strike if the Government touches the subway employees’ salaries.


Sociologists’ explanations


Why did Romanians refrain from hitting the streets in order to fight for their rights? Because history played a moderating role, sociologists argue. “We don’t have a protest culture. We had protests as a cultural model but we lack a strike culture, a culture of solidarity in a strike, a culture of fighting against strike breakers,” sociologist Alfred Bulai stated for Realitatea TV. “The memory of communism played a role in what happened during this strike. We are pretty worn-out both physically and morally to continue taking part in street actions of this type,” sociologist Mirel Banica stated for Realitatea TV. On the other hand, Romanians are used to be patient, to always have a back-up option, and it takes time to really mobilize a large mass of people. “People will take part in a much higher measure; however they will do that after the effects of the Government’s cuts will make themselves felt. For now people were only scared. There won’t be wide-scale movements before this autumn because people are trying out dozens of options, they are trying to make ends meet although their dissatisfaction will be increasingly higher,” Alfred Bulai said.

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