BY GERRY FOLEY
A last-minute deal between striking Romanian miners and the right-wing capitalist-restorationist government defused the most explosive crisis in the country since the uprising against the Stalinist Ceaucescu regime in 1990. Premier Radu Vasile and the miners’ leader, Miron Cozma, announced the compromise on Jan. 22.
Down to the wire, the country’s right-wing press and TV had been raising an alarm that the miners marching on the capital were out to overthrow the government. The workers and their supporters had three times routed large police and military forces trying to bar their way.
Actually, it was the government that threatened democracy, by threatening to declare martial law if the miners continued their march on the capital.
The right-wing Romania Libera denounced the miners’ action as a Communist uprising like the Albanian revolution of 1997 that overthrew the “democratic” government of Sali Berisha.
Actually, Berisha was a right-wing dictator whose U.S.-trained and equipped army was shattered by a spontaneous mass insurrection.
The Albanian explosion was sparked by the collapse of the capitalist get-rich-quick schemes that the Berisha government had pushed in an attempt to divert the attention of the people from the disastrous effects of the dismantling of the state economy.
Other Romanian papers also raised the specter of “an Albanian scenario.” It seems that they were not far wrong.
Ceauscescu, like the Albanian Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha and his successors, had plunged the population into want. But, like the Albanian case, the move toward restoring capitalism has reduced the Romanian standard of living still more, especially since the right-wing restorationist government came to power in 1996.
The country’s gross national product has fallen 15 percent in the last three years, and is expected to decline by another 6 percent this year.
The process of capitalist restoration has faced more resistance in Romania than in other East European countries, as a result of the dynamism of the 1990 rebellion. The uprising led to the formation of workers’ councils in most of the big factories, many of which were marked by a significant degree of workers’ democracy, as well as to the growth of powerful unions with a certain independence.
These factors, among others, produced important resistance to privatization of the economy, first under the leadership of the “reformed” Stalinists and in the last three years under the leadership of rightists, for whom the Stalinists paved the way to power.
The present conflict was sparked by a government plan to close so-called unprofitable mines at the behest of the International Monetary Fund. In response, the miners demanded a 35 percent wage increase and a halt to the mine closures.
The details of the compromise deal have not been published. But it appears that the miners got a halt to the closure of at least some mines and an agreement to an unspecified wage increase. On the other hand, the government got the miners’ leadership to agree to cooperate in cutting costs in the mining industry.
In the Jan. 24 Washington Post, correspondent Peter Finn quoted Nicolae Staiculescu, secretary of state in the Ministry of Industry and Trade, as saying, “from now on … it will be [the miners] who decide by themselves to shut down the mines.”
The government may have some reason for such hopes, but even the capitalist press is saying that they appear illusory after the miners have demonstrated their power and the inability of the state forces to repress them.
The right-wing papers are blaming the rout of the repressive forces on bad generalship. But there was a more intelligent comment under the headline, “The generals did not betray but saved Romania,” in the daily Cotidianul of Jan. 27:
“It was obvious that the Costesti blockade could not be defended by our police since for the first time in their lives they had to face a mass of thousands of people determined to die in order to move on. If [the miners] had suffered harm, even if their march had been stopped, Romania would have exploded.
“This is proved by the fact that in response to a mere rumor that miners had been killed, workers in Brasov [the country’s main industrial center] took to the streets.”