By GERRY FOLEY
A leader of the independent union at the Trepca mine in Kosovo was able to talk to Xavier Rousselin from Socialist Action’s French sister organization, the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire, in London in September.
The miners’ representative, Bajram Mustafa, lives in the Mitrovica region of Kosovo. He was invited to a conference held in Paris on Sept. 18 by a group that organized aid convoys for workers in the area of the former Yugoslavia.
However, the French authorities that now control Mitrovica refused to grant Mustafa a visa. They are also refusing to allow the mostly Albanian workforce, expelled from the mine by the Serbian chauvinists, to return to their jobs.
The Trepca miners were the spearhead of the Albanian Kosovar resistance to the assault by the Serbian chauvinist regime of Slobodan Milosevic on the national rights of the Albanian Kosovars.
Mustafa recounted the history of this struggle: “In 1988, the Trepca miners organized a 12-kilometer-long march of 1000 miners. The other miners stayed down in the mine. The general population joined in the demonstration.
“We wanted to stay in Yugoslavia but with the status of a republic. We wanted to decide our own fate. We shouted, ‘Tito,’ ‘Tito,’ ‘Yugoslavia,’ ‘Yugoslavia,’ and ‘We want equal rights.’
“In 1989, between Feb. 20 and 28, 2000 hunger striking miners occupied the mine at the 550-meter-deep level. They demanded that Kosovo be put under the protection of the UN. The authorities pretended to yield, and then, when the miners returned to the surface, they arrested them.
“The entire population mobilized to demand the release of the miners (up to 5000 people were arrested). And then in March, Serbia abolished Kosovo’s autonomy.
“A year later, Feb. 28, 1990, we decided to form an independent miners union, and in June the Kosovo independent unions joined together in a federation.
“On Aug. 8, 1990, the Serbian authorities closed the mine and stopped the miners from going down into it. On Sept. 3, there was a general strike, and 170,000 Albanians were fired for going on strike.”
The total Albanian population of Kosovo is about 1,800,000, and a large proportion of them are peasants. So this mass layoff would have removed a large proportion of the Kosovar Albanians from employment by the state corporations.
Mustafa had worked at the mine for 11 years as a maintenance engineer. After the expulsion of the Albanians, he has worked as a teacher at the University of Mitrovica.
The French commanders, operating within the framework of the UN occupation forces, claim that they cannot let the miners go back until the “legal status,” i.e., ownership of the mine, is clarified. That apparently means that they want to privatize the mine, since the Rambouillet Treaty under which the UN forces operate, stipulates that Kosovo must become “a free-market economy.”
Mustafa said: “When the NATO bombing started, we thought that we were going to get the mine and our jobs back. But KFOR has been preventing us from going back into the mine saying that its status is unclear.
“Given this argument, we then asked them to let a team of five or six miners to go down into the pits. We wanted to examine them and evaluate the extent of the work necessary to resume production.” The French authorities refused even this.
“Since we have not been able to go down into the mine, we do not know if bodies [of Albanians slaughtered by the Serbian forces] were dumped there, as people say.”
According to the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Liberties, an organization in the Mitrovica area that has issued weekly reports on the violations of human rights for the last 10 years, during the period of the NATO bombing 650 people were killed in the region and 692 disappeared. Twelve mass graves have been uncovered and another six have been reported.
The problem of the Trepca miners is only one example of the disappointment of the Albanian Kosovars ousted from their jobs by the Serbian chauvinists. The KFOR authorities have been complaining that the Albanians have false hopes about getting all their jobs back when these state corporations are slated for privatization and dismantling. This conflict is clearly going to sharpen.
Rousselin asked Mustafa what the independent union’s perspectives were. The Albanian unionist replied: “The miners are going to fight. The mine belongs them. They want to control it and work there. They want to get wages and live.”