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Striking Waiters Make No Exception for Premier

March 17, 1987

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Wildcat strikes protesting new austerity measures have been joined by thousands of workers nationwide, including hotel waiters who refused to return to work even to serve the premier, official reports said.

The strikes, which are not supported by the official trade unions, began after the Communist government of Premier Branko Mikulic reduced or froze most wages earlier this month in an effort to curb an annual 90 percent inflation rate.

The official Tanjug news agency acknowledged Monday that the illegal strikes were more widespread than originally reported, and suggested the possibility they would spread.

In its initial reports on the labor unrest, Tanjug said the only area affected was the republic of Croatia, with several thousand workers striking at 40 companies in half a dozen cities.

It said Monday, however, that strikes were occurring virtually across the country. It said 1,000 workers struck for an unspecified period in 11 companies in Serbia, 200 workers stopped work in the southern province of Kosovo for 12 days and an unspecified number struck for up to two days in a coal mine in Pljevlja in Montenegro.

The report also said teachers in Serbia had shown solidarity with the strikers by refusing to collect their pay rather than by stopping work.

The Ekspres Politika newspaper said waiters at the Kompas hotel in the Slovenian ski resort of Kranjska Gora went on strike Friday night.

It said they refused to work even to serve Mikulic, who was at the hotel along with at least two other high-ranking Communist officials to attend a skiing competition at nearby Planica.

A report in the newspaper Borba said 2,000 people had jammed the corridors of a major medical center in Zagreb during a work stoppage there and demanded to know why their wages would go down 18.7 percent.

In its suggestion that there may be more problems ahead, Tanjug noted that the wage freeze has not yet affected about 150,000 workers in Serbia, 50,000 in Kosovo and 27,000 in Montenegro.

Newspapers have reported several cases of unspecified disciplinary measures against the strikers, which are rare in Communist countries.

The legislation enacted this month states that workers will be paid according to productivity and their wages will be cut if they are inefficient.

The austerity measures are designed to curb an annual inflation rate of about 90 percent, which has caused living standards to fall sharply over the past six years.

Most of the official news media reports have stressed the government view that the measures are necessary and will have limited social impact.

Hardest hit are workers in money-losing enterprises. Borba quoted Stefan Novakovic, a company manager in Zagreb, as saying he did not know how his workers would live once they had returned two and a half months’ wages under the new law.

Borba quoted Milan Tomic, a skilled worker at a Zagreb industrial plant, as saying that if the law is enforced 17 of his fellow workers would receive no pay and would have to dip into savings to return pay they are now deemed not to have earned.

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