Drivers and Doctors Strike, General Walkout Threatened
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) _ Thousands of drivers and health workers walked off their jobs Wednesday to protest price hikes of up to 500 percent on electricity and food staples such as bread.
But union leaders postponed until Friday a general strike by most of Romania’s 10 million workers while talks with the government continued over the new prices, which took effect last weekend as part of the free-market reforms.
Such a strike would be a major blow to an economy struggling to reverse decades of Communist mismanagement and stung by the loss of trade with Serbia because of U.N. sanctions.
Manuela Dumitru, a spokesman for the leading Fratia Union, said Wednesday’s warning strike involved several hundred thousand truckers, public transport drivers, shipping and health care workers. More precise numbers were not available.
The unions demand that salaries be doubled to help workers keep up with price increases following the elimination of most remaining consumer subsidies May 1.
The move quadrupled the price of bread and other staples and quintupled electricity prices.
Union officials say Romanians cannot afford the new prices on salaries that average only $50 a month.
The government has offered some compensation, but maintains that meeting the union demands would spark hyperinflation and conflict with the overall strategy of reducing state involvement in the economy.
Other market-oriented reforms have cost more than 1 million jobs in inefficient industries that were guaranteed under the Communist economic system.