Press release, September 8th, 2009

During the past few days, there has been speculation in the media concerning whether the student plenum of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb will participate in the organization of the announced protests which have been initiated by the Croatian Trade Union Association (HUS). Unfortunately, when reporting the media did not always care to note the basic facts: representatives of HUS invited members of the Plenum on September 2nd to participate “as equals” in organizing the announced “citizen protests”. Seeing as the representatives of HUS where at that time unable to present the precise platform which was to be the basis of these protests, the Plenum concluded that it cannot commit to participate in the organization of the protests without prior knowledge of the programme and demands. It was agreed that HUS will invite the Plenum’s delegates to participate in the meetings of HUS’s expert work group which will draft the “guidelines for exiting the crisis”. This was set as the basic condition for considering possible cooperation. Plenum chose the delegates, and HUS promised to send an invitation for the meeting with their work group in time.

The Plenum’s next session was held on September 7th. Seeing as up to that moment HUS had not sent an invitation for the meeting, the Plenum decided that the conditions for the possible cooperation in organizing the upcoming protests were not satisfied, because members of the Plenum had not been informed of HUS’s explicit programme guidelines and demands. Despite certain media interpretations, the cooperation between HUS and the students remains unfulfilled not because it was questionable whether the demand for free education will form a part of HUS’s protest demands. We have no reason to doubt that HUS will support the demand for free education. The right to education is not one that concerns only the current student population or students actively involved in Plenum’s actions; it represents a fundamental social right that is of essential importance for society.

Since the very beginning of their actions, the students have understood their struggle for the right to free education as an aspect of a bigger and more far-reaching struggle against a systematic political attack on the acquired social rights of the broad classes of workers, an attack which benefits the interests of a very small class of economic elites. Because of that, the decision of whether to participate in the protests could not be made exclusively based on whether the demand for the right to free education would be supported. The fact that the Plenum will not be involved in the organization of these protests does not mean that the students are indifferent towards the issues of workers’ rights and the more stringent political attack on the living standards of the majority. Moreover, we firmly believe that the “strategies for exiting the financial crisis” which, with obvious ease, lay the social burden on the workers are completely unacceptable. The financial crisis is not, and cannot be, the justification for an even more aggressive attack on the rights and living standards of the working majority. If the global economic crisis truly fundamentally questions one thing, than that is above all the legitimacy of the neoliberal economic model which has produced it. The political elites, who try to “resolve” the crisis by continuing the neoliberal reforms and openly attacking the living standards of the working majority, with unabated aggression and under the guise of “rescue measures”, do not represent the interests of that majority. That is why we believe it is extremely important to publicly question, including by means of protests, the democratic legitimacy of such policies and those who conduct them.

Despite its fragmentary nature and internal antagonisms, the union scene remains the institutional social factor which has the mandate to be the most immediate defender of workers’ rights. And this it should be particularly in a political context in which the entire parliamentary party nomenclature agreed to more or less openly subject workers’ rights to the interests of profit, under the pretence of being obligated to care for “market demands”.

Since its beginning, the Plenum has been open to all citizens, including union representatives. The unfulfilled cooperation with the Croatian Trade Union Association (HUS) does not mean that the Plenum has, in any way, chosen sides when it comes to internal divisions of the union scene. Nor would that be the case has the cooperation with HUS been fulfilled. The principle of openness to all carries with it also the conscious principled decision that we approach with basic faith in the trustworthiness of their intents all those who at least nominally support the same principles of social justice which form the basis of our demand, regardless of their conflicts with other social operators or “competing” organizations. In that sense, the media constructs of the “betrayal” or “taking advantage of” the students by the unions are erroneous and sensationalist. The fact is that the disorganization of the union scene greatly facilitates conducting a type of policy that will be directed against workers’ interests. The media confrontations and campaigns are a part of the mechanism of fragmentation and additional weakening of this position. Because of that we feel obliged to clearly distance ourselves from this type of sensationalist media fabrications.

To the workers themselves – who undoubtedly lose the most from this situation – we would like to say that the students’ example shows at the very least that sometimes it is necessary to get directly involved in the fight for rights when the formal representative bodies are, for whatever reason, unable to do so. The chances of positive changes are exceedingly greater when there is organized pressure from below. Workers plenums would represent a form of direct organization of such a pressure.

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