Romania – novel initiatives gaining ground

Grassroots activism has been on the rise in Romania – housing movement, labour union movement and alternative media

Trade unions have been organizing protests since the start of 2021 against the newly adopted austerity measures of the Romanian government, which, among other things, froze the minimum wage despite rising living costs continued blocking collective labor negotiations and the social dialogue legislation. Thus, protesters have been demanding social policies from and a dialogue with the government alongside fair pensions, decent minimum wage, access to quality public services and a just taxation system.

For May 1, 2021, one of the five trade-union confederations in Romania, the trade-union confederation Cartel ALFA issued a statement commemorating workers who have dreamt of a better future and who have fought for it. In their message, Cartel ALFA deeply condemned the current centrist right-liberal government for their lack of dialogue with workers’ organizations, associations, and unions, as well as for the lack of attention the government pays to working-class people. The current government have been paying little attention to working-class interests, and so just before May 1 they passed a law that no longer mandates small employers (organizations with less than nine workers) to have a clearly defined and signed contract for each worker’s role in the company. They can make verbal decisions, without any written evidence of what was decided. This deeply affects the working-class movement, making the great majority of workers in Romania prone to abuses at the hand of the employers.

In the last couple of years, new initiatives and self-organized activist groups emerged in public space with important agendas. In May 2020, the Block for Housing, a national network of housing-rights’ activist groups, organized a comprehensive month-long online event series around housing and labor, one year later is still very relevant. The recordings of the webinars are available online in Romanian: Labour, Housing and Trade-Union OrganisingSanitation Work. A Discussion with Sanitation Workers on Their Work and Work, Not Exploitation! Housing, not Profit!

This year, Căși Sociale Acum! / Social Housing Now! – which is one of the member organizations of the Block for Housing, published a study on the intersections of labor and housing during the Covid-19 pandemic in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. The study offers an explanation of why, during the current health and economic crisis, when the number of people losing their jobs temporarily or permanently is increasing, the price of homes is continuing to grow as well. Co-authored by Enikő Vincze and Alex Liță, the publication aims both to contribute to knowledge about income and housing costs in Cluj-Napoca during the pandemic, and to provide tools for self-organizing, and for mobilization and solidarity struggles in the interconnected fields of labor and housing rights. The Romanian language study is available online for free on the organization’s website here.

For 1st May, Leneșx Radio, an emerging radical leftist podcast series broadcasted an English language episode dedicated to the working conditions of Romanian migrant workers. The guests, Elmar Wigand from Arbeitsunrecht and Sergiu Zorger from FAU (Free Workers’ Union) reflected on the working conditions of migrant laborers in Germany. They focused especially on Romanian workers in the meat industry and on care workers, as well as on opportunities for self-organizing.

This article was originally published on 18 June 2021 at LeftEast. The authors are Leneşi Radio (podcast), Enikő Vincze, Nóra Ugron and Radu Stochiţă. It is part of an ELMO series (ELMO – East Left Media Outlet) on 1 may and labour’s fight in Eastern Europe.

Photo: The cover of the study “Work and housing. Salaries and expendtures in pandemics in Cluj” by Enikő Vincze and Alex Liță (source: LeftEast)

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