Romanian government threatens unions after protest in the Bucharest metro

The dissatisfaction of the transport workers exacerbated the conflict between the right-wing government of Florin Cîţu and the labour unions

Romanian Prime Minister Florin Cîţu is seeking to sanction protesters who blocked the Bucharest metro on Friday, an action Cîţu described as “illegal”. The Prime Minister said he would be looking for the culprits to repair the damage, state institutions to help citizens and companies to recover the losses, and the pay of protesters to be reduced by one day. Labour union leaders said on Friday that their dissatisfaction was due to possible staff shortages and the risk of salary cuts. Transport Minister Cătălin Drulă believes, however, that the real reason for starting the protest was the economic interests related to a labour union company, with the union itself being run by a former member of parliament from the Social Democratic Party, Ion Rădoi. The labour union company manages retail spaces in the subway.

To learn more about the protest and what happens next, Bulgarian National Radio approached Radu Stochiţă, a student who is the author of a popular column on trade union struggles in Romania on the Baricada România website. He also maintains a Telegram channel for workers’ struggles in Romania and around the world. The interview was broadcast and published on the BNR website on March 29, 2021.

Radu Stochiţa (sursă: Radu Stochiţa)

Mr. Stochiţa, on March 26, 2021, the workers on the Bucharest metro stopped working. How did this protest become possible?

This is a long story, but at the heart of last week’s event was poor communication and dialogue between Transport Minister Cătălin Drulă and the metro union’s leader, Ion Rădoi. He has been accused of being a political appointment and is constantly accused of the fact that metro employees have quite good salaries, while workers in Romania in other sectors do not. The activity of the trade union-owned company, which has constructed a lot of the retail spaces in the metro, is also causing controversy.

What are the demands of the Bucharest metro protesters?

Here the problem is a bit complicated, as the governing politicians claim that the demands are related to the financial interests of the union leader, Rădoi, and not to the metro workers. At the heart of the dispute are the commercial spaces, which according to the government must be closed because of the fire risk. But from what I myself heard on the spot during the protest, among the demands is one that salaries should not be reduced. Also there is a demand that the metro should not be sold to multinational companies. This is an issue that is not currently on the agenda. The main problem, however, remains the lack of communication between metro workers and the Ministry of Transport.

What happens next, after the protest?

Good question. No one knows. There were two major protests last week – one by the police labour union, which the Associated Press wrote about. The second was the metro protest. I think that after these events, the labour unions will have a higher place in public discussions, although I don’t know whether they will succeed in their struggle. But from now on, when people talk about state institutions, they will automatically have to think about trade unions and perceive them as a real opportunity to give some power to workers.

Various labour union protests have been taking place in Romania recently. What are the reasons for the tensions between Cîţu’s government and the labour unions?

The answer is simple. Let’s look at international federations and confederations. We will notice that many of them focus on the government and the fact that it doesn’t understand the role of labour unions in the state. The labour unions are perceived by the current government as a good thing that exists, but should not bother them. Yes, labour unions can protest, but let’s not make trouble for the government. So when they protest, the government complains about them.

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