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Catalan, Serbian workers 'squat' in factories

Published Jan 6, 2008 9:42 PM

The phrase “sit-down strike” generally evokes images of the 1930s, specifically the 1936-37 takeover of General Motors in Flint, Mich., that led to the recognition of the United Auto Workers. However, in 2007 a number of sporadic sit-downs have occurred outside the U.S., most recently in Serbia and the Catalan region of Spain. Workers at the Behr auto parts plant in Barcelona and the “Shinvoz” factory in Zrenjanin, Serbia, are ringing in the new year by occupying their place of employment.

Earlier this year workers occupied factories in Canada, Australia, Wales and in the Spanish state.
The 470 Shinvoz metal workers are protesting the privatization of their factory. They are supported by workers of Jugoremedija, a pharmaceutical plant that workers had occupied to protest being privatized. They ended the nine-month occupation when their 58 percent stake in the plant was restored.
“At this moment,” writes the Balkan edition of Z magazine, “these workers are the most progressive element of Serbian society. They are fighting for their own working places, for equal rights, and they are inspiring whole Serbia to fight against neoliberalism.”

The article went on to explain that when a firm is privatized, “the buyer of the state-owned factory does the following: through illegal means he first puts the company in enormous debt to his own firms. Then he takes it out of bankruptcy. This rids his company of all smaller shareholders and all obligations towards the workers from the original collective bargaining agreement with the privatized company.”

Meanwhile, the 300 Frape Behr workers are protesting a “labor force adjustment plan” to eliminate their jobs, as well as the retaliatory firing of six workers. Their slogan in Catalan is: “Guerra, guerra, guerra, La Frape no cerra” (War, war, war, La Frape will not close). Supporters are demonstrating outside the occupied plant.

Behr, based in Stuttgart, Germany, makes automobile air conditioning units. The workers have received messages of solidarity from unionists in Germany, Norway and Canada. They have asked for protest letters, faxes, and phone calls to be sent to Behr company locations in the United States:

Behr Heat Transfer Systems, Inc.
4500 Leeds Avenue, Suite 201 Charleston, SC 29405-8521 Phone 843-745-1233 Fax 843-745-1285

Behr Dayton Thermal Products
1600 Webster Street Dayton, OH 45404
Phone 937-224-2900 Fax 937-224-2915

Behr America, Inc. 2700 Daley Drive
Troy, MI 48084 Phone 248-743-3700
Fax 248-743-3701

Behr Climate Systems, Inc.
5020 Augusta Drive
Fort Worth, TX 76106
Phone 817-624-7273
Fax 817-624-3328

The workers ask us to “please send copies of your protest letters, as well as copies of distributed materials and pictures from solidarity actions, to the IWA Secretariat, so that a comprehensive list of activities can be made and forwarded to the comrades in struggle: secretariado@iwa-ait.org.”