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Date Tue, 25 May 2021 09:27:32 +0300

An Interview with the militant workers association (MAHALA) ---- DA: In 2015 you formed as an informal group, according to an interview with BUNA in summer 2020 - what have you done since then? ---- We set up as an informal group in 2015 under the idea of workplace organising under anarchist principles. Many of us were workers (in their very beginning) or students with an activist background and with some experience of direct actions. Since then we learned a lot about workplace organising, through workshops and collaborations with other groups and syndicates from aboard, but mostly through direct collaboration with workers that contacted us when they needed it.
Over these 5 years we managed to get in touch with various workers from different branches and to help them recover payments and get better workplace and payment conditions. The first large conflict we were involved with was the De'Longhi conflict in January 2017, when several workers were forced to sign their resignations under immense pressure, after they had protested and threatened to go on strike after because they were not awarded a promised New Year's bonus (around 100 euro). We formed a support group for the workers's uprising, together with the people from Râvna (another organization with anarcho-syndicalist tactics). The struggle also saw some international support, and the forced resignations were stopped. Shortly after that, we had two actions at the same time, both in the City of Târgoviste (close to Bucharest), helping a group of workers from a local store and some from a bakery, both with bad payment situations.

At the same time, we tried to produce informative materials and spread awareness about workers' rights, organizational tactics, and ways in which people working without a contract can organize and fight.

We also organized or took part in several solidarity struggles, against austerity and (even more) neoliberal labour reforms.

DA: How do you organize yourselves?

We organize ourselves on horizontal and anti-authoritarian principles. From the outset, we decided to avoid forming any type of organization sanctioned under Romanian law. We are an informal group and we think it would be worth discussing why we chose this, since it might help better understand the realities of labour and organization in Romania, and by extension in the countries from the former Eastern Bloc and the Balkans.

We were very critical of existing unions from the start, because of their general apathy, tactical rigidity, and the climate of excessive bureaucratization and favoritism that they create. Of course, we did not hesitate to work with them when it was in the interest of the workers or part of larger protests, or to encourage people to register with unions. We also don't exclude the possibility of forming a proper anarcho-syndicalist union at one point. The problem with this, which is also part of a larger problem that labour is facing in Romania right now, is that the law is violently anti-union and anti-worker, making it close to impossible to form a union without huge national logistics and funds, or even to join one of the existing unions in some industries.

The second common form of organization in Romania is the NGO/think tank. As you probably know, this is a more widely spread phenomenon in the countries from the former Eastern bloc, where the neoliberalisation and the formation of a new administrative class led to NGOs replacing any type of social safety net. The way these are registered by law makes them seem like a flat hierarchy, but they impose some strong internal power dynamics, with a central group and many marginal volunteers that have almost no word to say in the way things are organized, and close to zero external transparency or accountability, with hidden profits motives. While some such groups do great work in helping marginal groups and organizing mutual aid when the state is missing (which happens most of the time), for instance for womens' rights, LGBTQ+ activism, and organization of ethnic communities (since racism against the roma minority is an important issue) - they offer little intersectional potential because of their mostly one-issue profile (which is a complain about the NGOs, not the people in them since some of these are comrades that we take part in common actions with), and offer even less possibility to help labour, given how strongly labour law crushes the workers.

DA: What do you understand by militancy?

For us, "militant" means fighting, not for reforms and not only for better workplace conditions, but against capitalism, bosses, and other oppressors. We do not treat militancy or organizing as a rally call to bring people to support or donate for a political candidate. We focus on workplace conditions, and our purpose is not to be a vanguard for workers but rather a tool to coagulate a community that can fight the system, in the factory, field, shop, or wherever needed. Our idea of militancy is anticapitalist, because we really think people know what's best for them and can organize themselves, without any need for bosses or managers. We are aware that taking place in workplace conflicts won't turn people into radicals overnight, but it allows them to gain more awareness of how they are controlled and exploited, and will therefore be able to identify conflicts and organize their new colleagues when needed, basically expanding the floor of the capitalist cage.

DA: What are your forms of action at this time?

The Covid pandemic hit us very hard, since workers' rights to strike, for instance, were literally suspended. We were not able to act or be involved in any unitary action, since most of our members are still struggling to make ends meet. Right now there are maybe 4 or 5 of us active, but we're slowly bouncing back. We were, however, involved in more individual struggles or part of other groups which acted locally. For instance, we collaborated with our comrades from The Right to the City (a group from Timisoara), on a pamphlet/zine on housing justice and its connection with workplace organization. We also continued to try and provide online counselling for people who lost their jobs during this period or needed help in negotiating with their bosses or wanted to know their rights.

DA: Is there already an exchange of experience with syndicates of the FAU or other anarchist grassroots unions in other countries?

During our years of activity we got in touch with many syndicates or grassroots unions. Our first contact with the FAU was with a member from FAU Jena. Three years ago, during the Balkan Anarchist Bookfair, we got in touch with anarcho-syndicalist initiatives from all over the Balkans. We are also in touch with other groups (antifa, for housing, etc.) from Europe, especially in the Balkans. For a few years we've been an observer member of the Transnational Social Strike (TSS) movement, taking part in their 2017 congress.

DA: How is more international networking possible?

We are always open to more international networking. Of course, for strategic reasons, we are interested in networking especially in the Balkans, Moldavia, and the other neighbouring EU states, but would ideally want to participate in international networking rather than local.

The way we understand the idea of networking implies common actions. For example, some of us worked together with other comrades from Romania under local coordination of FAU Bonn during the Bornheim crisis last year. This crisis of capitalism is not something that happened by chance, but with premeditation by Germany and Romania (and the whole Union), and we cannot expect their solutions to do much.

We also think it would be useful to focus international solidarity on anti-imperialism, since we see both Germany and Romania spending more and more money on drones and armament (this is still debated in Germany as far as we know, but Romania has constantly allocated funds towards arming, to the detriment of social programmes).

DA: What is the situation in Bucharest right now with regard to the Corona pandemic? Are there any concepts (of the government), such as that of short-time work in germany, to mitigate the effects of the pandemic? What policies are being pursued?

The situation in Bucharest and in the big cities in Romania is not so good right now, many of them are functioning under severe restrictions. Private activities and the presence in the public space are allowed only between 5 in the morning and 22 in the night. Everyone who has to go to work or has to be outside in the night has to have a declaration that stipulates why they are outside and could be stopped any time by the police, who have committed several abuses so far.

The government has been implementing the idea of telework since the beginning of the pandemic. This is for public servants only. This measure doesn't apply for workers from private companies but despite this fact the ones that are not doing manual work, work from home. So in general the more privileged workers are working from home and the most precarious are still going to their workplace (workers who work in transportation, retail, sanitation, etc.).

The government also suggests the idea of changing working programs in order to avoid overcrowding of public space and transportation. For example, the usual program for corporations is from 9 to 5, and the suggestion is to change it, for example from 12 to 20, or from 7 to 15. But if you go to the Bucharest subway line, for instance, you will see nothing has actually changed; it's just as crowded as before. Moreover, all these measures target the middle class, and not the people (working class) who work in shifts, so again, the government takes care only of a segment of the population.

DA: Is there a strategy with regard to Corona vaccinations?

The strategy of Corona vaccination is organized in 3 so called waves. The first one is composed of medical and social workers. The second one by essential workers and population at risk (65+ and other persons who have severe health problems, since life expectancy in Romania is not as high as in other European countries) and the third one that includes the remaining population.

Despite this scheme of vaccinations many vulnerable people are left out by it. There are people with severe health problems that didn't receive the vaccine because of this complicated way of requesting it, there are people who don't have identity cards that are left over by the whole system, not only by vaccination strategy. Moreover, the information strategy regarding vaccines is quite absent. Most worryingly of all, there is no strategy for vaccinating the numerous homeless population, who have been left out entirely, or those without papers or stable living places.

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