By Marián Leško
Ivan Saktor has come to the end of his 10-year presidency of the Confederation of Trade Unions [KOZ, a labour union umbrella group]. During his tenure, nothing of importance changed in the KOZ. The unions were in decline before his arrival, and they remain in decline today. What the KOZ was unable to achieve under Saktor as a union organization it will continue to pursue now as a political client [of the ruling Smer party]. Ivan Saktor did it this way for an entire decade.
The nature of Saktor's leadership is best expressed by his own statement: "The aims of unions can be achieved when a political party that is sympathetic to our goals is in a strong position in the political process". The president followed this credo from the beginning to the end. When, in 1997, the Mečiar government passed the Act on Wage Regulation, the KOZ left the tripartite [a formal policy body comprising government, business and labour representatives] and joined the democratic roundtable set up by the then-opposition.
When the KOZ's democratic partners won the 1998 elections and formed the government, Saktor's unions got their reward in the form of the Tripartite Act and a new Labour Code. But when the first Dzurinda government failed to do what the unions expected of it, relations soured to the point that the KOZ regularly called fruitless protest rallies in Bratislava. Few of these rallies had any concrete goal beyond expressing discontent with the Dzurinda government.
When the second Dzurinda government changed the Labour Code back to the way it was, the unions called a referendum on early elections. Ivan Saktor said very clearly what he was after: "We want to prevent this government from ruling for four years". Because the unions began to act towards the government as a radical political opposition party, they were punished with the cancellation of the Tripartite Act.
Saktor and the KOZ leadership then decided that Fico's Smer party understood the unions better, and that they should help Smer win the 2006 elections. Following elections they again got their reward, and again it was one they had achieved not as a union organization but as a political client. Like any client, the unions remain dependent on their masters, for whom they will never be an equal partner.
Political scientists Darina Malová and Palo Rybář wrote that the weakness of Slovakia's unions has historically been due to "the quality of their leadership". Saktor may be leaving today, but the leadership remains in place. And the unions are hanging around Fico's neck.
23. Oct 2006 at 0:00