Union leaders march through Bratislava.
photo: Ján Svrček
Led by their bosses on October 17, they used trumpets, rattles, drums, sirens and megaphones to express their dissatisfaction with government's handling of unemployment and living standards in Slovakia.
"The government ignores us. We can't be sitting in an ivory tower, but have to express our dissatisfaction. That's the only way to bring about change," said Miroslav Juriga 43, the union head from Slovak ferroalloys producer OFZ in northern Slovakia, as the rally brought city centre traffic to a standstill.
The meeting was also called to protest against the frozen dialogue between government representatives and union umbrella group KOZ in the aftermath of the planned increase in natural gas prices.
The KOZ bosses and representatives of the AZZZ employers association left a September meeting of the 'tripartite council', where the state conducts formal negotiations with labour and business, after turning down a government proposal to increase gas prices by 20%.
In the end, the government did not approve the price hikes after the leftist SDĽ and SOP parties vetoed the proposal in cabinet.
Unions are inflamed by proposed gas price hikes.
photo: Ján Svrček
Moreover, they refused to take part in this week's tripartite meetings proposed by Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda.
As the unions began to assemble in the suburbs of the capital, Dzurinda branded the policies of the labour leadership "two-faced", saying they were more interested in gestures than negotiations and had ignored his proposals for the meeting.
But KOZ head Ivan Saktor, who led the strikers towards to the Government Offices said: "On the contrary, the government has ignored agreements which were reached in the past and wants to blame it on us."
The strikers, who had come from different corners of Slovakia, said they were marching to protest serious national problems, not simply to complain of legal breaches.
University professor Anna Krakovická, 46, said: "People are not paid well, Slovakia is still fighting a high unemployment rate, young people can't find jobs. This is why we are here.
"I myself don't have such problems. But I think that even people who don't have a specific reason to be here should come and support such rallies," she added.
Krakovická was not the only one at the rally who had little personal reason to come.
Standing at the back of the rally square, Agriculture Minister Pavol Koncoš of the SDĽ said he had come to learn about the demands of trade unions "at first hand."
"I'm curious to see how the meeting goes. The government's session ended and I decided to come here," he said.
"I know many union bosses, and I don't think their policies are two-faced. I fully understand their demands with regards to the increase in the gas prices."
22. Oct 2001 at 0:00 | Peter Barecz