Working conditions, worsened by the pandemic, pushed Damjana Ajd and other market workers to organize themselves. Despite the pressure, they made it possible to close it on Sundays for the first time in 17 years with the campaign they continued fearlessly. Damjana Ajd recalls May Day in socialist Yugoslavia and sends her May Day message to Ekmek and Gül readers.
Could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Damjana Ajd. I am a wife and mother of two adult children and a retail worker in a grocery store where I have been working for 28 years.
Despite feeling uncertainty, I also felt enough anger about the conditions in the retail sector that in 2020 I joined the Trade Union of Worker’s in trade sector, Slovenia (SDTS) and became an active member. With the support of the union’s general secretary and the encouragement of comrades from the Center for Social Research (CEDRA), I gained all the necessary initial knowledge about union activities.
‘2020 IS NOT ONLY THE YEAR OF COVID-19, BUT THE YEAR OF UNION STRUGGLE’
What were the issues which you organised around?
2020 was not only a year of covid, but also a year of union struggles. Capital demanded more and more of us retail workers, while only offering an embarrassingly low salary, no protective equipment, low number of employees and constant mobbing. In the last year, profits have tripled for owners, but there can never be enough profit for capital. The workers in the shops were struggling to keep working, both physically and mentally. The SDTS General Secretary, in cooperation with CEDRA, called on all active members of all retail chains to join forces and clarify our demands in Parliament on the 15th of July 7 2020. We requested that on Sundays all retail stores and shops are closed! At first I was afraid of speaking in parliament, but I overcame it because I was not alone in the fight. We, workers, trusted each other, knowing that our only chance of success is if we join forces and unite.
Damjana Ajd speaking in parliament. Her speech attracted great attention on social media and enabled more workers to participate in the petition | Photo: Damjana Ajd personal archive
HAND-TO-HAND SIGNATURE PAPERS
For the first time, retail workers came together - because we believed in our victory against capital. The long struggle of the trade union and the experiences provided by the pandemic, created an atmosphere in which part of the politicians also supported our struggle for closing shops on Sundays. However, capital refused to listen to and understand our demands.
This is why we had launch a campaign to collect signatures for our petition. And the response from the workers has been phenomenal. At first we collected workers’ signatures right in the stores, but soon the management realized that we were serious and that we had great success. Intimidation began, and soon they baned us from carrying out our activities in the shops. However, that didn’t stop or scare us. We got organized quickly. We hid the signature sheets in cupboards and drawers in break-rooms. We also got solidarity support from bars and restaurants located in the shopping centers, which allowed us to gather the signatures in their premises.
NO TIME TO REST
And this time, capital failed to suppress us, on contrarty, with its counter-actions it gave us new energy, new strength and the awareness that we needed to connect even more strongly with each other. It has been a long time since I felt that we, the workers, were united, and that we sincerely believe united we will succeed. And we did succeed. shops on sundays in slovenia are now closed after 17 years.
However, the union has no time to rest as capital is persistent and cunning in exploiting workers. Pressures, threats of dismissal, mobbing, work intensity are still increasing ...
WORKERS’ PRIDE IS BEING TRAMPLED
What would be your message of May Day to the readers of Ekmek ve Gül?
Today the 1st of May, a holiday I remember with nostalgia. It’s been a long time since I’ve been a child onicely dressed, with a red carnation on my white blouse, proudly singing the International in a choir. I remember the solidarity, the pride of the workers, who were greatly valued in socialist Yugoslavia. I remember waking up in the morning to the music of the marching band and parades of beautifully dressed and proud ironworkers. I remember the celebrations at Ivarčko Lake, where I proudly recited the poems of Kajuh (Slovenian revolutionary poet): "There are only a million of us, a million of us dying among the dead, a million whose blood is being drank by myrmidons, a single million who are being tortured, a million of us suffering and yet never vanquished! Never!"
But today, the workers’ pride is being trampled - we are just an expense, just a number. Yet there is still hope in this cruel time. More and more shy red carnation buds can be seen. The trade union movement, and the workers’ movement associated with it, is beginning to awaken again. We are aware that as individuals we won’t be able to achieve anything. But together, united, we can reach for the heavens. Long live May 1st for all honest, hard working people, for pensioners, the disabled and especially for those who are not afraid to think critically.
CLICK to access full file, 'How do women workers organize across borders?'
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Photo: Personal archive of Damjana Ajd, from the first press release by workers
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