During the 1970s and 1980s Ceauşescu determined that Romania should be completely debt free and sought to repay its foreign debt ahead of the repayment schedule agreed to by the country’s creditors. To accomplish this, he exported for sale any products or materials of value; what little inferior food and products remained was sold on the domestic market. Opposition was ruthlessly crushed and expressions of discontent were stifled by the ubiquitous Securitate, the secret police. As a result, in order to survive, more and more people began to transact business through barter trade and other informal economic means. Ceauşescu achieved his goal, but at a huge cost to nearly all sectors of the country. Since the revolution in 1989, restructuring of the coal sector, the country’s economic contraction, and a shift toward natural gas all contributed to a significant decrease in both production and consumption of coal in Romania. Production declined by 57%, from 66.4 million short tons (Mmst) in 1989 to 28.6 Mmst in 1998. Consumption also fell more than 60%, from 77.7 Mmst in 1989 to 30.8 Mmst in 1998.
During this same period the Jiu Valley has been profoundly influenced by lack of re-investment, deteriorating infrastructure, mine closures and massive layoffs, environmental degradation, and political and cultural isolation from the rest of Romania.
However, in 1997, after his protector was ousted from power by the opposition, Cozma was arrested and sentenced to 2 years in prison. Released after one year, Miron Cozma mobilized his miners in response to the Government decision to close down some mines and marched towards Bucharest, throwing Romania into an unprecedented crisis. After violent clashes with the Gendarmerie, the then Prime Minister Radu Vasile was forced to sign an armistice with the miners to avert the escalation of the conflict. The calm was short-lived; Cozma was again sentenced to prison by the Supreme Court of Justice for the 1991 mineriad. As a result, Cozma led a new miners' march towards Bucharest, but this time the police forces succeeded in stopping the miners and taking Cozma into custody to serve his prison term.
Organized labor has played an important role in post-revolution Romania, affecting the actions of every government since 1989. Chronic work stoppages and economic disruptions by various labor organizations helped bring down successive governments and contributed to general economic and political instability. While trade unions have existed in Romania since the late nineteenth century, during the communist period from World War II until 1989 independent trade unions were not allowed to exist. Instead, there was a national pyramid of industry federations consisting of enterprise trade unions and headed by the General Union of Romanian Trade Unions. The few attempts during this period to found independent trade unions or organize worker protests were ruthlessly suppressed, with their leaders severely punished or executed. Following the chaos of December 1989, trade organizations sprang up virtually overnight. Unlike in Western Europe where trade-union pluralism typically reflects ideological groupings, in Romania labor movement fragmentation reflected distrust of higher authority, personal ambition and unwillingness of leaders to reduce or share power. As of 1997, labor analysts estimated that there were over 14,000 enterprise trade union organizations, 150 federations, and 18 confederations, representing approximately two-thirds of the workforce. Some consolidation has occurred over the past several years.
Few, if any, Romanian trade unions, though, have had as much influence or won as much national notoriety (or international attention) as the Liga Sindicatelor Miniere din Valea Jiului (League of Miners Unions of the Jiu Valley, or Jiu Valley Coal Miners Union). While there are two other coal mining regions (primarily surface mining) in Romania, and other miners unions, the Jiu Valley Coal Miners Union has long been the most independent and militant.
Political and social unrest in this region is nothing new. To this day miners commemorate the Lupeni Strike of 1929 (when the army killed 23 workers and wounded at least 53), the big strikes of February 1933, and the miners’ protest in 1977 during the Ceauşescu years. On the latter occasion, on 1 August 1977, 35,000 Jiu miners gathered in the main yard of the Lupeni mine to protest against a new decree that raised the age of retirement from 50 to 55 and reduced the miners’ pensions. Spokesmen for the miners claimed that the protest was the culmination of many years of deteriorating conditions and the intolerable political situation in the country. Ceauşescu dealt with the miners by agreeing to their demands and then, as soon as the movement subsided, ordered reprisals against the leaders. He also transferred four thousand of them out of the area and replaced them, many of the replacements working as informants for the Securitate, the dreaded secret police. The subsequent climate of fear kept the miners silent until the 1989 revolution.
Since the 1989 Revolution the Jiu Valley miners have played a visible role in Romanian politics. In fact, Romanians have a name – mineriada (mineriad) - for the periodic eruptions of violence when Jiu Valley miners strike and descend upon Bucharest. The first post-revolution action came in 1990. In May 1990 a coalition party headed by a former high ranking communist official named Ion Iliescu won a sweeping presidential election (President from 1990- 1996, re-elected December 2000). The election was followed by widespread street demonstrations by students, professionals, etc., who contested the legitimacy of the elections. In response, in June 1990 President Iliescu issued a call to arms against “enemies of the regime.” The government trucked in thousands of miners from the Jiu Valley to Bucharest to confront the demonstrators. The rest of Romania and the world watched the government television broadcasts of miners brutally grappling with students and other protesters. Miners maintain their relative innocence of the brutality, claiming that the agitation and most of the brutality was the work of Iliescu’s government agents who had infiltrated and disguised themselves as miners. During this time the government made various promises to the miners.
The 1990 mineriad was followed by several other actions during Iliescu’s presidency. In September 1991, the miners, irritated that the government had not lived up to its economic promises, descended on Bucharest again. An estimated 10,000 miners came to the capital. Rioting ensued and lasted over four days. The actions during this time led to the resignation and replacement of the prime minister and his cabinet. August 1993 saw another miner strike and a resumption of general strikes by other trade unions. In November 1996, many miners, fed up with what they saw as a betrayal on the part of Iliescu, voted for his opponent, Emil Constantinescu, during the parliamentary and presidential elections.
The economic situation for state-favored working classes, such as the miners, who had been relatively insulated against the harsh privation suffered by the general populace, changed after 1989. During Ceausescu’s regime the mines and other ineffective state-owned industries were artificially propped up and protected against market realities. Miners were considered relatively well paid, although there was little of value to purchase with the money they earned. After the revolution in December 1989 the replacement government maintained Ceausescu’s policy of subsidizing these money-losing industries with few changes to the industrial or management practices that had led to the problems in the first place. The government borrowed heavily without adhering to the conditions of economic reforms required by the World Bank, the IMF and other international lenders. With Ceausescu’s forced privations lifted, and falling prices for Romanian exports, the country’s international debt soared. This in turn led to fewer funds allocated to industry reinvestment and maintenance.
Relations between labor and the new Constantinescu government, while appearing initially quite promising, proved as difficult and problematic as before. Under pressure from international lenders (most notably the International Monetary Fund), who refused to provide any more financial assistance unless inefficient and money-losing state owned operations were reduced and other reforms carried out, in February 1997 the new center right coalition embarked on a comprehensive macroeconomic stabilization and radical structural reform program. This program was also seen as a key requirement for attaining the government’s goal of membership in NATO and the European Union (EU).
The Constantinescu and Vasile (who succeeded Victor Ciorbea as Prime Minister) government’s urgent priority was to reduce budget and trade deficits by making major budget cuts (particularly in social spending), and eliminating non-profitable sectors, including the mines. Decreased mine yields (in no small part due to lack of operating capital and access to technology) and a low international price of and demand for Romanian coal all contributed toward the huge losses in the mining industry being incurred by the government. By some estimates, national demand for coal fell from 44 million tons in 1996 to 33.5 million in 1997, out of a potential annual capacity of 52 million tons.
Under the initial Constantinescu first prime minister and cabinet, the government executed what was referred to in the government and media as a “velvet restructuring” of the mining sector under Ordinance 22. In the process of the “velvet restructuring” 18,000 miners lost their jobs, with the rest left with uncertain futures. The government had promised the miners 15 to 20 months of salary as severance (totaling nearly 20-30 million lei, or $1,230-1,846 in the 8/99 exchange rate) to help them start their own businesses. Many of the miners, noting the growing number of terminations, did not hesitate to put their names on the lay-off list. However, a year after the beginning of the mining sector restructuring, only approximately 5,000 of the 18,000 had employment, either through starting their own jobs or finding other jobs (and most of these with the companies overseeing the mine closures).
Each mine closure is widely felt in the Jiu Valley community. In Campul lui Neag, the westernmost mine in Jiu Valley, after Ordinance 22 only 152 people remained of the 790 who used to work there before 1966. At Dâlja, a mine in the east of the Jiu Valley there were only 1,023 miners left of the former 3,000. In Lupeni, reputed the second largest mine in Europe and, unlike some of the other Jiu Valley mines, a relatively profitable one, by 1999 only 4,000 workers remained of the pre-1996 8,000 workers. Of these 4,000 only an estimated one-third were actual miners, with the remaining two-thirds aboveground jobs such as administrative, engineering, and technical staff.
The government’s actions, while winning concessions with the international lenders, led to growing antagonism with labor. By August 1997 the growing criticism of labor throughout the country translated into strikes and eventually led to the resignation and replacement of the prime minister and cabinet. In the Jiu Valley government’s announcement in 1997 of the closures of the Dâlja and Barbateni mines and the generally deteriorating conditions of the miners sparked riots and then led to a general strike.
Despite the probable and most likely reaction of the miners, in order to be eligible for an IMF loan to repay its debts the government was required to close more mines (142 which had been closed since 1997) and was pending decision on closing additional 112 mines. To limit losses in the unprofitable mining sector, then running at $370 million, the government made an announcement just before Christmas 1998 of its plan to close non-profitable mines. After closing about 100 mines and getting rid of 90,000 mining jobs in the course of 1997, including 20,000 in the Jiu Valley, implementing this new plan would result in firing additional 6,500 miners.
The result was an outpouring of miner resentment and anger at what the miners saw as another betrayal. Organized by union leader Miron Cozma, on 20 January 1999 an estimated 10-15,000 set out on another mineriad from the Jiu Valley to Bucharest to force the government to change its policy, demand wage increases and re-opening of recently closed mines.
Along the way the caravan of miners fought pitched and bloody, tear-gas choked battles with the police and wreaked havoc along the way. The army was mobilized and waited on the outskirts of Bucharest. The anticipated and dreaded showdown between the miners and army, however, never materialized. The miners had not reached Bucharest when a secret compromise was reached between union leader Cozma and Prime Minister Radu Vasile on 22 January. In return for the miners’ agreement to turn around and go back to the Jiu Valley, the government agreed to a 30 percent pay rise, re-opening of two previously closed mines, and the spending of hundreds of millions of European Union development funds on projects in the Jiu Valley. Some analysts conclude that the agreement may well have averted an eruption by disaffected workers in other industries.
To many the compromise agreement was seen as a Pyrrhic victory for both sides. While the government avoided a showdown with the miners, the compromise represented “a potentially devastating setback to the government’s flagging efforts to push through market-oriented reforms - including the closure of 140 loss-making coalmines, 49 loss-making state enterprises and a five-year plan to restructure the steel industry with the loss of 70,000 jobs.” As for the miners the future was no more certain than it was before the strike.
The agreement made Cozma a hero in the Jiu Valley, but within a month of his return he was arrested and put in prison as a result of a decision of the Romanian Supreme Court, an action seen by most miners as political revenge by the government. For his role in the 1991 mineriad Cozma had been convicted and sentenced to prison for three years, of which he had served eighteen months before being released in 1998. After the January mineriad, despite his apparent agreement with the government Cozma continued to press for new concessions and announced another strike. In its decision the Supreme Court increased Cozma’s sentence to 18 years for “undermining state power” in the 1991 mineriad, along with the charge of illegal possession of a firearm. Cozma defied the government to arrest him, but soon thereafter, although protected by a convoy of several thousand miners, Cozma and over 500 miners were arrested in a bloody clash with the police. Several weeks later, already imprisoned, Cozma was convicted on two other unrelated charges.
In December 2000, the electorate, which had seen the country’s economic and social situation continue to degenerate under the Constantinescu government, overwhelmingly rejected the “centrists”, and voted Iliescu’s social democrats back into power.
To mitigate the effects of the mine closures, in 1999 the government announced several measures to assist the economically depressed Jiu Valley. These measures included: 1) designating the Jiu Valley as a disadvantaged area, a status under which companies investing in the area would benefit from certain tax breaks; 2) construction on the Campul lui Neag-Baile Herculane road (begun August 15, 1999); and 3) the National Tourism Authority designating the Jiu Valley as a tourist area in order to provide jobs for some of the laid-off workers. In addition, the World Bank designated $12 million to fund a social mitigation plan. Most miners, however, continue to see no tangible assistance or implementation of job creation or new skills training. As such, government pronouncements are skeptically seen as mere lip service of politicians attempting to placate the electorate and prevent more miner unrest. The money was inadequate, they say, the development and implementation of laws and programs set up too late, and no infrastructure was ever established to support the development of new industries like tourism.
Within the Jiu Valley opinions and rumors abound as to what the future potentially holds. Many miners feel that coal mining in Romania is a moribund industry that will never regain its position of significance. Some still hope that the industry will experience resurgence and point to the example of the Hungarian government, which, after closing their mines under international pressure, was compelled by the powerful reaction of the miners to reopen them.
Miners salaries, estimated at $400-500/month as of January 2006, are considerably higher than the average in Jiu Valley which lag far behind the national average income. Miners who have been laid off by the mines are to receive a severance pay, but often saw this eaten away by the hyperinflation in the late 1980’s, and was only brought under control in the past several years (2006). During the first redundancies, what little income in lei was not spent immediately for basic necessities was typically not deposited in banks (which were seen as unreliable) but was exchanged for U.S. dollars or Deutschmarks and hidden in their homes. By 2000 this had begun to change as the Romanian banks became more efficient and competitive, and as public confidence began to grow, so did deposits.
With the redundancy pay-offs, some of the miners expressed interests in starting their own businesses and see the Jiu Valley develop a tourist industry, but the impediments to both are painfully obvious and everywhere. The original redundancy payments, estimated at a total maximum of 100% of 12 month salaries (paid upfront), plus an additional 50-60% of monthly salary paid over the next 18 months, was hardly enough to buy inventory or start a business, particularly when adding in the cost of dealing with bureaucracy and corruption. Before 2000, if the money was not invested with a high enough return, the high Romanian inflation soon ate the savings away. Furthermore, while many residents looked to the development of tourism as a substitute industry, this possibility seemed limited by the lack of a service economy infrastructure, with such basics as adequate accommodation, roads, transport, equipment rentals, tourist information, programs, medical facilities, banks, and other basic business services.
Today, the population of the Jiu Valley is estimated to be between 160-170,000 inhabitants, largely concentrated in the region’s six mining towns – Petroşani, Lupeni, Vulcan, Uricani, Petrila, and Aninoasa, but also including small villages such as Câmpul lui Neag and Lonea. Eighty percent of the workforce depends upon the mines for work and income. In 1990 there were 15 active mines in the Jiu Valley. Seven of these (i.e., Dâlja, Iscroni, Lonea-Pilier, Petrila-Sud, Câmpul lui Neag, Uricani, and Valea de Brazi) have since been closed. The Valea de Brazi and Uricani Mines were closed recently in 2004 and 2005, respectively. As of January 2006, the eight active mines are as follows: Petrila, Lonea, Livezeni, Paroşeni, Vulcan, Aninoasa, Lupeni, and Bărbăţeni.
The mines are scattered throughout the Jiu Valley. The location of the active mines are as follows: the Petrila Mine is located in the town of Petrila), the Lonea Mine is located at the village of Lonea, the Livezeni is at the city of Petroşani, the Paroşeni and Vulcan Mines are at the town of Vulcan, the Aninoasa Mine is located in the town of Aninoasa, and the Lupeni and Bărbăţeni Mines are located in the city of Lupeni. The seven mines closed since 1989 were located as follows: Dâlja Mine (Petroşani), Iscroni Mine (Aninoasa), Lonea-Pilier Mine (Lonea), Petrila-Sud Mine (Petrila), Câmpul lui Neag Mine (Câmpul lui Neag), and the Uricani and Valea de Brazi Mines located near the town of Uricani. Through mine closures, forced layoffs and voluntary severance, the number of actual miners in the Jiu Valley has decreased considerably. The mine closures were accompanied by large numbers of lay-offs of miners. It is estimated that in 1989 there were some 40,000-50,000 mine workers (including both actual underground miners and auxiliary workers). The number of mine workers in the Jiu Valley today is estimated between 18,000-20,000, this number decreasing by some sixty percent during the ten-year period. Approximately 25% of total mine workers work above ground.
Although there are also few jobs elsewhere in Romania, unemployment is rampant in the Jiu Valley. Although many feel that this number is much higher, in 1999 the National Agency for the Development and Application of Reconstruction Programs in the Mining Regions (ANDIPRZM) estimated that over 16,000, or 25% of the working population, are unemployed, compared with the official statistics of the national average of 10%. While official estimates are lower, the former mayor of Lupeni (a city of approximately 35,000 and the location of the largest mine in Romania) estimated that real unemployment in the city is nearly sixty percent.