Yugoslav workplace periodicals

Yugoslav workplaces published various documents to inform workers about their place of employment. Some of these were strictly internal documents or bulletins but by the 1970s larger workplaces frequently published periodicals in a magazine or newspaper format.

In researching labour in late socialist Yugoslavia these workplace periodicals are arguably the most valuable source. Factory archival holdings are often inaccessible, destroyed, non-existent or ‘disappeared’ with the privatisation (pillaging) of socially/state owned firms.

In our research project these periodicals are the first source to be examined and we refer back to them throughout the research process (for examine in corroborating oral history accounts or comparing them with documents encountered in archival holdings).

fabricke novine

Cover pages from periodicals (Srbijateks Beograd, 1986; Jugolinija Rijeka 1988; Srećno Nikšić, 1978)

Many of the workplace periodicals emerging in this period referred explicitly to the 1976 Law on Associated Labour, Article 546 of which stated that Basic Organisations of Associated Labour (BOAL) were obliged to provide regular, timely, truthful content to workers in an accessible manner.[1] The restructuring and decentralisation of the Yugoslav economy with this law provided an impetus to regularly publish a periodical as a means of communication between the increasingly atomised BOALs, League of Communists, trade union and other institutions of self-management associated with an enterprise.

While one might expect these periodicals to exclusively represent management and craven party views they do still inform upon the concerns of workers and provide a range of viewpoints and critique, not only in and between the often unruly BOALS but also in regard to the wider community and state. The social historian concerned with everyday life can usually find quite a lot of material in the ‘I’ voice. As political and social rights were deeply connected to the workplace (‘the centre of one’s social universe’ as Susan Woodward terms it),[2] such publications reported not only on production and work related activities but also on the housing, leisure, health, political participation, education, living costs, trade union activities, state holiday celebrations and entertainment of employees and their families. Indeed one could consider these publications as providing sites where abstract phenomena (e.g., institutions of self-management, labour practices, concerns like unemployment, economic stabilisation) can be observed in particular, concrete instances, intersecting with lived experience. These periodicals frequently addressed the position of specific groups of workers – for example those with low wages, young workers, disabled workers, (non-) party members, workers in direct production, female workers, workers without secure housing. They also tacked social and public health issues such as unemployment, HIV/AIDS and alcoholism. Thus they are valuable sources not only for researchers of labour and self-management but also of Yugoslav social policy (welfare, healthcare etc.)

Between censorship and ‘interpersonal informing’

Many publications explicitly stated their intention not to function as a ‘top-down mouthpiece’ but as a site of mediation between employees of various backgrounds and the atomised BOALs For example the first issue of the Jadrolinija ferry company periodical in 1976 mentions the importance of ‘strengthening the influence of workers’ in the publication’s content and informing workers as part of a ‘battle against all attempts of individual and group influence of technical-bureaucratic structures’ on the flow of information. It was also deemed necessary to fight against ‘censorship and the holding back of information under the guise of ‘business secrets”’.[3] The expression ‘interpersonal informing’ was used to stress the ‘wish that the list not get a one-sided character by informing “from the top”… from the perspective of individual leaders to “those below”.

Indeed the reflexive nature of such publications could be seen in regular appeals for workers to participate by writing texts or providing feedback about the publication (in the case of Jadrolinija for a honorarium).[4] The periodical Srećno of the Bauxite mine complex in Nikšić, Montenegro appealed “Srećno is your paper! If you are not pleased with it, write for it so it can be much better!”[5].

srecno je vas list

A report on a reader satisfaction survey in the publication Minel (of the former Belgrade based construction and infrastructure giant) broached the issue of censorship in rather open terms by admitting that the publication could not always report on issues known to the editors but deemed it better to publish ‘half-information rather than no-information’.[6] Readers considered that (falling) living standards were not being sufficiently addressed, in particular that of housing.[7] The editors agreed and future editions of the publication contained more frequent reports on such issues. More items on women’s issues (another request by some readers) were not accepted – although the editorial team was entirely female they argued that the small proportion of women in the firm (both in management and in production) rendered dedicated ‘women’s interest’ content unnecessary.[8]

Accessing workplace periodicals

These publications are readily available in national and city libraries across the states of the former Yugoslavia (in sharp contrast to the rather haphazard access to the archives of enterprises – more on this in a future post).

Predictably the National Library of Serbia in Belgrade has the widest selection which transcends the Socialist Republic of Serbia but smaller city and university libraries can also have good resources for the particular region (e.g. Pula University Library stocks many periodicals of shipping and mining enterprises in coastal Croatia). Srećno!

Rory Archer, 05.11.2015

References

[1] Informativni list radne organizacije Zetatrans br. 39, novembar 1981, 14.

[2] Susan Woodward, “The Political Economy of Ethno-Nationalism in Yugoslavia” Socialist

Register 39 (2003) 76.

[3] Jadrolinija: Informativni list organizacije udruženog rada, br. 1, lipanj 1976, 1.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Srećno: List Rudnika boksita Nikšić, br. 63, mart 1981.

[6] Minel: Informativni list složene organizacije udruženog rada, br. 201, oktobar 1982, 5.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

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