By Norm Dixon
AMSTERDAM — The besieged people of Tuzla, a large industrial and mining town in Bosnia surrounded by Serbian forces, recently welcomed the 14th convoy of trucks bringing much-needed food aid and political solidarity. The convoys have been organised by International Workers Aid for Bosnia (IWA), an organisation of rank and file unionists throughout Europe who support the right of the Bosnian people, regardless of their ethnic origins, to live peacefully together.
IWA activist Ernst Van Lohuizen spoke to Green Left Weekly about the organisation's work. Van Lohuizen is also a senior leader of the Netherlands Socialist Workers Party (SAP).
"Tuzla is a town in the north-east of Bosnia, not very far from the border with Serbia. It is a developed industrial region with a strong workers' movement. The workers there have a strong tradition of international solidarity." During the British miners' strike in 1984-85, members of the miners' union in Tuzla each sent a day's pay to the British miners.
Van Lohuizen added that Tuzla remains a multi-ethnic community: "The municipal council very deliberately has a non-chauvinist policy. While lots of Serbian families have fled Tuzla, and enormous numbers of Muslim refugees are arriving, the policy of the local government is to keep the homes abandoned by Serbian families empty as a political sign that they are welcome to come back."
Tuzla remains virtually surrounded. The airport remains closed. Attempts to reopen it have been met by shelling. Food and other material aid can enter only by road, and even those routes are often uncertain and dangerous.
Two years ago the British miners agreed to organise support for miners and their families in Tuzla as it came under increasing attack by Serbian forces and their ethnic cleansing pogroms.
Beginning in Scotland, the campaign was taken up by the rank and file of many unions, in Britain and then Europe. Support is particularly strong in northern Europe and Scandinavia. IWA is now active in 11 countries, including France, Austria and Italy. An independent campaign in Spain uses IWA's infrastructure to deliver aid.
IWA's campaigns and political approach, as well as the practical questions associated with organising convoys to break the blockade, are decided by conferences of delegates from each country where IWA is active.
IWA is not simply a humanitarian operation, Van Lohuizen stressed. "We are a political campaign too. We denounce UN policy on Bosnia, we denounce the EU's policy. We have always denounced the arms embargo against Bosnia. Bosnia is a sovereign state and as such should have the means to defend itself."
IWA is also helping to rebuild the tradition of international political solidarity among trade unionists, he added.
As well as a coordination office in Sweden, IWA maintains a logistical centre near Split in Croatia, where there is a big warehouse. Food and other goods are then transported into Tuzla in trucks. Last year IWA bought five old East German army 4WD trucks to undertake these hazardous journeys.
Special convoys are being organised, Van Lohuizen told Green Left Weekly. "We got in contact with the Tuzla Women's Association, which involves 10,000 women. We have a project to support them. Women's organisations will collect aid throughout Europe and deliver it in a 'women's convoy'. Youth campaigns in European countries will organise aid for Tuzla University and some high schools. They need paper, they need computers, food and clothes."
International Workers Aid for Bosnia can be contacted by writing to Box 6507, S-113 83 Stockholm, Sweden. Telephone 46 8 612 12 48 or fax 46 8 673 03 45.