Workers convoy for the people of Bosnia

October 13, 1993

A convoy of trucks from Britain carrying tonnes of goods and spreading a message of international solidarity has passed through Slovenia on its way to Tuzla in Bosnia.

The convoy left the Timex factory in Dundee on August 9. The trucks were sent off with the applause of the workers, in struggle for nine months and the victims of a lockout. The convoy carried a message for the workers at the Fralsen factory in Besancon in France. The two factories are part of this multinational, which has demanded that the workers at Besancon complete work begun at Dundee.

While it is collecting medicines, foodstuffs and children's shoes, the convoy is more than a humanitarian mission. It is intended to create links between workers and rekindle internationalism. The convoy seeks to be a link between worker-led struggles throughout Europe. Above all, it wishes to repay the debt incurred during the great British miners' strike of 1984-1985, when the 11,000 miners of Tuzla and the surrounding region donated a day's pay every month to the British miners.

The town of Tuzla is in a region controlled by the Bosnian army and very difficult to reach because of the war. Everything is in short supply. The UN has refused to reopen the airport and organise an airlift.

Tuzla has a long history of peaceful coexistence. It is one of the towns in Bosnia where most of the people one meets see themselves simply as Bosnians, and not as "Muslims", "Serbs" or "Croatians".

The town of 120,000 people is an important industrial centre surrounded by factories and mines. In the last six months Tuzla has taken in lots of refugees. They have been fleeing towns in Bosnia's east tortured by Serb militias and army. For this reason Tuzla received an international prize in June "for having, in the midst of a terrible war, purposefully created an environment of fellowship among the Muslim, Serb and Croatian communities, and generously accepted at the same time thousands of refugees".

However, in reaction to the horrors that many have lived through, nationalism in the Muslim community has grown in Tuzla, and even more so in the surrounding areas.

Wherever in Britain the convoy passed, it received a warm welcome. Bosnians living there played a very active role in supporting it.

Some Muslim communities, especially Pakistanis, particularly aware of the current predicament of the Bosnian Muslims, mobilised with the same enthusiasm to fill the trucks bound for Tuzla. Trafalgar Square in London had been booked for September 5 by members of the Pakistani community to celebrate an important date in the life of the Prophet Mohammed. Learning that on the same day the organisers of the "Workers Convoy for Tuzla" wanted to hold a national rally there they turned it over to the event and turned up behind the banner of the committee "Workers Aid for Bosnia".

The national leadership of the trade unions was not keen to endorse the initiative. However, it did get official support from the printers', journalists' and oil workers' unions.

At the regional level the support of the unions was much stronger, especially among transport workers, miners and public servants. The transport workers at Dover obtained a free journey for the vehicles to Dieppe in France. The group U2 invited the convoy to collect money at its concerts. Some trucks will have to make several voyages to transport the tonnes of goods still held in warehouses.

The convoy arrived in France in early August. It has since also gone through Belgium, Germany, Italy and Austria, collecting goods and money donations along the way. On its journey the convoy has been joined by trucks from Scandinavia and Italy. In nearly every town it has received a big welcome from Bosnian solidarity committees and the general community.
[Translated and adapted by Sam Wainwright from two articles by Arthur Mahon in Rouge, September 2 and 23.]

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