Monday, October 23, 2006

A Revolução Hungara de 1956 (X)

Continuando com o Relatório da UNU sobre a Revolução Hungara, pags. 166-168:

III. Workers’ councils in factories

539. Since 1947, trade unions in Hungary had become instruments of the Government and eventually agents of the Hungarian Workers’ (Communist) Party. From then on, they were exclusively used to establish production standards, working conditions and wage scales in such a way as to serve the interests of the State. Their leaders were appointed by the Government, under the direction of the Party, and the chairman of the shop committee in each plant picked the committee members from workers trusted politically by the Party. Only one candidate was put up for election, and he was elected by show of hands. In these circumstances, as witnesses stated, workers ceased to consider the trade unions as their true representatives, but looked toward the establishment of genuine workers’ organizations which would not remain indifferent to their complaints and their demands.(24) This criticism of the unions had become widespread before the uprising, and Népszava, the central organ of the National Council of Trade Unions, (Szakszervezetek Országos Tanácsa) (SZOT), declared on 9 September 1956 in an editorial: “Trade union activities in Hungary became distorted and for years have been run on the wrong lines. The time has come now for the trade union movement to become, once again, a workers’ movement”.

540. Hungarian workers were aware that in neighbouring Yugoslavia, the economic and social status of workers was superior to their own, and that Yugoslav workers had some say in the running of factories through the agency of Workers’ Councils. Hungarian workers, according to witnesses, were especially attracted by the Yugoslav system whereby the factory manager was elected by the Workers’ Council and not imposed on them as was the case in Hungary. For some time before the revolution questions relating to worker-management relations in general and the Yugoslav Workers’ Councils in particular had been widely discussed in the trade unions and in the Petőfi Club. Articles were published - including one by the Deputy Secretary-General of the National Council of Trade Unions, Jenő Fock - suggesting changes in the status of trade unions and factory bodies. A well-known economist, János Kornai, a convinced Communist, made a critical study of the “scientific Marxist-Leninist planned economy” and, among the new methods which he proposed to help in solving the problems of State-managed industry, he stressed the role of Workers’ Councils. During the summer and fall of 1956, leading economists and trade union leaders - among them Professor István Friss, Zoltán Vas and Sándor Gáspár, the latter Secretary-General of the National Council of Trade Unions - went to Yugoslavia to study the functioning of Workers’ Councils, and reported on them at public lectures and in the press.

541. Some of the demands put forward by student organizations and other intellectual bodies on the eve of the uprising related to the situation of workers and included proposals for the setting up of Workers’ Councils. The Petőfi Club of the Communist League of Working Youth (DISZ), in a resolution adopted on 22 October, suggested that the Central Committee of the Party and the Government should promote “the development of a socialist democracy in Hungary… by satisfying the justified political demands of the workers, and by establishing factory autonomy and workers democracy”.(25) A statement issued by the Hungarian Writers’ Union on 23 October included the following point: “Factories must be run by workers and specialists. The present humiliating system of wages, working norms and social security conditions must be reformed. The trade unions must truly represent the interests of the Hungarian workers.”(26)

A. The establishment and functions of Workers’ Councils

542. The first Workers’ Council in Hungary, which was set up in the United Lamp Factory in Budapest (Egyesült Izzó), was constituted on 24 October,(27) some two days before the authorization of the setting up of such Councils by the Central Committee of the Hungarian Workers’ (Communist) Party. The first Workers’ Councils in the provinces were set up in Debrecen and Dunapentele around 25 October. By 26 October, Workers’ Councils had been set up in many factories both in Budapest and in the provinces. Workers’ Councils were elected in enterprises of the most varied types - in industrial plants, mines, State-owned farms and hospitals.

543. Workers’ Councils in factories of a given area set up co-ordinating committees among themselves. Such a committee, called the Central Workers’ Council of Csepel, was set up about 30 October by the nineteen Workers’ Councils in that area. The Workers’ Councils in the Greater Budapest area set up their co-ordinating body after the second Soviet attack; this Greater Budapest Workers’ Council was to play a major political role during the month of November and part of December 1956.(28)

544. Witnesses explained how the Workers’ Councils, in which they had participated, were elected by the factory workers in free, democratic elections. In some cases, for lack of time, no real elections were organized but, by forming a temporary Workers’ Council, de facto leadership of the workers in the factory was assured. Few Communists were among those elected to the Workers’ Councils. In the opinion of witnesses connected with various Councils, the industrial workers no longer put their trust in Communist leaders. Many of the heads of formerly Communist-controlled trade unions voluntarily relinquished their positions in favour of the new leaders of the Workers’ Councils.

545. The tasks of Workers’ Councils varied during the different phases of the revolution. However, the Councils were, above all, active political organs of the workers. In practice, between 24 and 31 October, they were “strike committees” and insurrectionary centres for combatant workers. After 31 October, and until the second Soviet intervention, the Councils considered that their chief responsibility was to prepare for a resumption of work. From that time on, the Workers’ Councils participated fully in the political aspects of the revolution. They were also active in the organization of food supplies for the people of Budapest, especially for hospitals, and took part in the repair of damaged hospitals and factories and in restoring means of transport and communication. A first step taken by the Councils was usually the dismissal of the existing managerial staff of the factory or establishment. In many cases Workers’ Councils dismissed the directors and personnel officers who were all members of the Communist Party, but retained the business and technical managers, unless they were members of the Party. Another step taken by the Workers’ Councils was to withdraw money from the bank account or to use other available funds of the undertaking concerned to pay the workers’ salaries. Workers’ Councils also sought to secure food for workers and their families. In some cases, factory guards were set up to protect the plant. Many Workers’ Councils destroyed the “white cards” on all workers which were held by the personnel officer. In many cases, they removed photographs of Russian and Hungarian Communist leaders and Soviet insignia. In some cases plans were drawn up to organize the work of the undertaking so as to increaseproduction and reduce costs.

546. The Workers’ Councils were also responsible for transmitting to Mr. Nagy’s Government the political and economic demands of the workers. This function was of considerable significance at the beginning of the uprising, but lost some of its importance later, when major demands were put forward by the Revolutionary Councils. However, it regained importance in the first days of November with the increased concentration of Russian troops on Hungarian soil, and after 4 November it became of paramount importance.(29)

547. The Workers’ Councils and the Revolutionary Councils were closely related phenomena of the Revolution. In many cities the Revolutionary Councils were elected by the delegates of Workers’ Councils, and most of the Revolutionary Councils included many workers in the membership. Witnesses described how, after the election of a Revolutionary Council or a National Committee in such a way, a mutual link was created between a Revolutionary Council and the Workers’ Councils which were to be set up in the area covered by it. In one case, reported by the newspaper of the Hungarian National Revolutionary Committee, the establishment of certain Workers’ Councils was not recognized, and a new election was ordered “in accordance with the spirit of true democracy”.(30)

548. The demands put forward by the Workers’ Councils in most cases resembled those of the Revolutionary Councils described in part II of this chapter.(31) In many cases, they were coupled with the threat of a strike, should the demands not be met. Thus on 26 October, the Workers’ Council of Miskolc demanded that the Soviet Army should leave Hungary at once, that a new Hungarian Government should be constituted and that a complete amnesty should be extended to all those who had participated in the uprising.(32) The Temporary Workers’Council of the Hungarian Optical Workers demanded on 29 October the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary and the recall of Péter Kós from the United Nations. They added that the factory would resume work only if the delegation which had been sent to the Government received a satisfactory answer.(33) The representatives of Workers’ Councils from a number of factories of Greater Budapest, which met at the Belojanis Factory on 31 October, demanded free and secret elections with the participation of several parties, the trial of those responsible for the ÁVH massacres, immediate dismissal of some Ministers and immediate withdrawal of Hungary from the Warsaw Treaty.

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