My heart doesn't go out to István Gaskó. Do you remember who he is? He is the leader of one of the numerous trade unions at MÁV (Hungarian State Railways). In addition he is the leader of the Democratic League of Independent Trade Unions, an umbrella organization of innumerable small trade unions representing over 100,000 workers. While most of the other trade union leaders are closer to MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party), István Gaskó clearly supported Fidesz when it was in opposition. He organized strike after strike, making demands that were clearly unreasonable. His strikes weren't particularly successful. When, for instance, he predicted a general strike that would bring the country to a standstill only a few thousand railroad workers followed him and then only for a few hours. I wrote about Gaskó as someone who was making points with Viktor Orbán ("Are Hungarian strikes a Fidesz political weapon?" and "Chaos repeated?"). Surely he was hoping for a reward when Fidesz came into power.
But Viktor Orbán is not the grateful type. In fact, if someone outside of the charmed circle makes a deal with him, that person can be pretty sure that he is going to be ruined as soon as Orbán no longer needs him. The best example of that kind of treatment is the case of József Torgyán, the leader of the Smallholders party, by now defunct. Torgyán, a buffoon by the way, who made possible the formation of the first Orbán government, was ruined and dispensed with as soon as Orbán no longer needed the votes of the Smallholders. Once the budget for two years (a Fidesz invention) was passed, Orbán moved with full force against Torgyán, his son, his ministers. In no time Torgyán was forced to resign as minister of agriculture. Well, something like that is happening to Gaskó now, but his fall from grace is not so dramatic because he never achieved such heights as Torgyán did.
Whether promises were made to Gaskó or not we will never know for sure, but rumors were circulating that Gaskó might get an important job in the new government as payment for services rendered. Of course, Gaskó today denies these rumors, but my feeling is that there was at least the expectation of reward on Gaskó's part. After all, his comrade-in-arms, Gábor Kerpen, leader of one of the two teachers' unions, received a cushy job from Rózsa Hoffmann, undersecretary in charge of education. He became the head of the Oktatási Hivatal (Office of Education) that seems to be handling organizational tasks connected to schools and universities. And what happened to Gaskó? He remained head of his own union and of the Liga (League) as the umbrella organization is informally called. No promotion, no new job.
Well, that's bad enough, but that the government is also preparing legislation that would make the law governing the activities of the trade unions tougher seems to be too much for Gaskó. In the last six months Gaskó never joined the other trade union leaders in criticizing the government, and he kept repeating that one must give the new government time. But now Gaskó is shaken. Hírszerző entitled the article dealing with Gaskó and the new trade union law "Orbán and co. executes their ally of yesterday." Well, no execution, but one thing is sure: if this bill passes (and why wouldn't it?) Mr. Gaskó will not be able to start a strike with only an hour's notice and without some prior agreement of minimum service.
As far as I understand the present setup, a strike by workers of a public utility company (including public transportation) is legal even if the two sides can't agree on the extent of minimum service. The new bill stipulates that if there is disagreement on minimum service either party can turn to the courts and the court's decision is final. However, if the court can't decide, no strike can take place; if it is held, it is illegal. That's what got Gaskó's goat. He considers this ruling unconstitutional. Gaskó is not the only one who considers the proposed legislation worrisome. Gábor Nemes, one of the union leaders at the Budapest Transit System and a friend of Gaskó, also expressed his misgivings.
But that's not all. The bill will also make some of the financial privileges of union leaders obsolete. I remember my utter astonishment when I found out that state-owned companies give very high salaries to the trade union leaders. In Gaskó's case, the situation is even stranger. He is also a member of the board of directors of MÁV. I find this absolutely ludicrous. If the employees want to have full time union leaders their salaries should be paid from union dues. But in Hungary even lesser leaders got fully paid days off from work in order to devote themselves to union duties. It seems that this would come to an end if the bill passes.
The government has other, in my opinion sensible suggestions. As it stands now, union dues are deducted and collected by the employer. The bill would stipulate that in the future the unions themselves would be responsible for collecting union dues. Needless to say, unions leaders don't like that either.
The proposed bill that got onto the website of Liga has neither a date nor the name of the submitter. Gaskó and other union leaders suspect that these changes will be part and parcel of the very large bill containing next year's budget. These provisions will be hidden somewhere among the thousands and thousands of paragraphs of the budget bill.
The Hírszerző article is followed by about fifty comments. Almost all of them are delighting in the fact that Gaskó fell on his face. Here are a few:
Gaskó and company deserve their fate. For years they have done Fidesz's dirty work with phony strikes.
Gaskó deserves what he gets. In vain was he sucking up to Fidesz and took people to the street.
You poor, stupid Gaskó, Orbán screwed you? Orbán betrayed you? What did you expect you, simpleton? Where have you been? Orbán betrayed MDF, the Smallholders, he devoured the Christian Democrats, he trampled down everything and everyone, including the rule of law. You thought that you were an exception? You deserve it!