FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Growth of the Russian Labor Movement

by BORIS KAGARLITSKY

The important confrontation between employees and administration of the “Ford” plant in Vsevolozhsk, north of St Petersburg ended in compromise. Salaries were raised by 16-20 per cent depending on the category of employee, rather than by one third, as the trade union demanded. Using the boxing terminology, one may say that for strikers it was the “victory on points”.

The significant outcome of the events at the “Ford” plant lies in the fact that the labor movement has attracted public attention. They started to talk and write about it, they started to look at it–some with hope, others with apprehension. In essence the labor movement proved to be so far the first and the only real manifestation of “civil society” in modern Russia. Not of the artificial one, established for Western grants or sitting in a fake Public Chamber, but of a real grassroots movement.

The owners of enterprises respond to the demands of employees with natural irritation. Though there are differences. Western managers are used to negotiating with strikers. Managers and owners, representing Russian capital behave in a quite different way. During the strike at the Murmansk sea port the internal security cops “dealt” with the employees. But when the strike was called in the port of Novorossiysk, which is larger and more important for the economy, the local Main Department of Internal Affairs was involved at the instance of the administration to suppress the troublemakers. According to Alexander Schepel, leader of the Russian Labor Confederation, the more influential the owner of the enterprise is, the more aggressive is the interference of authorities. Some involve security service, others call for special police squad, and others involve Prosecutor General’s Office to deal with trade union.

Having started in transnational companies, the wave of strikes has gradually spread to “old” soviet enterprises. The work-to-rule strike at Kachkanar Mining and Ore-Processing Plant may be the example to that. The company has adopted the amended labor contract for the year 2008. Chapters concerning remuneration of labor, recreation of employees, labor protection and organization of the way of production were changed. It was promised that by the end of the year in case of meeting the production plan the salary would be indexed by 29%.

It comes naturally that on-site success causes chain reaction of demands at other enterprises. Increasing conflict at enterprises puts the Russian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR), of which the majority of employees are members, in a complex situation. Official trade unions never wanted to strike. Nevertheless, at the basic level, members of the FNPR get more and more involved in the fight for their rights. Primary organizations showing too much fervor almost always find themselves in conflict with the superior organization. To save face, however, the examples of “successful struggle” are necessary. The problem is that propagating the achievements of the Kachkanar plant trade union, the executives of the FNPR provoke its other member organizations to follow the lead of miners.

The same ambiguity occurs in the FNPR’s attitude towards the Labor Code. On the one hand, this Code was elaborated and adopted with direct participation of the Federation, it consolidates its privileged status. On the other hand, it provokes today the increasing irritation of both activists of free trade unions and many FNPR members. Reflecting these sentiments, Mikhail Schmakov, leader of official trade unions, has backed the request to review the Code. And Oleg Neterebsky, Deputy President of the FNPR, in his statement last week has publicly criticized existing legislation. According to him in Russia it is practically impossible to call a strike without breaking the law, and therewith there is no any mechanism of peaceful argument settlement. Current legislation enables courts to acknowledge all strikes illegal on formal grounds.

One may laugh at the tardy insights of the leaders of official trade unions, but better late than never. The labor movement grows from below, and not only through emergence of new organizations. Uncontrollable inflation becomes the “trigger” causing more and more conflicts.

It is easy to predict that the struggle for the amendment of the Labor Code promises to become the most important political issue of the year 2008. The leadership of the All-Russian Labor Confederation–VKT, the largest union of free trade unions, of which the employees of the Vsevolozhsk’s “Ford” make part – has announced the forthcoming start of a large-scale company for amending the Code. “Social peace” which reigned in Russia during the most part of 2000s naturally ends with the new surge of the class struggle. It is a paradox that one thing has predetermined another one. The same economic growth which primarily made the blue collars calm and obedient, has all in all provoked new demands of the lower strata. Such is the logic of capitalism.

BORIS KAGARLITSKY works as a senior research fellow at the Institute of Comparative Political Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

 

 

 

 

Boris Kagarlitsky PhD is a historian and sociologist who lives in Moscow. He is a prolific author of books on the history and current politics of the Soviet Union and Russia and of books on the rise of globalized capitalism. Fourteen of his books have been translated into English. The most recent book in English is ‘From Empires to Imperialism: The State and the Rise of Bourgeois Civilisation’ (Routledge, 2014). Kagarlitsky is chief editor of the Russian-language online journal Rabkor.ru (The Worker). He is the director of the Institute for Globalization and Social Movements, located in Moscow.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
Thomas Knapp
Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State
Jordan Flaherty
Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity
Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
Steve Horn
What Do a Louisiana Pipeline Explosion and Dakota Access Pipeline Have in Common? Phillips 66
Brian Saady
Why Corporations are Too Big to Jail in the Drug War
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Peaceful Protest to Armed Uprising
Luke Meyer
The Case of Tony: Inside a Lifer Hearing
Binoy Kampmark
Adolf, The Donald and History
Robert Koehler
The Great American Awakening
Murray Dobbin
Canadians at Odds With Their Government on Israel
Fariborz Saremi
A Whole New World?
Joyce Nelson
Japan’s Abe, Trump & Illegal Leaks
Christopher Brauchli
Trump 1, Tillerson 0
Yves Engler
Is This Hate Speech?
Dan Bacher
Trump Administration Exempts Three CA Oil Fields From Water Protection Rule at Jerry Brown’s Request
Richard Klin
Solid Gold
Melissa Garriga
Anti-Abortion and Anti-Fascist Movements: More in Common Than Meets the Eye
Thomas Knapp
The Absurd Consequences of a “Right to Privacy”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail