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.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

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.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
July 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Red State, Blue State; Green State, Deep State
Paul Street
“Inclusive Capitalism,” Nancy Pelosi, and the Dying Planet
Anthony DiMaggio
Higher Education Fallacies: What’s Behind Rising Conservative Distrust of Learning?
Kevin Zeese
Green Party Growing Pains; Our Own Crisis of Democracy
Andrew Levine
Why Republicans Won’t Dump Trump Anytime Soon
Edward Hunt
Killing Civilians in Iraq and Syria
Michael Colby
Ben & Jerry’s Has No Clothes
Bruce Dixon
White Liberal Guilt, Black Opportunism and the Green Party
Mark Harris
The Revolutionary Imagination: Rosa for Our Times
David Rosen
America’s Five Sex Panics
Jack Heyman
Class War on the Waterfront: Longshore Workers Under Attack
Kim C. Domenico
Marginalize This:  Turning the Tables on Neoliberal Triumphalism
Brian Cloughley
Trying to Negotiate With the United States
John Laforge
Activists Challenge US Nukes in Germany; Occupy Bunker Deep Inside Nuclear Weapons Base
Jonathan Latham
The Biotech Industry is Taking Over the Regulation of GMOs From the Inside
Russell Mokhiber
DC Disciplinary Counsel Hamilton Fox Won’t Let Whistleblower Lawyer Lynne Bernabei Go
Ramzy Baroud
The Story behind the Jerusalem Attack: How Trump and Netanyahu Pushed Palestinians to A Corner
Farzana Versey
The Murder of Muslims
Kathy Kelly
At Every Door
David W. Pear
Venezuela Under Siege by U.S. Empire
Maria Paez Victor
Venezuelan Opposition Now Opposes the People
Uri Avnery
Soros’ Sorrows
Joseph Natoli
The Mythos Meme of Choice
Clark T. Scott
High Confidence and Low Methods
Missy Comley Beattie
Glioblastoma As Metaphor
Ann Garrison
Organizing Pennsylvania’s 197: Cheri Honkala on Frontline Communities
Ted Rall
What Happened When I Represented Myself as My Own Lawyer
Colin Todhunter
Codex Alimentarius and Monsanto’s Toxic Relations
Graham Peebles
Europe’s Shameful Refugee Policy
Louis Proyect
Reversals of Imperial Fortune: From the Comanche to Vietnam
Jeffrey Wilson
Demolish! The Story of One Detroit Resident’s Home
REZA FIYOUZAT
Billionaire In Panic Over Dems’ Self-Destruct
David Penner
The Barbarism of Privatized Health Care
Yves Engler
Canada in Zambia
Ludwig Watzal
What Israel is Really All About
Randy Shields
Matters of National Insecurity
Vacy Vlanza
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: Through Eyes of an Activist for Palestine
Cesar Chelala
Dr. Schweitzer’s Lost Message
Masturah Alatas
Becoming Italian
Martin Billheimer
Lessons Paid in Full
Charles R. Larson
Review: James Q. Whitman’s “Hitler’s American Model”
David Yearsley
The Brilliance of Velasquez
July 20, 2017
Sebastian Friedrich – Gabriel Kuhn
A New Class Politics
Patrick Cockburn
The Massacre of Mosul: More Than 40,000 Civilians Feared Dead
Paul Street
The Abandonment: Reflections on James Foreman’s “Locking Up Our Own”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail