Report on All-Russia Day of Action
International Solidarity with Workers in Russia
On June 19, 2001, a coalition of independent trade unions organized a nation-wide protest against the government proposal for a new Labor Code, which massively weakens the position of workers, forcing them to work a 12-hour day, accept wage payment in kind, job insecurity, legal blacklisting, enforced night work for pregnant women, child labor, and nullifies collective bargaining.
Ironically the leaders of the FNPR, the largest trade union confederation in the country, who initially declared their opposition to the Code, have now joined forces with the Government in a conciliatory commission which has approved the barbaric legislation.
Co-chair of the militant union Zaschita, Duma deputy, and one of the founders of the protest campaign, Oleg Shein, proposed the alternative draft, popularly known as the Shein Code which calls for a major extension, rather than a downsizing, of existing labor rights. This has received mass grass-roots support.
One hundred thousand workers participated in the Day of Action
Shein describes how 100,000 workers across the country were involved in the Day of Action. Dockers at all Russian ports staged a short symbolic strike, while seamen in some harbors simultaneously sounded their horn in solidarity. Strikes, including hunger-strikes by aviation workers, took place in Archangelsk, Kotlas, Petrozavodsk, Tyumen, Omsk, Saratov, Khanty-Mansiysk, and Yakutia. In Omsk, Siberia, two members of the Siberian Confederation of Labor on hunger-strike were threatened with prosecution.
On the October and Moscow railway lines, workers sounded the hooters to mark the event. At Sverdlovsk, in the Urals, there was a particularly good turnout with up to ten thousand people participating in actions that included a blockade of the main highway, and also of the local headquarters of the FNPR. In Astrakhan, participants included not only members of the militant union Zaschita but also, teachers and retail workers from the local branches of the FNPR in defiance of their national leadership. Involvement of FNPR workers occurred in other towns too.
In Moscow, several dozen people, including representatives of Zaschita, Sotsprof, the pilots union, air dispatchers and railway workers unions gathered outside the Duma in spite of a ban by the authorities under a far-fetched pretext. A further protest took place later outside the Ministry of Transport, and in the afternoon 150 workers of the large industrial plant GPZ demonstrated outside their factory.
Miners from the Independent Union of Miners (NPG) came from across the country to demonstrate on the Gorbaty Bridge, the same bridge where Moscow Mayor Luzhkov had sent his tanks to clear their pickets during the famous rail wars of 1998. Luzhkov banned the protest at the bridge (facing the building of the Government of the Russian Federation), declaring that the union could not give him the necessary guarantees of social order. Nevertheless the miners held another rally later.
Union leaders praise of Putin criticised
Campaign activists from Zaschita and the Movement for a Workers Party publicly criticized the cowardly behavior of some of the union executives involved in the campaign, who showered praise on President Putin and begged him to avoid creating a split in society. In fact, most ordinary people are already very well aware that their society is split. While a tiny minority of New Russians live in luxury, the majority of the population is experiencing a transition to nineteenth century living standards, with disease epidemics and a male life expectancy of just 56.
A negative and unacceptable aspect of the campaign was the continued involvement of the national-chauvinist Russian Communist Workers Party (RKRP). Promising to organize large rallies at GPZ and ZiL factories in Moscow, they were, in fact, almost completely absent from the former, while the latter protest never took place. The fact that large numbers of workers at ZiL had expressed interest in the Day of Action, and had been enquiring whether the event was still on, gave rise to suspicions of a deliberate sabotage by this grouping. In Leningrad, where there was strong influence by the RKRP over much of the campaign, and in the unions of several large enterprises in this, the second largest city, there were no reports of large numbers of factory workers taking to the streets.
The countrys largest opposition party, the red-brown Communist Party of the Russian Federation, too, was notable by its absence. Since its ability to wield influence from within the Duma has declined, the party has begun to take a harder stance against the government in words, though this has not been translated into practice on the streets.
Panic at Russian Embassy in London
Over 160 trade union and progressive activists from around the world responded to a call by International Solidarity with Workers in Russia (ISWoR) to send protests to Putin in support of the Day of Action and the alternative Shein Code. At the Russian embassy in London, farce erupted when bureaucrats panicked at the arrival of an ISWoR delegation delivering a giant envelope containing the names of those who had endorsed the protest. They closed the building down for half an hour.
The government intends to press on ahead with the first reading of its so-called Co-ordinated draft Code on July 5. However, as Oleg Shein has pointed out, this still allows the campaigners several months to build wider and stronger support across Russia before the crucial final reading is due in October. Failure will mean that for the first time in history, a modern industrialized country will enshrine in law, among other things, the reversal from the 40-hour to the 58-hour week. A sustained and determined campaign by Russian workers, with increased international support, will be necessary to defeat this monstrous legislation.
Militant workers in Russia are continuing to fight backand even if the Putin Code is passed in Octoberthey have to implement their laws. This is where the labor network built during this fight against the Putin Code can be transformed into a more open class struggle fighting force.
International Solidarity with Workers in Russia
ISWoR web-site: http://members.aol.com/ISWoR/english/index.html