Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Moscow Cracking Down on Independent Trade Unions, Infuriating Workers, Activist Says

Paul Goble

               Staunton, September 8 – Albert Speransky, the head of the All-Russian Worker Initiatives organization, says that a July article in “Rossiiskaya gazeta” accusing independent trade unions of being “American agents” has opened the door to harsh repression of such unions including arrests and imprisonment of leaders across the Russian Federation.

               The July article, by political scientist Aleksey Mukhin, argued that Russia’s independent trade unions are “’foreign agents,’” Speransky says, arguing that there is no basis for Mukhin’s claims but that they have been taken up by other journalists and used as an excuse to crack down on union activity (forum-msk.org/material/economic/10980595.html).

               Mukhin wrote that the independent trade unions were failing Russian workers by encouraging the employment of foreign specialists, ignoring the fact that the largest moves to employ such specialists (in the airline industry) occurred at government order over the objections of independent unions. Mukhin says nothing about that, Speransky notes.

               After providing a detailed list of labor union activists who have been harassed, arrested or even imprisoned, the activist says that it is clear that “power [in Russia] belongs to the rich who do not want anyone to touch their feeding troughs and that they have jointly decided to remove the defenders of the ordinary worker, the free trade unions” from public life.

               The government and the bosses now want to remove from the scene the free trade unions and leave workers without any defenders. What they want are military arrangements in which orders are given without any discussion or debate. The official unions won’t challenge them, but the independent unions are trying.

               But the regime has made one big mistake, Speransky says: Russian workers are truly long-suffering, but even their patience has its limits. And those limits have been reached in the current crisis where workers aren’t being paid or are losing their jobs, are seeing their benefits cut and the value of their wages reduced, and have few hopes for pensions at the end.

               In that environment, the independent unions are becoming more important and more active, Speransky suggests; and consequently, it is no surprise that the regime and the owners want to suppress them.  If the regime and the owners succeed, the workers will be reduced to the status of “slaves.” At present, only increased union activism can prevent that from happening.

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