Staunton, January 11 – Andrey Bezhutin, the head of the Carrier Union and organizer of the long-haul truckers strike against the Plato system, fled from outside a Russian courtroom on December 27 where he was slated to be tried on three different charges related to the strike. He is now in hiding but has given an interview to Nina Petlyanova of Novya gazeta.
He says that he fled from the police because all the charges against him were based on fabrications and that getting away from the authorities was remarkably easy even though the police had brought in reinforcements (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2018/01/10/75102-andrey-bazhutin-im-dazhe-gortsev-udalos-zapugat).
Bazhutin says he decided to flee because the authorities were acting illegally and thus had eliminated any basis for his obeying their orders. Now, he remains in hiding. He doesn’t have a telephone – that would allow the police to find him – but he says that he “knows that they have been searching for him.”
He says he will have to remain in hiding at least until his case is heard. That was scheduled for today. If the courts delay that hearing, Bazhutin says, then it will be completely clear that they want to isolate the union leader from his followers rather than to punish him for any real violations.
Bazhutin says that he announced his plans to run for president not because he expected any success but rather because “if we do not get involved in politics, politics will get involved with us.” That, he says his own case shows, has already happened. He adds he organized his candidacy from Makhachkala because it is impossible for him to do so in Moscow or Petersburg.
“In Daghestan, it is more difficult to frighten people,” Bazhutin says. “But they showed us that it is possible to put pressure even on the mountaineers, although the assembly nonetheless happened: 50 honest people were not frightened,” showing that much can be done. “In Tyumen, only nine people came out to support Putin, but 50 did so for me in Daghestan.
“I do not see any loss. We will continue to struggle.” Eighty percent of the drivers in Russia are part of his Carriers Union, and they will vote in the upcoming elections and in others. “We will use all moments in order that our people will penetrate government officces as much as possible and make our demands. We do not intend to sit quietly.”
The Plato system is the occasion rather than the single cause of the truckers’ unity in action, he says. In 2015, there were between 1.5 million and two million trucks registered. Then, 30 percent of them were operated by major corporations and 70 percent by small ones or individuals. Now, the ratio is 50-50, and some 20 percent have left the field.
The government doesn’t support small business, but the truckers do. And they will continue the fight, Bazhutin pledges regardless of what legal or illegal actions the authorities choose to deploy.