Staunton, May 22 – Forced to largely end their strike because of the need to earn money to feed their families and confronted with a new hard line among executive branch officials against any talks or compromise, Russia’s long haul drivers are turning to the Supreme Court in the hopes that it will declare the Plato system unconstitutional.
In today’s Nezavisimaya gazeta, journalist Yekaterina Trifonova says that “the protest activity among the long haul drivers is not being cut but rather being transformed,” shifting from the country’s highways into its courtrooms now that the transportation ministry has refused to meet with them (ng.ru/politics/2017-05-22/1_6992_dalnoboy.html).
(In one of the vicious ironies of the situation, the Russian transportation minister cancelled a meeting scheduled for today because his spokesman says that since the strike is over, there is no basis for him to talk with the drivers’ union.)
Andrey Bazhutin, head of the Carriers Union, says that “the attitudes of the owners of the big rigs hasn’t changed: they haven’t paid and do not intend to pay into the Plato system,” regardless of what the Russian authorities claim. And some of the drivers who are back on the road are providing money to those who still are on strike.
(Some calculations suggest that “approximately 60 percent” of all long haul drivers are not paying the Plato fees even though officials have doubled the fines for non-payment. And that unwillingness to pay is driving ever more of their economic activity into the shadow structure, something with consequences far beyond the drivers alone.
According to the union leader, many of the striking drivers are also being helped by ordinary citizens who support what they are trying to do. And that means that unless Moscow kills the Plato system, the drivers will launch “a third wave of protests” and that it will be “much more powerful” than either the one in 2015 or that of the strike this spring.
And he says that his union is getting messages of support from regional government officials, something that also gives the drivers confidence that they can and will win out in the end.