Staunton, September 27 – Russia’s official trade unions are often dismissed as little more than a sham, and its unofficial unions disregarded as marginal, but a case this week in Pskov suggests that at least from the point of view of the Putin regime if not the workers, such organizations may be becoming more important players on the Russian scene.
Yesterday, before 7:00 in the morning, police raided the home of Ulyana Mikhailova, the head of the Pskov Oblast Council of Trade Unions, saying they were looking for evidence she had misused union funds. Mikhailova says she is certain that move is part of a drive by regional officials to oust her from office (severreal.org/a/30185627.html).
The trade union leader was elected twice to the Pskov oblast assembly from United Russia and has actively supported Vladimir Putin’s general approach, although she has been willing to organize and take part in protests against the increase in the pension age and for workers in state enterprises.
But she has been a particular thorn in the side of the local governor: indeed, this is the second time this year that Mikhailova has been the target of criminal charges that local opposition figures say almost certainly originated with the governor.
Denis Kamalyagin, the editor of Pskovskaya guberniya says that the governor and his people are using criminal charges because they can’t convince the trade unions to get rid of their political opponent, something that makes the charges against Mikhailova “a 100 percent political case.”
And Lev Shlosberg, the local Yabloko party leader and a frequent commentator, agrees, arguing that the use of such charges reflects the inability of the political leadership to act in a normal political way, something that is giving the region a bad reputation.
Unfortunately, the governor’s strategy has been partially successful: Mikhailova is suspending her control of the trade union finances and is going on vacation, leaving her deputy in charge. She says this decision “is not only correct but also just,” but it also shows that the trade unions matter more than most think. Otherwise the governor wouldn’t be doing this.