Staunton, May 13 – Since the middle of April, there have been labor actions of various kinds in Rostov, Sochi, Barnaul, Novosibirsk, Vsevolozhsk, Ishimbay and Sakhalin involving workers from a wide variety of professions protesting their employers’ failure to pay wages or the conditions under which they are compelled to work.
Even in the pandemic year of 2020, there were a minimum of 194 labor actions in Russia, up 13 percent from the year before (industrialconflicts.ru/lib/80/analiz_sotsialyno-trudowoy_obstanowki_w_rossiyskoy_fed.html). And now such actions, a Russian journalist writing under the name Ivan Sytykh are becoming almost an almost everyday event in the overwhelming majority of the country’s regions (russian.eurasianet.org/россия-почему-растет-число-трудовых-конфликтов-и-протестов).
This trend of greater labor activism, he says, began even before the pandemic, reflecting the stagnation of the economy, the lack of systemic economic reforms, the government’s raising of the age at which workers can go on pensions, and dramatic increases in social taxes which employers seek to take out of workers’ pay.
Not surprisingly given the pandemic, 37 percent of the actions last year involved healthcare workers. But there were strikes and stoppages in 37 other branches of the economy as well over a wide swath of issues, from the failure of companies to pay wages on time to deteriorating working conditions.
Most of these actions are by informal groups of workers because in Russia, unions now like in Soviet times are typically working for management rather than employees; and Russian laws which are supposed to protect workers against employers seldom are enforced – or are enforced in exactly the opposite way from what the rules say.
Three things are striking about this situation: First, while the Russian opposition fixates on political protests of various kinds, it rarely focuses on working class activism. Second, neither the workers nor the liberal opposition thus appear ready to combine to defend their common interests.
And third, this lack of cooperation gives the regime all the excuse it needs not to help the workers at all, even though this failure to enforce labor law and protect workers may ultimately cost the Kremlin support among a category of the population that it has long assumed will always be in its pocket.