Thursday, January 12, 2023

Despite War and Repression, Labor Protests in Russia Continued throughout 2022 but Changed Forms Becoming Like Those of End of USSR

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 9 – Despite the war in Ukraine and the repression by the authorities, Russians continued to engage in labor actions and other forms of social protests not connected with the conflict throughout 2022 although there has been a significant downturn in the number of such actions in the last quarter since Putin declared his partial mobilization.

            Azamat Ismailov, a pseudonym for a Russian journalist writing for the Eurasianet portal, says that this shift at the end of the year represents the collapse of the distinction the Russian authorities had made earlier between labor and social protests, on the one hand, and political protests, on the other (россия-выживет-ли-«неполитический»-протест-в-условиях-войны).

            Until then, he argues, the authorities had generally pursued a less harsh approach with regard to the former, often seeking compromise with those taking part rather than simply using the power of the state to crush them, than they did with openly political protests which the Putin regime has not been willing to tolerate at all at least since the arrest of Aleksey Navalny.

            But perhaps the most intriguing findings Ismailov reports are first, that according to Pyotr Bizyukov, who monitors the Russian labor market, the number of labor protests in Russia in 2022 as a whole was slightly greater than in 2021, “about 400” as compared to 384 in 2021 (трудовые-протесты-в-россии-третьем-кв/).

             And second, as the authorities have increased repression in the last quarter, workers have not so much ended their protests as changed the forms their actions take, increasingly appealing directly to Putin or other senior officials rather than hoping for any positive response from the heads of the firms where they work.

            But workers are seldom getting the response they seek from the Kremlin either and so they are turning to the kind of protests that were typical of workers in the last decades of Soviet power including petty sabotage, theft from the workplace, violations of labor discipline and hooliganism.

            “As a result,” Ismailov says, “the Russian economy is encountering the very same problems that the Soviet workplace experienced at its end.” And all this is ending to a sense of apathy on the part of much of the population. But despite this, it is “premature” to speak about “the death of social protest in Russia,” he says.

            It has simply changed its form from public protests to private kinds that in the end are even more difficult to root out.

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