Solidarity, Community, Internationalism (and Good Public Broadcasting)

Yle, the Finnish public broadcaster, asked four recent immigrants to Finland, people who are still in the process of studying Finnish and integrating into the society, to interview representatives of the country’s main political parties in the run-up to parliamentary elections, which will take place there on April 19.

The catch was that Yle also asked the parties to send as interviewees party members who were immigrants and had themselves learned Finnish as adults or teenagers. Among other things, the interviewees were asked to explain how they had come to join the particular parties they now represented.

Interestingly and unsurprisingly, the Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset), notorious for its anti-immigrant views, was unable to provide an interviewee for the program.

The Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto) sent as its representative Suldan Said Ahmed, a young entrepreneur and politician originally from Somaliland. (Somaliland is an autonomous region of Somalia that seeks recognition as an independent country from the rest of the world, but as yet hasn’t got it.)

According to Said Ahmed, solidarity, community, and internationalism are the three words that best sum up the Left Alliance for him.

If like me, you are someone studying Finnish, you should love listening to Said Ahmed, because his Finnish is much easier to understand and “correct” than that spoken by “real” Finns, what with their variety of local dialects and reliance on puhekieli (conversational language), which is often shockingly at variance from the “proper” textbook Finnish we foreigners and immigrants learn on courses.

I found a recent article profiling Said Ahmed in the leftist Finnish newspaper Kansan Uutiset.

Selkouutisten+puolueprojekti+Suldaan+Said+vas

Suldaan Said Ahmed. Photo: Kalevi Rytkölä / Yle

It seems Said Ahmed has political ambitions in his native Somaliland as well. He would like to become the youngest MP there and is planning to stand, apparently, in this year’s upcoming parliamentary elections there.

Said Ahmed would also like sometime in the future to be president of Finland, but that job, alas, is constitutionally only open to native-born Finns. (So far, I would like to think for his sake.)

I find all of this so fascinating in part because, just last week, I had to go verbally postal on a few of my classmates in the advanced Finnish course I have been taking here in the former capital of All the Russias. For the second or third time this semester, they regaled the rest of us with dark tales of how Somalians like Said Ahmed are ruining the fair country of Finland by moving there in droves to become—yes—welfare scroungers. Meanwhile, the government has decided, allegedly, not to let more Russians to move to Finland, even though generally it wants to encourage more immigration to the country to help care for its aging population, etc.

You get the drift.

It might rock my classmates’ world to find out that one of the interviewers in the “Let’s Meet the Parties” program (along with a man from the Philippines, a woman from Lithuania, and a woman from South Korea) is Svetlana Siltanen, who emigrated to Finland from Russia last year.

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Svetlana Siltanen. Photo: Mikko Kuusisalo / Yle

My “dream a little dream” today would be to put Yle in charge of public broadcasting for a year in Russia. What a difference that could make to people’s outlooks here.

Dmitry Kozhnev: Anyone Defending Their Rights Is Branded a Fifth Columnist and Agent of the State Department

“Anyone who tries to defend their rights is a fifth columnist and agent of the State Department”
A trade union leader talks about pressure from the security forces and badgering from the National Liberation Movement
Darina Shevchenko
March 24, 2015
Yod

The automotive industry has been laying off employees around the country. Since the beginning of the year, the demand for cars has fallen 20-30%. Management has forced workers to quit, shift to part-time work or agree to significant pay cuts. The Interregional Trade Union Workers Association (ITUWA) has countered with strikes and pickets. Center “E” (Center for Extremism Prevention) has responded by taking measures against union members. Last weekend, Center “E” officers detained members of the ITUWA Kaluga local. They demanded that the activists confess to working for western secret services and acting to destabilize the situation in Russia. Dmitry Kozhnev, leader of the ITUWA Kaluga local, told Yod that the trade union has long had a difficult relationship with the local security forces, and more recently, members of the National Liberation Movement (NOD) have targeted workers for persecution.

The ITUWA was founded in 2006 by members of trade union organizations from the Ford plant in the Petersburg suburb of Vsevolozhsk and the AvtoVAZ plant in Togliatti.*** The trade union unites workers from more than fifteen companies. Its chair, Alexei Etmanov, was elected to the legislative assembly of Leningrad Region in 2011. The ITUWA’s motto is “Don’t cry, organize!”

On what grounds were trade union members taken in by Center “E” over the weekend?

Under the pretext that a robber who had hit a passerby with a bottle and stolen something had dashed into the room where we had gathered for a routine meeting. About forty security forces officers arrived. They detained fifteen of us, took us to a police station, and asked us about our activities, what protests we were planning. They told us that, under the guise of defending workers’ rights, we were spying for the US, destabilizing the regime, and engaging in provocations. We hear this song from Center “E” constantly. Apparently, law enforcement officers find it difficult to believe that an organization can be independent and act on its own.

Have Center “E” and the FSB showed interest in your activity before?

Our union emerged in 2008. During this time we have become stronger and our actions have gotten results. In [2012], a strike at the Benteler Automotive plant led to the workers signing a collective agreement that we drafted. We got the bonus included in the salary and a ban on duties other than those stipulated in the contract. At the Volkswagen plant we forced management to increase salaries by almost four times, from seven to thirty thousand rubles a month.

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Dmitry Kozhnev (left) on the picket line during the 2012 strike at Benteler Automotive

In the summer of 2013, Volkswagen management was changing equipment. They wanted to let the workers go for a week, and then have them work off the missed days on weekends. By law, management has a right to do this, but plant workers opposed it. They were furious at the prospect of working weekends in the summer, when every day off is worth its weight in gold. We told management they should pay the missed week as down time, while the workers would go to work voluntarily and at double the pay. Management stood their ground, and then we began to prepare for a strike. By the way, according to Russian law, it is almost impossible to strike. Management must be notified seven days in advance. During this time, management can succeed in appealing the strike in court and then the strike cannot start on time. So we start the strike and notify management simultaneously. That is what we did back then at Volkswagen. We also picketed dealerships and informed consumers that we could not vouch for the quality of the cars assembled during the strike. We got what wanted.

Now our trade union has influence at different plants and can exercise control over the situation. After the number of union members went over four hundred at Volkswagen in 2009, and we began doing street protests, Center “E” got on our case.

And as soon as relations between workers and management would heat up, Center “E” would show up and put pressure on us, including arrests, harassment, and surveillance. But pressure and persecution have only strengthened the organization.

Give an example of persecution by Center “E”.

As soon as our work started to produce results, we began getting summons to Center “E” and were threatened with criminal prosecution. Once they blocked my car on the street and took me down to the station. They tried to catch several comrades with allegedly faked sick leave forms, threaten to take them to court, and force them to inform on trade union leaders. One worker and trade union member had a weapon planted on him. He got into a car with security officials. They handed him a bundle, said it contained a gun used to commit a crime, and now he would either rat on his colleagues or be convicted for the crime. The comrade refused to be an informant and took the story public big time, and they left him alone. Another comrade of ours was press-ganged into the army. Because of a serious leg injury, the guy had been declared unfit for military service. During a routine medical exam at the draft board, he was suddenly declared healthy. He insisted on an independent medical examination. The guy was then abducted on the street and sent to the army. He served his term, and came back angry and able to use weapons. And he is working in the trade union again. The ranks of our trade union’s foes continue to swell. Recently, the National Liberation Movement (NOD) joined them.

How come? You don’t participate in opposition rallies, do you?

NOD considers us Banderites because anarchists carrying flags with anarchist symbols attend our rallies. They think that since the Banderites have black-and-red flags, and anarchists use the same colors, they are in cahoots. It is ridiculous, of course. It is useless to ask the NODites questions; it is better not to talk with these cartoon characters. Anatoly Artamonov, governor of Kaluga Region, has also called us agents of the West. And this is a guy who has built his region’s economy on cooperation with companies from NATO countries and has awards from NATO countries! This is the trend now. Anyone who defends their rights is a fifth columnist and agent of the State Department.

The security forces’ interest in you has to do with the crisis in the automotive industry and presumed activism on the part of trade unions. At what plants is the situation the most tense?

It is easier to say which plants have no problems: the plants that produce luxury-class cars. They are the only ones where everything is all right. All the other plants are undergoing layoffs, which are hidden for the time being. Workers are being persuaded to quit voluntarily, to accept part-time schedules and pay cuts. But I think the crisis will continue, and the actions of management will become harsher. But we will vigorously defend the interests of workers.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Russian Reporter

*** Editor’s Note. The ITUWA was originally known as the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA). It changed its name in 2013, although the union’s well-known abbreviation in Russian (MPRA) has remained the same.

Gathering Dust

Poltavchenko: I have set the task of gathering all the dust
March 28, 2015
Fontanka.ru

Governor Georgy Poltavchenko has set city maintenance services the task of “gathering all the dust.” He stated this in an interview on Saint Petersburg TV.

“Speaking of dust, then, of course, I could also not fail to notice it, because I live in this city. The goal is to gather all the dust. It must first be gathered, and then the city must be washed,” he said.

The last two weeks, Petersburgers have complained of excessive dust in the air. The Smolny said that the city can be washed only after the transition to a sustainable plus temperature.

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Petersburg maintenance workers dustily gathering dust on a very dusty street yesterday, March 27, 2015. Photos by the Russian Reader.

Moscow Doctors Go on Work-to-Rule Strike

Work-to-Rule Strike: What Moscow Doctors Are Fighting
Julia Dudkina
March 25, 2015
snob.ru

Moscow doctors have declared a work-to-rule strike. Disgruntled by personnel cuts and the introduction of time limits for seeing patients, they said they would now work strictly by the rules, without overtime. We found out how the strike has been going in the capital’s clinics.

“Our working day is not set,” explains Dmitry Polyakov, a neighborhood general practitioner at Diagnostic Center No. 5. “When forty-five people pass before your eyes in a single day, you feel awful.  And there have been staff cuts, many specialists have left, and their patients are referred to us. People are unhappy, of course, and they take it out on us. By the end of the day it is often difficult even to focus one’s eyes, let alone concentrate. Salaries have fallen, incentives to work have decreased, but the workloads have grown.”

In addition to seeing patients in clinic, a neighborhood GP has many other duties, such as visiting ten to fifteen patients at home. Plus, there is paperwork: outpatient charts, registration stubs, and discharge sheets. Much of the paperwork has to be filled out during the doctor’s free time. And yet salaries have been rapidly shrinking. Whereas before they had been as much eighty and even one hundred thousand rubles per month, neighborhood GPs are now paid around forty thousand rubles a month [approx. 640 euros at current exchange rates].

“We have a very large flow of patients,” complains Yekaterina Chatskaya, an OG/GYN at City Clinic No. 180. “There is no one to see all the patients; the workload is colossal. It happens that you work nine and ten hours a day. I basically don’t see my husband and child, and I make only forty thousand rubles a month. If we were at least provided with stationery supplies. Yesterday, I was issued paper for my printer for the first time in five years. Usually, though, I have to buy supplies out of my own money. But the main disaster is the lack of time for examining patients properly. The Health Ministry allots ten to twelve minutes for each patient, but it is impossible to meet this standard.”

Elena Konte, a GP at the first branch of City Clinic No. 220, had hoped that the start of the work-to-rule strike would simplify things. If she didn’t have to work overtime, she would manage to go home on time, and fill out outpatient charts that had piled up from last week. But a nurse who was supposed to help with patients took ill; a conference was scheduled for the middle of the day; and a mysterious “inspector,” a doctor from an outpatient center, suddenly showed up as well.

“This never happened before. I am sure she came because of today’s strike,” says Elena. “She didn’t say anything about the strike, but she asked about how much we have to work and inquired about the UMIAS (Unified Medical Information Analysis System). I think she was horrified by how much unnecessary scribbling falls on us and how much running around the entire clinic we do searching for patients’ test results: after all, they’re not even recorded in the computer at our clinic. Of course, it’s uncomfortable working when you’re being observed all day. But at least they paid attention to us.”

Elena Konte managed to see all her patients that day, but she was unable to complete all the outpatient charts. The first day of the work-to-rule strike failed to solve the problems that have accrued over the past months for staff at the first branch of City Clinic No. 220.

“At first, there were six doctors working eight neighborhoods in our second general practice department,” says Elena. “Then, one of the neighborhood GPs was sent to retrain as a family doctor, and there were five of us left. In February, yet another doctor was transferred to a neighboring branch. But this is winter, the peak time for upper respiratory infections. And the workload is such that it is like we’re working two positions. The strain is very hard, both physically and mentally. Yesterday, I got to the clinic at 8 a.m., and went home at nine in the evening. But I will continue to participate in the strike. They have already promised to reduce consultation hours from five to four hours, and have added another position in reception.”

Downstairs, on the ground floor, two old women were vigorously discussing the news from the world of medicine.

“They all got laid off. Who is there to do the work now?”

“Exactly! And in a couple months, they say, there will be further layoffs. They have to go on strike.”

If the strike has gone unnoticed for both patients and physicians at this clinic, things are quite different at Diagnostic Center No. 5.

“Today, I managed to see everyone who came by appointment, and even finally filled out all my paperwork in normal handwriting and finished working with the outpatient charts that had piled up,” says neighborhood GP Irina Kutuzova. “Maybe the bigwigs won’t notice the strike at first, but when an emergency occurs, everyone will get it.  Generally, it is hard to work in the present circumstances. You cannot examine a patient who has come by appointment longer than ten minutes, but some patients require much more time. And it often takes twenty minutes to fill out a sick leave form. I get forty to forty-five patients a day; it is a constant blitz. And there is another whole crowd of patients who come ‘just to ask a question.’ As a result, people get disgruntled: they literally kick open the door and voice their complaints. By the end of the day, it all becomes a blur, and I don’t have the strength to write out prescriptions. But today I had thirty-seven patients. Also a lot, of course, but better nevertheless.”

In the hallway, an elderly woman catches my hand. She is waiting in the queue for the next room.

“Young woman, you’re not a patient? Maybe you know whether they’ll see me today or not?” she asks hopefully.

Her name is Galina Bordo, and she has been waiting her turn for nearly two hours. A few weeks ago, she had a tumor removed, and now she must have regular checkups. The doctor’s visiting hours ended twenty minutes ago, but the last patient still has not come out.

“I heard they started a strike today. Good for them, it’s the right thing to do. Otherwise, in today’s environment, with the queues and unnecessary paperwork, they don’t cure anyone,” Bordo says.

According to the healthcare workers union Action (Deistvie), twenty employees at six clinics have been taking part in the work-to-rule strike by Moscow doctors. In the near future, twenty-two other health care providers may join them.

“Our goal is not to cause a collapse, but to show how and under what conditions doctors work,” explains Andrei Konoval, Action’s organizational secretary. “To demonstrate that under normal, unhurried service, the number of patients who can be seen in a day is reduced by one and a half to two times.  This means that it is necessary to increase the number of doctors and medical facilities. Even if there were only one brave doctor willing to participate in the strike, we would still go through with it.”

Andrei Khripun, head of the city’s health department, has already dubbed the strike a “political provocation,” and claimed that it had failed, because “Moscow clinics are operating in normal mode.” Although that had been the point of the strike: to work according to the rules.

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Valentin Urusov
March 25, 2015
Facebook

Today, a comrade and I went to a medical facility to hand out leaflets (the appeal by striking doctors to patients). Fortunately, people have been reacting quite positively to the doctors’ strike and have gladly agreed to support them. Many people took leaflets to hand out at home.

I called one of the strikers and asked whether she has felt pressure from management. She said she had, but since they are determined and have really enjoyed working according to the law, the strike could continue for quite a long time. But now they are able to spend exactly as much time as they need on a patient, and not what officials want them to spend.

What is interesting is that if women have taken something on, they’ll definitely see it through to the end, unlike most of us men. I think it would be better if officials started listening to what they’re saying and stopped destroying healthcare while it’s still not too late.

One shady type drove up in a car and asked for a couple of leaflets. Then he pulled away and photographed us. Apparently, he was a spy. Security behaved properly, and at first they even tried not to notice us. Later, though, they asked us not to make trouble for them and go outside. That was even more convenient for us, and we handed out more leaflets.

Tomorrow, we will go to the other strike sites and notify patients. I think it would be great if everyone who was going to a hospital or clinic would take several such leaflets along and hand them out there. So, friends, don’t stand on the sidelines so that you’ll regret it later. Make your contribution to the common cause. The text of the leaflet is below. Anyone can print it out.

Dear Patients,

On March 24, a “work according to instructions” action, which journalists often call an “Italian” strike, was launched at several Moscow clinics. Its gist is that doctors who have decided to draw the attention of authorities to the disgraceful state of medical care have started to work in complete accordance with the Labor Code and the standards of care.

We have worked in inhuman conditions for years. Our workday often lasts nine, ten, and even twelve hours. However, rather than increasing staff and creating normal working conditions, health officials have begun laying off physicians and reducing the time patients can be seen to mere minutes. But the workload and amount of paperwork have only grown. In our view, such excesses only serve as cover for bureaucrats pursuing a policy of commercializing healthcare: the longer the artificially generated queues in clinics are, the easier it will be to make patients pay.

From March 24, we have decided to hold consultations based on established standards. Moreover, if a patient’s condition requires more time than is laid down in the regulations, we are not going to speed up examinations, because haste poses a threat to the person’s life and health.

We ask for your understanding and support. We are in the same boat, on the same side of the barricade erected by “optimizing” officials. We will do everything we can to ensure that no problems with the provision of medical care arise. Eight days ago, we warned our chief physicians, as well the Moscow Department of Health and even the Russian Federal Prosecutor’s Office, of the need to ensure that patients whom we do not have time to examine during our shifts are seen.

If you are, nevertheless, unable to get an appointment through the negligence of management, we suggest you send a complaint to the Department of Health. (Believe us, it helps!) In the complaint, you should write that the physician you wanted to see had warned management of possible problems in connection with “work to rule,” but management failed to take the necessary organizational and personnel measures. You can do this on the site mosgorzdrav.ru in the section marked “For the public” > “Petitions from the public” > “Receipt of petitions from the public.”

We would be grateful if you would sign the online appeal in support of the issues we have raised. To do this, simply type in the address goo.gl/nxJ8C5.

Together we will make the system work for the benefit of patients, not bureaucrats.

Your Doctors

Vologda Machine Plant Workers Rally against Layoffs

In Vologda, Machine Plant Workers Stage Rally against New Layoffs
March 23, 2015
newsvo.ru

Today at 10 a.m., workers from the Vologda Machine Plant (VMP) staged a rally on Revolution Square. The occasion was a new round of layoffs.

meeting_in_vologdaVMP workers on the march in Vologda. The first placard from the left reads, “Is this what our grandfathers fought for?” The second placard from the right reads, “The people’s interests outweigh the owner’s interests.” Photo courtesy of By24.org

As protesters told a Radio Premier correspondent, lists of workers slated for firing had recently been published. It is planned that at least fifty more people will be fired. Given that the company now has about ninety employees, a new round of layoffs might simply kill the plant, according to protesters. In addition, workers claimed that management had stopped paying them back wages.

The demonstration moved from Revolution Square to Drygin Square. Originally, protesters had planned to block traffic. Ultimately, however, they took the decision not to spoil the morning for commuters. They rallied briefly on the porch of the regional legislative assembly building before heading towards the “white house.”

VMP workers are now rallying outside the regional government house.

After a series of strikes in February, the plant was subjected to several checks by law enforcement agencies. The regional government announced it was monitoring the situation at the plant, and last week it promised to monitor the payment of wage arrears. Criminal charges have been filed against VMP management. According to the regional prosecutor’s officer, money was “siphoned” from the company.

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Workers Rebel in Vologda, Russia
March 23, 2015
by24.org

The huge cost of the undeclared war in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine, Western economic sanctions, the slump in oil prices, and the concomitant economic crisis in Russia have had an immediate impact on the country’s ordinary citizens. Today, March 23, workers from the local machine plant in the city of Vologda came to the residence of the region’s governor and almost stormed the building. Authorities had to urgently summon police and Interior Ministry troops in full combat gear, reports local publication newsvo.ru.***

The boiling point for workers at the Vologda Machine Plant, who as it was had not been paid for eight months, was the company’s decision to undertake mass layoffs. A list of fifty names of employees who would be fired was posted at the plant entrance. Given that only ninety workers had remained employed at the plant, such a layoff would be tantamount to the plant’s death.

At first the indignant workers, bearing placards, went to the regional legislative assembly. However, realizing that the local deputies were of little use to them, they moved to the “white house,” the regional administration building.

After numerous threats from police to file criminal charges against the protesters for an unauthorized mass rally, the workers nevertheless succeeded in meeting with Vologda Region Deputy Governor Alexei Kozhevnikov. He sincerely sympathized with the VMP workforce. He assured them the situation at the plant was being constantly monitored and promised to solve all their problem—after, however, bankruptcy proceedings and a change of ownership. A court hearing on the matter is scheduled for May 6.

According to the Vologda regional prosecutor’s office, corruption had flourished at VMP in recent years, and money had simply been “siphoned” from the company. The management at the plant, which handles defense orders, had recently been completely replaced, and criminal charges filed against the previous management. The company’s assets, including manufacturing equipment, had been seized by court bailiffs in lieu of the company’s debts, and heating had been turned off on the shop floors for nonpayment. Even under these conditions, VMP workers, who had not seen a paycheck for eight months, had continued to fill orders, most of them defense-related.

*** Editor’s note. This detail does not seem borne out by the article linked to, which I have translated, above, although the videos posted there do show some kind of (mostly verbal) confrontation with police. But there is definitely no mention of “Interior Ministry troops in full combat gear” in the first article, as claimed by the authors of the second article.

Thanks to Comrade DR for help with finding source materials and the initial heads-up.

A Night at the Opera

Final Scene of Wagner’s Tannhäuser

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Alexander Novopashin, prior of Novosibirsk’s Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, has been awarded an Extremism Prevention pin and a Service to the Motherland medal, second degree, as reported on the cathedral’s site and an official legal information website.

According to the text of the March 23 decree, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Novopashin received the Service to the Motherland medal, second degree, for “successes achieved in his career, many years of diligent work, and active involvement in public life.”

Earlier, on March 21, the archpriest was awarded the pin of the Main Directorate for Extremism Prevention. As reported on the site of Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the priest has worked on the problem of totalitarian sects for over twenty years. He argues that contemporary sectarianism is one form of the extremist movement.

novopashin-04Archpriest Alexander Novopashin

As the noted on the cathedral’s site, “The priest stresses that extremism has many faces. Today it is manifested not only in the form of totalitarian sects but also in the increasing aggression of ultraliberals, sexual perverts marching with flags in the streets of our cities, illegal pseudo-cultural stunts in the form of exhibitions, theater performances, etc., designed not only to shock the audience but also to humiliate and insult the human dignity and religious sentiments of believers.”

According to online publication Taiga.info, Novopashin has appealed to parishioners to attend a rally in downtown Novosibirsk on March 29 and demand the banning of the opera Tannhäuser at the local opera theater. The official theme of the rally is “responsibility of the authorities for offending the feelings of believers.” The declared number of participants is three thousand people.

source: fontanka.ru; photo courtesy of k-istine.ru

“Anti-Extremist” Police Crack Down on Unionized Autoworkers in Kaluga

Automotive Industry Checked for Extremism
Center “E” Officers Detain Independent Trade Union Activists in Kaluga
Anatoly Karavayev and Daniil Lomakin
March 23, 2015
Gazeta.Ru

Kaluga police conducted a raid against independent trade union activists who had gathered to discuss layoffs at local car factories. Due to the decline of the auto market, 750 people might be fired in the very near future. After being detained on a technicality, the detainees talked to officers from Center “E”, the Center for Extremism Prevention. The trade union movement considers such actions a preventive measure by the authorities.

A scandal has erupted in Kaluga over the detention of fifteen activists from the Interregional Trade Union Workers Association (ITUWA). (Police claim that twelve activists were detained.) At the weekend, workers from local automotive factories had gathered at the offices of the ITUWA’s Kaluga local to discuss future personnel reductions in the region.

For example, there are plans to lay off 150 people at the local Volkswagen plant in the near future.

In addition, the Peugeot-Citroen plant in Kaluga could dismiss as many as 40% of its workers, around 600 people, without compensation after March 31. Unlike Volkswagen, the French automaker has not yet made an official announcement.

As the ITUWA local informed Gazeta.Ru, they are planning this week to negotiate with plant management. If an agreement to save jobs is not reached, the trade union intends to hold protest rallies and file a series of lawsuits.

The local security forces also took notice of the Kaluga trade union’s activism. Over the weekend, police conducted mass arrests of its members. Moreover, officers from Center “E”, which specializes in combating various forms of extremism, dealt with the activists.

As activists recounted, they had begun gathering for the meeting when police suddenly entered the ITUWA office in Kaluga and arrested everyone present. Ultimately, 15 people were taken to the police station. ITUWA local chair Dmitry Trudovoi is certain the detention of the activists was occasioned by the trade union’s increased activism.

“Layoffs are planned at Peugeot-Citroen and Volkswagen. All this has lead the trade union to ratchet things up. Strikes and all that are possible. Basically, this was an act of intimidation,” Trudovoi said of the incident.

“This was a ridiculous police provocation,” Dmitry Kozhnev, who was among the detainees, told Gazeta.Ru.

“First, a beat cop entered the office. He asked about two people who had committed a robbery nearby and had, allegedly, dashed into the building where the ITUWA meeting was taking place. Some time later, the ‘bigwigs’ arrived (around forty ranking officers), people in uniform and plainclothes who systematically arrested us and took us to the station.”

“At first, they told us that the arrests were linked, allegedly, to the robbery. But that doesn’t seem to be true, given that people were detained for an hour. Center “E” officers conducted the interrogations. They were trying to figure out what our organization was doing, what events were planned. But none of the detained ITUWA members answered their questions.”

According to Kozhnev, the ITUWA regarded the arrests as an attempt to intimidate members of the trade union.

“Center “E” officers told us we were agents of the West and wanted to destabilize the situation in the country,” said Kozhnev.

“But ultimately they didn’t achieve their objective; they only discredited themselves. On the contrary, the situation has united all ITUWA workers even more,” he added.

The Kaluga Region Interior Ministry office denied the arrests of the ITUWA members occurred during an investigation of their activity.

As Svetlana Somova, head of the press center at the regional Interior Ministry office told Gazeta.Ru that a robbery had occurred near where the trade unionists were meeting. Two unidentified men had attacked a third man and stolen his belongings.

“According to the victim, [the robbers] escaped into the building where the meeting was taking place,” explained Somova. “A group of people, some of whom had no documents, was in the room. They were unable to explain anything about the men who had entered the building. Therefore, they were taken to Police Precinct No. 2. And there it transpired that an out-of-town trade union movement leader was among them. Naturally, the desk sergeant summoned Counter-Extremism Center officers to avoid provocations.”

As Somova explained, no more than ten officers had been dispatched to the site where the ITUWA members were detained: an extra-departmental security squad, a patrol squad, and police investigators.

“There were no riot police, as has been previously reported in the media,” said the press spokesperson. “If citizens believe their rights have been violated, they can complain to the prosecutor about the police’s actions. ITUWA activists had earlier accused the police of illegal actions, but no violations were uncovered during the course of probes.”

According to the press service spokesperson, police did not suspect they were detaining trade union members because the building sported a large “Barbershop” sign.

“A signal had to be sent”

ITUWA chair and well-known trade unionist Alexei Etmanov deems the incident in Kaluga unacceptable.

“It’s an absolutely abnormal situation when workers gathered for a trade union meeting are raided by the police. These are the methods not even of the 1990s, but of the 1930s,” Etmanov told Gazeta.Ru.

According to Etmanov, the detainees had gathered on a weekend day at the Kaluga ITUWA office to discuss the situation at the region’s automotive plants.

“There were members from Volkswagen and Peugeot-Citroen and other plants,” said Etmanov. “A beat cop showed up under false pretenses, then a SWAT team. At the precinct, they tried to fingerprint people.  Those who were more experienced were able to wriggle out of it, but some had their fingerprints taken. No one filed any charges, of course, but it was a very heavy hint about not fighting so vigorously for one’s rights. I am certain that 90% of this was at the behest of the regional government. There are many foreign-owned plants here. A clear signal had to be sent that there was no need to defend one’s rights too vigorously.”

According to Etmanov, the ITUWA plans to send a letter about the incident to Russian Federal Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev via the All-Russian Confederation of Labor (VKT).

In turn, the Kaluga Region media relations office told Gazeta.Ru it was planning no statements regarding the incident.

“If there are any questions, we are happy to answer them upon written request,” said Anastasia Davydkina, head of the office.

Layoffs at Auto Factories in Kaluga Region

As Kaluga ITUWA organizer Dmitry Kozhnev explained to Gazeta.Ru, around 40% of the workers at the Peugeot-Citroen are on fixed-term contracts that expire on March 31 and, according to the union’s information, will not be renewed.

“The problem with this arrangement existed long ago and was a ticking time bomb. A fixed-term contract allows the employer to fire a worker without paying out any compensation,” explained Kozhnev. “At the same time, it is illegal to hire workers on such conditions. A fixed-term contract may be concluded only when it is impossible to hire an employee under an open-end contract.

“But in the case of the Kaluga plant, there were no such obstacles. Moreover, we already have won favorable court rulings for several plant employees. The court ordered the plant to sign open-ended contracts with them.”

But employees will be offered to transfer to the Volkswagen engine plant, whose launch in Kaluga is planned for the second half of the year. Volkswagen does not rule out the possibility that a portion of the downsized workers might be dismissed by mutual consent. They would be offered a compensation package.

“The packages include financial compensation and medical insurance valid until the end of 2015. In addition, those employees who leave the company by mutual agreement will be the first to be asked to return to the factory when the car market starts to recover,” Volkswagen spokesperson Natalya Kostyukovich told Gazeta.Ru.

In February of this year, the Volvo truck factory in the Kaluga Region shut down completely.  Due to the collapse of the auto market, demand for cars had slumped. About 200 people lost their jobs.