“Uniting into a Mighty Fist”: Protesting Russian Truckers Found Alternative Association

"Stop Plato! No to Plato!"
“Stop Plato! No to Plato!”

Protesting Truckers Found Grassroots Association as Alternative to Trade Unions
Elizaveta Antonova
RBC
April 30, 2016

Russian truckers, who have been protesting against the Plato system of mileage tolls for the past six months, have founded the Association of Russian Carriers [Ob’edinenie perevozchikov Rossii, or OPR].  The grassroots organization will defend the interests of truck drivers and fight to have Plato abolished.

On Saturday, the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR), established by protesting long-haul truckers, held its founding congress at the Lenin State Farm in suburban Moscow.

Shortly before the congress opened, law enforcement stopped letting delegates park their cars in the farm’s parking lot. When RBC asked what the grounds were for not letting the cars into the parking lots, a traffic policeman said he was concerned for the safety of “people strolling and children.”

According to the event’s organizers, the congress brought together around three hundred drivers from thirty-one regions. Delegates from at least forty-three regions of the country have joined the OPR.

Many of the regional drivers who came to the congress expressed a desire to speak their minds. Most of them said establishing an organization to defend their interests and uniting “into a might fist” had been long overdue.

“Plato was the trigger. It provoked us, but it had long been time to unite. You can break twigs individually, but that won’t work on a broom,” said one of the drivers who spoke at the congress.

“The number of people living below the poverty line has been increasing. We live in poverty in the most resource-rich country in the world while the people in power stuff their pockets with money,” complained Maria Pazukhina of Murmansk. “The transport sector is the economy’s circulatory system. The welfare of the entire country depends on it.”

Congress delegates adopted a charter for the grassroots organization and chose a chair, Petersburg truck driver Andrei Bazhutin, a leader of the protest camp in Khimki and a coordinator of the movement against the Plato toll system.

The OPR’s main objectives are ensuring the development and prosperity of the road haulage business, generating favorable work conditions for its members, defending their rights, and representing the common interests of members in governmental, non-governmental, and international institutions.

The extant professional drivers’ associations did not solve the real problems of truckers, Bazhutin told RBC as he explained the idea of founding their own grassroots organization.

According to another OPR organizer, Rustam Mallamagomedov, the drivers had decided to found a grassroots organization because many of the truckers were self-employed and a trade union did not suit them.

No one is going to march on Moscow with pitchforks: the OPR will act within the law, said Bazhutin. In particular, according to him, the association of carriers will be looking for legal inconsistencies in the Plato system.

The OPR will be guided by principles of independence from political parties, and decisions will be taken collectively. It will establish a system for coordinating with the authorities and providing legal aid to carriers. The truckers also plan to build a common transport and logistics system.

After the congress, the founders of the grassroots organization will submit registration papers.

The truckers applied with the Moscow mayor’s office to hold a rally of up to a thousand people on May 1, but were turned down all three times, Bazhutin told RBC.

Moscow authorities rejected the first application on the grounds it had been submitted too early.  The second and third times, the mayor’s office explained its rejection of the appliccation by the fact that many events had already been scheduled for May 1 in Moscow as it was. The truckers were supported by the Presidential Council for Human Rights. Its chair, Mikhail Fedotov, asked Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin not to turn down the truckers’ application to hold a rally. The support of the Human Rights Council, however, did not succeed in helping the drivers get permission from the authorities.

The truckers are now planning to join one of the trade unions at the May Day march, Mallamagomedov noted. He refused to specify whom the big rig drivers would be joining so the authorities could not prevent them from doing so.

What the Truckers Have Achieved
The Plato toll collection system for trucks over twelve tons driving on federal highways was launched on November 15, 2015. Its introduction provoked numerous protests by truck drivers in various regions of the country, including Moscow Region.

Since the protests kicked off, drivers have succeeded in winning a number of concessions from the authorities. In particular, the president signed a decree in December that considerably reduced fines for non-payment of truck tolls on federal highways. The fine for the first violation is now 5,000 rubles [approx. 66 euros]; for repeat violations, 10,000 rubles. Previously, the fines for non-payment of road tolls were 450,000 rubles for the first violation, and a million rubles for repeat violations [approx. 6,000 euros and 13,000 euros,  respectively].

In February, the government extended the discounted rate for truck travel in the Plato system. It was assumed that from March 1, 2016, to December 31, 2018, the rate would be 3.06 rubles a kilometer, but later it was decided to extend the discounted rate, which is currently 1.53 rubles a kilometer. The discounted rate will be valid until a special decision is made. In addition, the rate will not be indexed to the rate of inflation until July 1, 2017.

In April, the government approved the draft law “On Amendments to the Tax Code,” which, if enacted, would deduct the sum of payments already made for heavy freight haulers registered in the Platon system from the transport tax paid by their owners. The government will soon send the bill down to the State Duma.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Victoria Lomasko for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of anatrrra. Please read my numerous previous posts on the months-long protests by Russian truckers.

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