Oleg Volin: How Capitalism Kills in Nizhny Tagil

уралвагонFront entrance of the famous Uralvagonzavod Factory in Nizhny Tagil. Courtesy of Vasily Shaposhnikov and Kommersant

Oleg Volin
Facebook
February 20, 2019

Capitalism kills. Overwork, wage cuts, nasty managers, and the lack of a clear future drive workers to kill themselves.

On the morning of February 19, 2019, in Nizhny Tagil, Sergei Chernykh, a young worker, left his boss’s office, put a noose around his neck, and jumped off a raised area, damaging his spine and suffocating in mere seconds. Arriving on the scene, an ambulance crew (who, to top it all off, were not immediately let into the factory) were powerless to save his life.

The situation in Nizhny Tagil is not merely rough but bloody. Chernykh’s suicide was the fifth suicide in the past year by a worker at the Uralvagonzavod plant.

There have been several dozen similar incidents, but Chernykh’s death stands out from them in that he committed suicide at his workplace.

Chernykh could not bear life’s hardships and so he parted with it right on the spot. Whether he meant it or not, he thus focused the public’s attention on the outrageous working conditions endured by Uralvagonzavod workers.

The plant’s press service has not yet commented on the case, but it is obvious the increasing incidents of suicide have been caused by deterioration of socio-economic conditions and the lack of prospects.

Over the last twenty-eight years, Nizhny Tagil’s population has steadily declined, dropping from 440,000 residents to 350,000 residents. It would be strange not to see this as a telltale sign of what has been happening in the city.

Chernykh’s friends and acquaintances mainly say he was “driven” to kill himself. Many residents of Nizhny Tagil could find themselves in similar circumstances, especially if they work at Uralvagonzavod.

A female worker in Forging Shop No. 170, where Chernykh was employed, said the 27-year-old man’s suicide occurred after he attended a meeting of plant managers that he was not supposed to have attended. The employee asked she not be named since, she claimed, everyone in the shop was afraid, everyone needed a job, and she did not want any extra problems.

“Sergei was a rank-and-file worker, a cutter, but since our section foreman and section manager were on sick leave, Sergei was temporarily appointed foreman. And since there was no manager in our section, Sergei was sent to that meeting,” the woman claims. “It’s at these morning meetings that the shop foreman tells everyone what section has to do what and how much they have to do during a shift.”

“There are emergencies, and the shop foreman forces people to hurry up. He could not care less whether are enough workers to do the job or not, whether they have the tools they need or not. All that matters is that the work be done quickly. If you don’t have any workers, you go do the job yourself,” she says.

Marina Pogrebnykh, a distant relative of Chernykh’s, does not know the particulars of his death, but she likewise has no doubt plant management was to blame.

“I’m certain management are to blame for it. I don’t believe he would just take his own life like that, especially since this was not the first such incident,” says Pogrebnykh.

The anonymous female worker at Uralvagonzavod confirmed Chernykh was the third plant employee to have killed himself in the past three months. On the social networks, there has been talk there may have been more such incidents.

“We are under extreme pressure at work. You can make good wages, but you have to live on the shop floor to make the good money.

“Our section foreman killed himself. Yes, of course, it was a personal situation, but I can say that if he hadn’t drunk he would be alive. But when he was foreman in another shop he never drank, although the workload was huge. So, it’s a little hard to believe in coincidences.

“Our current section foreman, a woman, quite often comes back from meetings with management completely stressed out. She’s already getting up there in terms of age, but they yell at her like they yell at everyone else,” says the late Chernykh’s female coworker.

Two weeks ago, twenty-five Uralvagonzavod workers filed suit against their employer over new rules for calculating wages. According to the workers, the new rules have cut their pay in half while their workload has increased. Although these rules came into force in 2018, the workers have only now decided to file suit.

“Management tells us the the plant has been modernized. Due to this modernization, our workload has decreased, allegedly, meaning we should produce more. It’s on paper that things look good to them. On the contrary, we haven’t noticed any changes,” say the workers by way of explaining why they have sued olant management.

“On the contrary, we now have additional functions, but our wages have been halved.  This happened despite the fact that previously we had one of the highest pay grades at the plant due to occupational hazards and the heavy physical workload,” they say.

Nizhny Tagil’s Dzerzhinsky District Court has not yet made a ruling in the case.

Founded in 1936, Uralvagonzavod manufactures military equipment, railroad cars, and road construction equipment. In 2016, the company was merged with the Russian state corporation Rostec.

Poverty and overwork have led workers to hang themselves. It is all quite sad. Workers must realize they need to fight together to improve their condition. They must organize themselves, go on strike, and take other actions.

The nooses should be reserved for other heads.

This text is based on media reports.

Thanks to Tom Rowley for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Yevgeniy Fiks: Mother Tongue (London)

 

unnamedYevgeniy Fiks, Still from the video Thematic Language, 2018

MOTHER TONGUE by Yevgeniy Fiks

9 March—11 May 2019

Private view, 8 March 2019, 7:00–8:30 pm

Panel Discussion, 8 March 2019, 6:00–7:00 pm with Yevgeniy Fiks, Juliet Jacques, Sarah Wilson, and Dan Healey 

BOOK HERE

Pushkin House, 5A Bloomsbury Square, London, WC1A 2TA | Free Entry

Exhibition opening hours
Thursday, Friday, 11:00 am–5:00 pm
Saturday, 1:00 pm–6:00 pm

Press Release PDF

Grad and Pushkin House are proud to present Mother Tongue/Родная Речь, the first London solo exhibition by New York-based Russian artist Yevgeniy Fiks, exploring historical gay Russian argot or slang. This coded language dates back to Soviet times and can be compared to Britain’s polari, the jargon used in the past by gay and other subcultures.

Through this exhibition Fiks elevates this themed language into a poetic code, celebrating its wit and nuance. Mother Tongue/Родная Речь reclaims and celebrates Soviet-era Russian gay argot as a unique cultural phenomenon and gives a historical context to today’s post-Soviet LGBTQ community whose language partially evolved from it.

The exhibition takes the form of an installation, recreating the environment of a classroom, equipped with a blackboard, alphabet charts, texts books, and a language instructional video, designed as formal introduction to the vocabulary and usage of the argot.

Soviet era pleshki or cruising sites are presented in a series of photographs of Moscow, many of them famous tourist destinations, devoid of people and subverting standard perceptions of the city.

Fiks envisions the language of the pleshka as a complete and distinct language, separate from standard Russian. A semi-humorous instructional video gives a lesson in how to use and construct phrases from this themed language. Like polari, Soviet gay slang contributed to the sense of the separate identity of queer communities of the time, and allowed users to communicate openly about things that could have seen them excluded from mainstream society, or even imprisoned. Thus it was a defence mechanism that provided safety.

The exhibition is accompanied by the recently published Mother Tongue/Родная Речь, a book by Fiks, both about, and written in, Soviet-era Russian gay argot. In the book, this is conceptualised as a literary language fit for the production of high culture, including written literature. The book includes a linguistic introduction to Soviet-era Russian gay argot and a collection of conceptual poetry written by Fiks in that language.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the globalisation era in the 1990s, a cosmopolitan (mostly Anglo-American) gay slang has fused with Soviet-era gay speech, and many original Russian queer terms that were used before the 1990s have been replaced with Anglo-American borrowings, diluting the unique Soviet culture of sexual and gender dissent. After decades of persecution and attempts to eradicate sexual and gender non-conformity, male homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia in 1993. The period between 1993 and around 2013 was characterised by slow and difficult improvements to the conditions of gay life in Russian. This modest progress was interrupted, and is in the process of being reversed, with the introduction in 2013 of the so-called gay propaganda law, which ushered in a new wave of state and social homophobia. At the same time it led to LGBTQ issues in Russia becoming central to public debate in an unprecedented way.

Artist’s statement by Yevgeniy Fiks
I define my position, as a post-Soviet artist, as having the responsibility to raise a proper understanding and critical reflection of Soviet history in order for post-Soviet societies to move forward. My works are based on historical research, usually of forgotten and unresolved 20th century micro-historical narratives. Some of these topics include the shared histories of the Red and Lavender scares during the McCarthy era in the USA; communism in modern art; Soviet LGBT history, and the African, African American, and Jewish diasporas in the Soviet Union.

About the artist
Yevgeniy Fiks was born in Moscow in 1972, and has been living and working in New York since 1994. Fiks has produced many projects on the subject of the post-Soviet dialogue in the west, among them: Lenin for Your Library? in which he mailed Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism to one hundred global corporations as a donation to their corporate libraries; Communist Party USA, a series of portraits of current members of Communist Party USA, painted from life in the Party’s national headquarters in New York City; and Communist Guide to New York City, a series of photographs of buildings and public places in New York City that are connected to the history of the American Communist movement. Fiks’s work has been shown internationally, including exhibitions in the United States at Winkleman Gallery and Postmasters Gallery in New York, Mass MoCA, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Moscow Museum of Modern Art and Marat Guelman Gallery in Moscow; Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros in Mexico City; and Museu Colecção Berardo in Lisbon. His work has been featured at the 2008 Biennale of Sydney, the 2011 Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art , and the 2015 Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art.

About Pushkin House
Pushkin House is an independent arts charity specialising in Russian culture. Our programme encourages open-minded, explorative discussion. It was founded in 1954 by two generations of émigré Russians, to create a welcoming meeting place for the enjoyment, understanding and promotion of Russian culture in all its forms, and for the exchange of views in a lively, informal atmosphere, with freedom of speech a core principle.

About Grad
Since opening its first base in 2013 at London’s Fitzrovia, Grad has operated as a Kunsthalle, a platform and forum for debate while researching, curating, commissioning, and producing over a hundred critically-acclaimed projects. Equally known for its historical shows and contemporary exhibitions exploring urgent social realities, Grad instigates intellectual inquiry and builds connections amongst artists, individuals, and communities from different continents and cultures. Grad challenges cultural bias and preconceptions, and champions an experimental, interdisciplinary approach with a focus on new media and technologies.

Press contacts
Ksenia Afonina, ksenia.afonina@grad-london.com, 020 7637 7274, info@grad-london.com