Life Under Fascism

What is life like for us under fascism? It’s fine. I eat, sleep, work, play computer games and football, and fuck.

Repairs have begun on the roofs of the Soviet high-rise buildings on my work beat. The contractor drags powerful electric roofing kettles onto the roof, hacks away the old tar, melts it down, and immediately pours it back onto the roof. The kettles are powerful—advanced technology that works quickly and efficiently.

The kettles are also five years old. They are left right on the roofs over the winter, and so they are rotted and burned out. The molten tar splashes onto the cables, and everything in the vicinity burns and smokes. It is no exaggeration to say that you can smell the stench two blocks away. It is unlikely that there is anything healthy in the fumes generated by the molten tar. It is Uzbeks who work on the roofs: their bosses persist in calling them jigits. They work without safeguards or personal protective equipment. On the first day, they asked their bosses for water. Their bosses told them to get it themselves—”otherwise, next time they’ll be asking for broads in bikinis.”

Yesterday the cops nabbed them. The cops told them, “Your registration isn’t in our database. So, you either spend a couple days in jail until we figure it out, or you each cough up 5,000 rubles now.” [At the current—official—exchange rate, 5,000 rubles is approximately 88 euros.]

Do you think there is a database somewhere that says that you are just a human being?

Their electrician is from Bashkiria, a skinny kid in glasses with a typical whistling accent. He graduated from an architectural college back home, came to Petersburg, and worked on a low-voltage network for a couple of months, but now has been hired as an electrician servicing the three-phase fifty-kilowatt kettles. On the first day, he regarded the whole setup with mortal dismay. In his bag he has a set of screwdrivers and a crimper for patch cords. Now he dives into the overheated equipment, changes the burnt-out heating elements, and splices the burnt, beaten cables. Then he unsuccessfully tries for hours to wash off the oil stench.

“Who will pay for your disability?” I ask him.

“They can’t pay us overtime.”

He put up with this as long as he could before breaking down and going on a drinking binge. He squandered all his money, arriving back at work with a black eye and his left cheek puffed up like a pillow. His glasses were still intact, however. He asked me to lend him money for beer.

“How much do they pay you?” I ask.

“They promise mountains of gold.”

“Could you be more specific?”

“It’s daily work. 2,500 rubles a day.”

The word he was looking for in Russia was “daywork” [podënnaia], not “daily work” [podnevnaia]. There is such a thing as “daywork” and “dayworkers.” Who make sixteen dollars a day if you calculate their pay in terms of the actual exchange rate.

How much does the Russian lad Vitya, who made the remark about the “broads in bikinis,” make? How much does their supervisor, a handsome, businesslike, quick-thinking middle-aged man with shifty eyes, make?

What will they buy for themselves by pinching the money budgeted for roof repairs? A car? A tiled path for their dacha? When they walk on this path, will they think about the people whose health has been permanently scarred by tar on hot roofs? I doubt it.

Fascist brutality springs from this everyday, workaday brutality. Indifference to people as individuals grows from this virtually legalized slavery.

Source: George Losev, Facebook, 28 June 2022. Mr. Losev works as an on-duty electrician for the housing authority in Petersburg. He points out that the roofing tar kettles he describes are nothing like the one in the video I inserted, above. They are much larger and electric-powered. This is not to mention that “Alfredo the kettle man” (in the video) is wearing protective equipment, unlike the Uzbek workers in Mr. Losev’s story. Translated by the Russian Reader


I was asked to show how to make a “syllable tram.”

I scanned the roadway (see the links, below). The drawings were quite hastily done, right before class. (

The strip should be glued with adhesive tape on the reverse side. (Leave a millimeter between the sections so that it is easier to fold and store.) The tram, which is approximately 290 mm wide (nearly the same width as an A4 sheet of paper) and 85 mm high, is fitted onto the strip. One window in the tram is cut out, and a transparent sleeve is pasted on the other, into which a consonant is inserted.

The strip needs to be fastened with something. (I fastened it to the table with tape.)

The tram travels from right to left. When it reaches a marked stop, a vowel appears in the cut-out window. When you make the tram, test it and draw the letters on the strip so that they appear in the exact same place as the empty spot.

The roadway:

https://disk.yandex.ru/i/dGXik7Z3Nmwpgg (Yandex Disk)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/13k0cDuhXD-hAzytGpGYgpsZEdR9jmsVd/view (Google Drive)

Source: Natalia Vvedenskaya, Facebook, 28 June 2022. Ms. Vvedenskaya teaches Russian to immigrant children at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center. Most of these children are originally from Central Asia, like the workers in Mr. Losev’s story. The first image, above, is a screenshot of a short video that Ms. Vvedenskaya included in her original post, showing her pupils playing with her “syllable tram.” Translated by the Russian Reader

Kazahkstan’s State Oil and Gas Company Besieged by Striking Oil Workers from Zhanaozen

Employees of the Zhanaozen oilfield service company Kezbi LLP were in the capital demanding higher wages and better working conditions for over two weeks. The reason for the workers’ march on Nur-Sultan was the sacking of some strikers and management’s unwillingness to settle the labor dispute at the company.

Striking Zhanaozen oil workers outside KazMunayGas headquarters in Nur-Sultan

A strike of workers at Kezbi LLP in Zhanaozen has been underway since April 18. More than 300 people are involved in the protest. For almost a month, workers have demanded improved working conditions and wage increases. On the seventeenth day of the labor dispute, the company filed a lawsuit against twenty-one employees, and twelve employees were fired for participating in a strike that had earlier been ruled unlawful by a court.

Nevertheless, despite the pressure, the workers have refused to end the strike.

According to the protesters, they are dissatisfied with low wages, numerous violations of their labor rights, and discrimination. Separately, the employees highlight the serious wear and tear of production equipment, which poses a danger to their lives.

Amid the escalation of the conflict, a group of delegates went to Kazahstan’s capital in early May to get the truth [sic]. Twenty-six workers visited the Energy Ministry, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the state-owned oil and gas company KazMunayGas. The oil workers reported that, during negotiations, the Ministry asked to give them time to resolve the issue.

However, without waiting for any concrete actions to resolve the labor dispute on the part of state representatives, the workers moved to “besiege” state agencies and the offices of KazMunayGas.

According to the protesters, there should have been many more envoys, but a number of Kezbi employees who had also planned to fly to the protest site to support their colleagues were unlawfully detained by regional law enforcement agencies. Some of them were threatened as well.

On May 16, after a whole day of silence by agencies and officials and heightened attention from the capital’s civil society groups, the authorities announced that they had created a commission that would be charged with resolving the labor dispute. According to the workers, the working group includes the chief state labor inspector, inspectors from other regions of the country, and officials from KazMunayGas, who have already left for Zhanaozen.

Satisfied with this response, the protesters left the KazMunayGas offices and headed home.

The workers hope that the main issues will be resolved in dialogue with commission. They want to be paid for a twelve-hour working day, receive a wage increase, sign a collective labor agreement, and be transferred to the staff of Ozenmunaigas.

Law enforcement officers watched the protesters the entire time but did not intervene.

Source: Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, 17 May 2022. Thanks to Kirill Buketov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Watch this space for a subtitled version of this recent documentary film about the massacre of striking oil workers in Zhanaozen in December 2011 and its aftermath. I translated the subtitles of this detailed, harrowing film earlier this year.

You Don’t Have It So Bad

Protests by Berlin-based artists over the curator of “Diversity United,” a traveling exhibition with ties to right-wing politicians, have led some prominent participants in the show to drop out.

The controversy over the show is related to protests surrounding the Kunsthalle Berlin, a new, temporary museum at the abandoned Tempelhof airport. Calling the Kunsthalle Berlin a “cynical, neoliberal machine,” Berlin-based artists took issue with the space’s founder, the curator Walter Smerling, who organized “Diversity United” in its initial showing at the airport. According to Candice Breitz, an artist who has been among those leading a movement known as Boycott Kunsthalle Berlin, at least 9 of the 90 participants have pulled out the show, which is now at the New Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Artists associated with Boycott Kunsthalle Berlin claimed that the organizers of “Diversity United” failed to appropriately compensate many of the participating artists, and that the show had traveled to Russia with the explicit approval of President Vladimir Putin. The show, which aspires to showcase how the “artistic face of Europe is complex, diverse and permanently in flux,” was first staged in 2021 at the Tempelhof airport and is slated to travel to Paris after appearing in Moscow.

According to Breitz, Yael Bartana, Mona Hatoum, Aleksandra Domanović, Katja Novitskova, Ahmet Öğüt, Agnieszka Polska, Martina Vacheva, Dan Perjovschi, and Constant Dullaart are among those who have withdrawn—and there are others who have pulled out or intend to do so, but don’t want to go public, according to Breitz. Additional, artist caner teker is declining a prize for emerging artists being given out by a Bonn-based foundation run by Smerling.

“The artists who’ve thus far withdrawn from ‘Diversity United’ have tended to first formally communicate their intentions to the curatorial team behind the exhibition before reaching out to vocal members of the boycott group (#BoycottKunsthalleBerlin), to give us permission to share their decisions with a broader public,” Breitz said in an interview. “We’ve taken great care to ensure that we have their blessing before going public with their names.”

The Boycott Kunsthalle Berlin movement aims to highlight Smerling’s connections to right-wing politicians. “Diversity United” received support from former German officials like Armin Laschet and Gerhard Schröder. A key funder of the show, entrepreneur Lars Windhorst, has been implicated in both the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers. The political connections of the show and artists’ dashed hopes of making use of the Tempelhof airport for themselves spurred some to act.

In an email to ARTnews, Smerling wrote, “I have no understanding for the boycott. Boycotting is not a solution, for anyone. The solution is to find common ways. There must be opportunities for private, public and cooperative exhibitions. Incidentally, I find it highly disrespectful and undignified when artists want to prevent other artists from being seen.”

Smerling also defended the show’s connections with Putin, even as tensions increase in Russia due to the situation in the Ukraine. “The claim of ‘Diversity United’ is to build bridges with art, open the possibility for dialogue, where everything else fails,” Smerling wrote. “Maybe that is why the foreign ministry and the president of the federal republic of Germany support this exhibition, fully aware of its patrons.”

Smerling received 1 million euros in funds from the German Foreign Federal Office to organize the “Diversity United” show, which is more than the National Gallery in Berlin has within its annual acquisition fund. While the show was organized around the theme of diversity, all of the 10 curators of the show and all of the financial backers were white. “There was significant frustration around ‘Diversity United’ when it was installed in Berlin, but the constellation of power behind the exhibition made it very intimidating for people to speak out,” Breitz said.

Smerling had been given access to two hangars in the Tempelhof Airport rent-free. And while there had initially been claims that Smerling had to find private funding to cover the Kunsthalle Berlin’s operating costs, which can run to as much as 100,000 euros a month due to the lack of infrastructure and the old age of the building, it turned out that the government had agreed to cover half the costs, according to the German publication Monopol. (These funds had come out of a pool of money for buildings and real estate, not one for public museums.) Christoph Gröner, a real estate developer who Breitz alleges is responsible for hundreds of evictions over the years, footed the other half of the bill for the running costs of Kunsthalle Berlin.

Asked about the show’s funding, Smerling argued that these facts don’t represent the full picture, saying, “Each art exhibition costs us far more than just the operating costs for the halls and, depending on the number of visitors, also more than the operating subsidy we receive. This is all our risk.”

Smerling has said he welcomes a “dialogue” with the artists, but Breitz believes this overture came too late. “Until a couple of weeks before it opened, nobody had even heard that we would be getting a ‘Kunsthalle Berlin,’ including our top museum directors and curators at public institutions. That is absolutely unacceptable. The purpose of a boycott is to seek to alter a situation that is unacceptable.”

Source: Shanti Escalante-De Mattei, “Amid Kunsthalle Berlin Protests, Artists Withdraw from Controversial ‘Diversity United’ Exhibition,” ARTnews, February 9, 2022

An escalator in the Petersburg subway, 11 February 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader

I once gave an interview about the situation in Zhanaozen to Gulzhan Yergaliyeva for the website Guljan.org. After the interview was published, the local police inspector came to see me. He said that the deputy head of the regional police department had arrived from Aktau and really wanted to talk to me. I said I would meet him. I went to the meeting, and this police chief demanded that I send all the strikers home and stop the strike. “You’re an activist!” he told me. I told him that it was impossible: no one would go along with me, and I personally wouldn’t agree to stop the strike. That was the end of it. As soon as I arrived home from this meeting, as soon as I got out of the car and went into the landing of my building, two guys ran after me and began to beat me. They knocked me to the floor and started kicking me. When I mixed it up with them, one of them took out a traumatic pistol and shot me twice in the head. That’s when I lost consciousness. It turns out that on the exact same day exactly the same attack was carried out on Orken and Asan, journalists from Radio Azattyk. They were also shot with traumatic pistols and beaten with bats.

The murder of Zhaksylyk Turbayev, who was a trade union leader at Munai Field Service, ratcheted things up. He said that the workers at his company would support the strike and the people on the square. After he made this statement, he was killed in a trailer at his workplace.

How was he killed?

He was beaten to death with rebar rods in a trailer. The entire trailer was covered in blood.

Has this crime been solved?

No, it hasn’t been solved.

After Zhaksylyk Turbayev’s murder, literally the next month, Zhansaule Karabalayeva was murdered. She was 18 years old. The oil workers saw it as a murder meant to intimidate them, because Zhansaule’s father was among the trade unionists who constantly were here on the Alan.

How was Zhansaule killed, and where was she found?

She was raped and murdered. She was taken to the steppe. She was killed not far from a border post, some kind of military installation outside of town. She was killed and her body was dumped about 300 to 400 meters from this place.

Another incident that inflamed things happened to a woman named Aizhan, who was a staff member of the strike committee. The police broke into her house during her lunch break and forced everyone to lie face down on the floor. Everyone who was at home was thrown on the floor. Aizhan’s 10-year-old son stood up in front of the police and shielded his mother. This boy was punched in the head by a police captain. The child suffered a moderate head injury, a concussion.

Source: 12/16/11: The Truth About What Happened in Zhanaozen 10 Years Ago. Translated by the Russian Reader

Revolt and Repression in Kazahstan

Revolt and repression in Kazakhstan • People and Nature • January 9, 2022

The Kazakh government has unleashed ferocious repression against the uprising that exploded last week.

Security forces opened fire on demonstrators. “Dozens” died, according to media reports, but on 7 January president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev let slip that “hundreds” had been killed. Tokayev also said he gave the order to “shoot to kill without warning” to suppress protests.

There are no accurate figures, because the government has cut off internet access for almost the whole country and imposed an information blockade.

The internal affairs ministry has said that more than 4400 people have been arrested, and warned that sentences of between eight years and life will be imposed. The Kazakh regime has used torture against worker activists before: its forces may be emboldened by the 3000 Russian and other troops flown in to support them.

From social media via The Insider. The security services facing demonstrators in Almaty

It’s difficult, in the midst of this nightmare, to try to analyse the wave of protest and its consequences. Anyway, here are four points, based on what I can see from a distance.

Continue reading “Revolt and Repression in Kazahstan”

The Zhanaozen Massacre: Ten Years Later

Kazakhstan, ten years after the Zhanaozen massacre: oil workers’ fight to organise goes on • People and Nature • 15 December 2021

Ten years after police massacred striking oil workers at Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, human rights organisations and trades unionists are demanding an international inquiry into the killings.

Even now, the number of victims is unknown. State officials admit that 16 were killed and 64 injured on 16 December 2011 – but campaigners say there were dozens, perhaps hundreds, more.

The initial killings, by police who fired into a peaceful, unarmed crowd, were followed by a three-day reign of terror in Zhanaozen, in the oil-rich Mangistau province in western Kazakhstan, and nearby villages.

Defendants at the 2012 trial of Zhanaozen protesters

The torture and sexual violence used against detainees should also be investigated by an independent international commission, campaigners say.

Although a handful of police officers were tried for “exceeding their powers”, and a detention centre boss was briefly jailed, the Kazakh government has refused to say who ordered the shootings.

The Zhanaozen shootings ended an eight-month strike by the town’s oil workers, one of the largest industrial actions ever in the post-Soviet countries.

Oil workers and their families had demanded better pay and conditions, and the right to organise independent trade unions, at Ozenmunaigaz, a production subsidiary of the national oil company Kazmunaigaz, and contracting firms.

On Saturday 11 December this year, oil workers gathered in Zhanaozen, amidst a heavy police presence, to commemorate the victims. Tomorrow, ten years to the day after the tragedy, activists plan film screenings and other gatherings in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city.

Zhanaozen has become a crucial strand in Kazakh working people’s collective memory. On the day of the killings, local residents risked arrest and worse to smuggle out of the locked-down city video clips showing how demonstrators were executed in cold blood. Today, some of the fear has faded, activists say: whole films – such as this one, made in 2013 (commentary in Russian) – are shared on social media.

https://www.facebook.com/daryn.ibraeff/videos/1302525450187459

An international investigation is needed, because, even now, the Kazakh authorities are desperate to cover up the truth, human rights activists who have pursued the truth about Zhanaozen said in interviews with People & Nature.

Evgeny Zhovtis, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, said “three questions have never been answered” about the events on Alan Square, where the initial shootings took place:

□ Who were the provocateurs who caused trouble on the square?

□ Who exactly gave the order to send in armed interior ministry forces against an unarmed crowd? 

□ Who fired the shots? The authorities have admitted to 15 killings on the square. In each case, [under Kazakh law] an investigation should show either that the officer responsible had opened fire unlawfully, or that he opened fire because his life was threatened.  

Zhovtis said: “The UN commissioner for human rights, Niva Pillay, visited Kazakhstan in 2012 and called for an independent international commission to be set up, to investigate these events. Maina Kiai, the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, also called for such a commission. This has not happened.”

Human rights defenders in Kazakhstan reject the justice ministry’s claim that an adequate investigation had been carried out, Zhovtis said.

Police in Zhanaozen, 16 December 2011. A still from a video smuggled out by residents to make sure the truth reached the outside world

“The leading western governments are largely indifferent to what happens in central Asia. Look at their response both to the Zhanaozen tragedy and the Andijan massacre [of hundreds of protesters in Uzbekistan in May 2005].

“Nevertheless, we simply have to keep demanding justice.”   

Galym Ageleuov of Liberty, the human rights organisation, who has travelled regularly to Zhanaozen since the massacre to gather evidence, said that, in addition to the events on Alan Square, any investigation should cover:

□ The use of torture against oil workers and their supporters detained during the three-day crackdown. Detailed evidence of this had already been made public, especially at a trial of 37 Zhanaozen residents in 2012.

□ Sexual violence against women detainees, including Roza Tuletaeva, an oil workers’ trade union organiser (about her release, see here and here); Zhansaule Karabalaeva, daughter of a trade union activist; Asem Kenzhebaeva, daughter of another activist (the family’s story here, her evidence of sexual violence here); and others. “There is evidence that women and men prisoners were detained naked [in winter], were beaten, and had freezing water poured on them”, Ageleuov said.

□ The total number of killings in Zhanaozen and nearby villages on 16, 17 and 18 December 2011. Of the 16 admitted by officials, 15 were killed on Alan Square with revolvers, bullets from which usually remain lodged in the body. The authorities have denied responsibility for those killed by automatic gunfire and long-distance sniper fire, including bystanders. Ageleuov said: “There are numerous cases in which bodies were only released to the families of those killed if they accepted death certificates that registered the cause of death as, for example, a heart attack.”

Asem Kenzhebaeva

□ The killing of Torebek Tolegenov in Shetpe, and the wounding of young people who blocked a railroad to protest at the Zhanaozen massacre, needs to be investigated.

□ Multiple reports of bodies being loaded into unmarked graves – including by Yelena Kostiuchenko of Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s prime opposition newspaper, one of the first journalists to get into Zhanaozen after the massacre – have never been followed up. “Any international commission should insist on the exhumation of these bodies”, Ageleuov said.

□ A fire that broke out, inexplicably, at the Ozenmunaigaz offices on the day of the massacre.

The Kazakh labour movement will this week commemorate the Zhanaozen tragedy – at a time when the right to form independent trade unions, a key principle in the 2011 oil workers’ strike, is again at issue in many workplace struggles.

In June, the national oil company Kazmunaigaz tried to scrap an agreement on wages and conditions with the independent Oil Construction Company Workers Union, seeking instead a sweetheart deal with a “union” it had created. That followed an attempt by the authorities to deregister, and effectively put beyond the law, the independent Sectoral Union of Fuel and Energy Workers, a national-level umbrella of which the Oil Construction Company Workers Union is part.

Markhaba Khalmurzaeva, coordinator of the Central Asia Labour Rights Monitoring Mission, said: “There have been several strikes in which workers demanded the right to independent organisation, and in some cases, once the pay dispute was settled, employers even helped to register unions.”

But there is also a constant campaign of repression. “Quite often a strike will be settled, some demands are met, but activists who played a part in organising it are dismissed, and blacklisted.”

These battles for the right to independent organisation flared up earlier this year amidst a wave of strikes over pay and conditions. There were more strikes in the first half of 2021 than in the three years 2018-2020 put together. And this summer, the wave hit the western Kazakhstan oilfield, including Zhanaozen, where 11 firms were on strike simultaneously in July.

In September the Central Asia Labour Rights Monitoring Mission reported:

Most of the strikes are in the rich oil region of Mangistau in western Kazakhstan, although it is not only oil workers who are walking out. The most widespread demand is for wage increases. Some groups of workers demand a 13th wage [i.e. to be paid an extra month’s money each year]; partial or complete funding of sanatorium breaks for those working with toxic chemicals; compensation for Covid-19 tests; and … [a supply of] milk [at work].

In Zhanaozen, in the years after the massacre, the Ozenmunaigaz oil company was reorganised into 14 separate divisions. Many of the strikers were employed in the drilling services division, where pay was raised substantially and today is at more than twice the level of ten years ago.

In an attempt to smother the social discontent that exploded in 2011, the government invested in the town’s infrastructure, providing among other things round-the-clock water supply, where previously water only reached people’s homes for short periods twice a day.

Zhanaozen’s population has also expanded … but not everyone benefits. Unemployment has grown rapidly, and in 2019 young people began to demonstrate at the local authorities’ offices, demanding work at Ozenmunaigaz.

A mass meeting in July this year at KMG Security, one of 11 workplaces on strike in Zhanaozen. Photo: Manas Kalyrtai RFE/RL

Erzhan Elshibayev, who helped to organise these peaceful gatherings, was arrested and jailed for five years. Galym Ageleuov said: “Elshibayev is a victim of political repression. In 2019, he was charged with an offence arising from a fight he was involved in, when he was attacked by four men in 2017 while on his way to work – an incident that gave rise to no charges at the time.

“Elshibayev has been in detention for two years. For the last three months he has been in solitary confinement and no-one has heard from him.” Trade unionists gathered at Bishkek last week at a conference called on the Kazakh authorities to release him immediately.

Ten years after the massacre, labour’s battles against capital continue in the oilfield – for better pay and living conditions, for the right to organise independently at work, for ways to live decently. Exposing the truth about the state repression in 2011, about the chain of command, about the barbaric use of murder and torture in the service of capital, is a part of this wider struggle. SP, 15 December 2021.

■ Statement by human rights organisations in Kazakhstan, 15 December 2021

■ Zhanaozen: worker organisation and repression, by Simon Pirani (Gabriel Levy)

■ Zhanaozen: some lessons by Evgeny Zhovtis

■ They shot to kill. Interview with Galym Ageleuov

■ Kazakh oil workers: index of articles

“Freedom of association is a workers’ right! Free Erzhan Elshibayev! Stop victimising people for being active citizens!”

Originally posted on People & Nature on 15 December 2021. Thanks to its editor, Simon Pirani, for allowing me to repost his article here. ||| TRR

Byudzhetniki

Byudzhetniki (state sector employees), as imagined by Yandex Zen. This image illustrates a 2019 op-ed piece claiming that 51.8% of all workers in Russia are state sector employees or byudzhetniki (and bemoaning that fact because, allegedly, it lowers GDP).

Alexander Skobov | Facebook | September 18, 2021

I am terribly annoyed by the word byudzhetniki [state sector employees], when it is used in relation to those [whose superiors] try and corral them into voting a certain way. And it’s not just that I worked in the public schools for almost twenty years and would have liked to see them try and force me to vote in a certain way. The fact is that the system of coerced corporate loyalty works exactly the same in the private sector as in the state sector. It is exactly the same in private companies. The byudzhetnik is largely a bogey of the liberal mindset. Do you think it is more difficult to make an employee of a private company “fall into rank” than a state employee? Just take a look at Google.

Translated by the Russian Reader

From the Lives of the People


George Losev
Facebook
September 14, 2021

I chatted with an 86-year-old woman while I was changing the power outlet on her kitchen stove. She was from a village near Vologda and still pronounced her unstressed o’s as full o’s. She worked for 58 years on construction sites. She started working in ’54 or ’55. She worked for three years as an unskilled laborer, then for eight years as a painter before making the switch to plastering.

“I really liked this work. But then everything fell apart, and anyone could get the job. If you could hold a brush, you could go to work as a painter.”

If I understood her correctly, she said that, in the fifties, sixties and seventies, without a specialized education, it was impossible to get a job anywhere except as a helper.

She said that they had lived quite poorly, that the foreman earned 15 rubles a month. I didn’t understand how this could be and so I expressly asked her again, and she confirmed what she’d said.

In the seventies, the planning got better, and life became easier. But she had still spent her entire life “in poverty.”

“My legs began to give out, and I was forbidden to work. Otherwise I would have kept working. I was already used to this being how things were, that we were working stiffs and this was how we lived.”

Her husband also worked on construction sites, as a finisher. She has a daughter. She lives in her son-in-law’s two-room apartment, renting out one of the rooms. Despite her obvious and visible poverty, the apartment was very clean. She tried to pay me generously, but I didn’t take any money.

We started talking about migrants. She said they were good, hard-working, polite people. They always helped her, carried her groceries. Migrants had saved her life after she had her first or second stroke, which had happened outside. Russians had walked on by, but “Georgians or migrants, basically two non-Russians” had come to her aid, telephoning an ambulance and waiting with her.

“I don’t want to badmouth migrants. I just wonder where our people are, Russians? Have they really all retired? Or don’t they want to work?”

George Losev is a housing authority electrician, veteran grassroots activist and DIY football enthusiast in Petersburg. Thanks to Jeremy Morris for helpful comments on the translation. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

People and Nature: Labour Protests in Belarus (Rage Against the Machines)

Belarus: labour protest as part of political revolt
People and Nature
November 12, 2020

The popular revolt against the autocratic regime in Belarus and its thuggish security forces is now going into its fourth month. On Sunday, mass anti-government demonstrations were staged for the 13th week in a row – and more than 1000 people were arrested.

A first-class analysis of the relationship between the street demonstrations and the Belarusian workers’ movement was published last week in English, on the Rosa Luxemburg foundation site.

The article, by two researchers of labour movements, Volodymyr Artiukh and Denys Gorbach, compares the labour protests against the Belarussian regime, which they call “state capitalist”, with those in Ukraine, where private capital dominates.

In Belarus, the falsification of results in the presidential election in August first gave rise

Medical students demonstration in Vitebsk on 20 September. Polina Nitchenko is carrying the sign, which reads: “You can’t just wash away blood like that, I can tell you”. Photo: Ales Piletsky, TUT.By

to monster street demonstrations, and then to a wave of strikes, mass meetings and other workplace actions. (I published what information I could find herehere and here.)

This was not only “the most numerous, geographically diverse, and most sustained labour unrest” since 1991, Artiukh and Gorbach write, but also “the first large-scale labour protest to happen within the context of a broader political mobilisation”.

Three months on, the unrest has “gained a more individualised, sporadic and invisible form”, they argue. The workers’ acts of defiance “have been effective, but more on the symbolic level than in material terms”.

Workers “became an inspiration for the broader protesting masses” and were greeted on the streets with banners and chants – “a significant exception in the region, for in no other Eastern European country including Ukraine, have workers gained such symbolic prestige among society at large”.

Workers, Artiukh and Gorbach argue, derive their confidence from the streets, not from their workplaces where they suffer atomisation and strict management control.

Belarusian workers protest as citizens rather than workers. This is, however, an ambivalent process: the very experience of uniting and standing up to the bosses is vital for workers to overcome atomisation and gain organisational experience, but at the same time they have not yet learned to articulate politically their demands within a broader social agenda.

In fact work-related demands have been “only sporadically articulated”. Artiukh and Gorbach see a parallel with Poland and the Soviet Union in the 1980s: “political demands take precedence over bread-and-butter grievances”.

They discuss at length the post-Soviet history of “bureaucratic despotism in the workplace” that is now being challenged. Official unions act as an arm of state control; free and independent unions are small and weak.

In the near future, they expect that the opening-up of Belarus to Russian capital will impact workers.

On the one hand, it will increase the precariousness of workers’ living conditions: wages will not rise, enterprises will slowly be sold off to Russian capitalists, ‘optimised’ or closed. On the other hand, bureaucratic control over workplaces will also increase, while the state-affiliated trade unions will prove incapable of channelling workers’ discontent. This combination of workers’ newly gained politicisation and organisational experience, combined with a deteriorating economic situation, may spark new waves of labour unrest, perhaps more autonomous from larger political protests.

I hope readers will look at the whole article.

Now that Belarus has gone out of mainstream media headlines, it is hard to find insightful reports from the protest movement.

Judging by the Belarussian news site TUT.By, the focus of much anger this week are the Minsk police officers who on Sunday forced detainees to stand for several hours facing a wall in a police station courtyard.

Residents in flats overlooking the courtyard filmed the detainees in the afternoon, and again several hours later as night fell. The videos circulated on line, provoking outrage.

The police tactic of mass arrests and detention has led to a procession of court appearances against demonstrators. One that hit the news this week was Polina

Video, circulated on line, of detainees in a police station courtyard. They were forced to stand in this position for several hours

Nitchenko, who participated in a picket of the state medical university at Vitebsk singing protest songs. She was found guilty of participation in an unsanctioned demonstration and fined; she intends to appeal.

Medical staff and students played a prominent role in the early weeks of the movement by speaking out against the savage injuries inflicted by police thugs on demonstrators. And they have not gone quiet.

The speaker of the upper house of parliament, Natalya Kochanova, said last week that there would be “no dialogue on the streets” with protesting medical staff.

Nikita Solovei, a doctor and adviser to the Minsk health authorities, shot back in a facebook post that health workers had finished with being treated like “slaves” by officials. He denounced the “unlimited violence of the security forces against peaceful citizens”, the “imitation elections”, official “lying” about the coronavirus epidemic and repressive measures against medical staff and students alike.

As for there being no dialogue on the streets, he concluded, the dialogue “would be where the people of Belarus want it to be”.

The political strike at the Belaruskalii potash fertiliser plant, which People & Nature reported in August, led to the detention of strike committee members.

Anatoly Bokun, the committee chairman, was released last month after 55 days’ imprisonment. Sergei Cherkasov, a strike committee member and vice president of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union, was released last week along with Yuri Korzun and Pavel Puchenya: they all served 45 days. The union reported that they are all at home and in good spirits.

The federation is hoping to expand its international contacts: if you are in a union, please get in touch. Another support network, Bysol, set up by Belarusians working outside the country, conveys financial support to victims of repression. GL, 12 November 2020.

Belaruskalii strike committee members Yuri Korzun, Sergei Cherkasov and Pavel Puchenya after their release. Photo: BITU

________________________________________________________________________________________

Gabriel Levy
Facebook
November 11, 2020

Rage against the machines

Plenty of lies on facebook. Donald Trump’s lying page is working fine. And Breitbart News’s. And Fox news presenter Tucker Carlson’s. And Trump’s former press secretary’s Kayleigh McEnany’s. And Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon’s (although, to be fair, facebook has stopped him adding posts, after he called for the execution of Anthony Fauci, the White House medical science adviser).

But facebook has blocked anyone from posting links to peoplenature[dot]org, my humble web site where I write about socialism, ecology, the labour movement in eastern European countries and stuff like that.

It’s certainly a computer that decided to block me (for “breaching community standards”. As if). I’ve complained to the computer. And the computer may eventually notice its mistake. Or not …

So if you usually follow peoplenature[dot]org on facebook – as many of you lovely people do – please let’s use alternatives:

■ Join the whatsapp group to get updates. https://chat.whatsapp.com/FLJtISmn1ew9Bg2ZcR5fDl

■ Follow @peoplenature on twitter. https://twitter.com/peoplenature

■ Drop an email to peoplenature[at]yahoo.com, and get updates that way.

And please circulate this message to friends. Thanks for your support.

Keep raging against the machines!

Plato Strikes Again: Russian Trucker Mikhail Vedrov Charged with Assaulting Police Officer

Criminal Charges Filed in Tver Against Man Involved in Anti-Plato Road Tolls Protest
Vlad Yanyushkin
OVD Info
September 23, 2020

In Tver, criminal charges have been filed against trucker Mikhail Vedrov, who was involved in a protest against the Plato road tolls system. Vedrov is accused of violence against an official (punishable under Article 318.1 of the criminal code). According to investigators, he slapped a traffic police officer. The court has placed Vedrov under house arrest. Officials attempted to prevent Vedrov’s lawyer and members of the public from attending the court hearing, and several people were detained.

On September 10 and 11, the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) held a two-day protest in Tver against the Plato system. As the organization’s chairman Sergei Vladimirov told OVD Info, thirty-seven people from seventeen regions took part in the protest. Truckers called for abolishing the transport tax and making government spending on the transport industry more transparent. Drivers also held a founding congress to establish their own trade union.

On September 10, the protesters stopped outside the Plato data processing center on Red Navy Street. They expected Plato management to negotiate with them, but no one came out of the building. Instead, the police and the Russian National Guard came to meet them. Three regional OPR coordinators were detained for having posters on their cars featuring anti-Plato slogans. They were taken to Tver’s central police precinct, but soon released since the maximum time for keeping [people suspected of administrative violations, i.e., three hours] in police custody was exceeded. The protesters were given an undertaking to report again to the precinct to be formally charged with violating the rules for mass events (punishable under Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code), but the truckers failed to produce themselves at the precinct.

The second day of the protests on September 11 came off quietly. In the evening, as the truckers were leaving Tver, they were stopped by a traffic police patrol. Senior Lieutenant Sergei Nikishin asked Sergei Ryabintsev, who was behind the wheel, for his papers.

The entire convoy of truckers stopped, including OPR member Mikhail Vedrov from North Ossetia. According to investigators, “exhibiting direct criminal intent,” Vedrov approached the traffic policeman and, “realizing the public danger and illegality of his actions,” “struck at least one blow” to the officer’s neck. Thus, according to the formal written charges, the trucker caused the police officer physical pain and bruising of soft tissues in the neck.

Trucker Sergei Rudametkin provided OVD Info with an audio recording of a conversation with Ryabintsev, in which the trucker says that law enforcement stopped the convoy as it was leaving Tver. One of the officers asked to see the drivers’ papers. In response to a question about the grounds for this procedure, the police officer began yelling at everyone. At some point, the officer started shouting at Vedrov as well. Consequently, Vedrov was detained and accused of assaulting the police officer.

“There is nothing but the testimony of the victim [the police officer] and the testimony of the victim’s partner. Everything is based on the testimony of two police officers,” explains OVD Info lawyer Sergei Telnov. He added that Vedrov had invoked Article 51 of the Russian Constitution [which protects people from self-incrimination], so the defense lawyer did not have the right to answer some of our questions, for example, why Vedrov appears as if from nowhere in the police’s version of events, and whether he was in the car with Ryabintsev when the conflict with the police officer erupted.

Vedrov was taken to the central police precinct in Tver. Petersburg human rights activist Dinar Idrisov told OVD Info that over the course of the evening, the police investigator tried to pressure Vedrov to sign a confession, despite the lack of evidence. Around two o’clock in the morning, Vedrov was released under an obligation to appear before the investigator on September 14.

On the appointed day, Vedrov, accompanied by Telnov, reported to the Investigative Committee for questioning as subpoenaed. After a conversation with the investigator, they were given a summons for questioning, scheduled for the next day. On September 15, Vedrov was already interrogated as a suspect in a criminal case of violence against authorities. He was taken into custody.

Two days later, at Vedrov’s custody hearing, the bailiffs refused to let members of the public into the courtroom. Telnov explained that the official pretext was combating the spread of the coronavirus. Exceptions were made for one journalist and Vedrov’s wife and children, who had flown from North Ossetia for the hearing.

Telnov also had problems entering the courthouse.

“I got in the first time without no problems,” Telnov says. “Just before the hearing started, I went outside to talk, but when I tried to go back in they tried to stop me.”

According to Telnov, the bailiffs illegally demanded that he lay out the entire contents of his bag. When he tried to enter again, the bailiffs yielded.

Around four o’clock the judge retired to chambers to deliberate. It was then that Sergei Belyaev, editor of the Telegram channel I’m a Citizen! was detained and charged with failing to comply with the orders of a court bailiff (punishable under Article 17.3.2 of the Administrative Code) for recording video in the courthouse without permission from the presiding judge. The journalist was released after the arrest sheet was drawn up.

At the same time, OPR chair Sergei Vladimirov, who had come to support Vedrov, was detained in the courtyard in front of the court building. He was roughly shoved into a police car and taken to the Tver interior ministry directorate, where he was charged with disobeying the commands of a police officer (punishable under Article 19.3 of the Administrative Code) and left overnight in custody pending trial. He was released the next day.

Returning from chambers, the judge placed Vedrov under house arrest for two months, ignoring the prosecution’s request to remand the trucker in custody at a pretrial detention center. The prosecutor had argued that Vedrov could take flight, influence witnesses, and hinder the criminal proceedings.

Telnov explained in court that his client was unlikely to be able pressure the witnesses, since they were all police officers. Nor would he be able to destroy the evidence, since the whole case was based on the testimony of witnesses at the scene.

Photo of Mikhail Vedrov courtesy of the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) and OVD Info. Translated by the Russian Reader. I have published numerous articles over the past several years about the inspiring militancy of Russian truckers.

Belarus: “Without Organisation, Without Struggle, the Oppressive Unfreedom Will Never Disappear” (People and Nature)

Belarus: ‘Without organisation, without struggle, the oppressive unfreedom will never disappear’
People and Nature
August 14, 2020

The revolt against the authoritarian regime in Belarus has spread from the city streets, where thousands of protesters have been battling with police, to the workplaces. On Thursday 13 August workers at large enterprises – including chemical and food factories, and construction and transport companies – downed tools in protest at the monstrous surge of police violence and arrests. People are quitting the state-supported trade unions. Films and photographs of workers’ meetings, at which participants denounced police violence and the fraudulent election results, are spreading like wildfire across social media. Womens’ organisations are taking to the streets – against a president whose fury was provoked, especially, by the support for Svetlana Tikhonovskaya, the woman who dared to stand against him for election. Here are two appeals by independent trade union organisations that were published yesterday. Please share and re-post. GL.

Open Appeal by the Belarusian Independent Trade Union to workers

Dear Belarusians,

The authorities’ actions – in falsifying the election results, breaching human rights, instigating mass arrests and beatings of peaceful protesters and passers-by across the whole country – could all lead to irreversible consequences for Belarus. We are hearing ever-louder announcements from the European Union and the United States, that they are ready to impose various sanctions, including economic ones, on Belarus as a state that is trampling cynically on the rights and freedoms of its citizens.

a-factory-meetingA factory meeting in Minsk earlier this week

Closure of the western markets for our products and services would be a catastrophe for our enterprises. The impact of this would be borne first of all by ordinary workers, who are in a bad enough situation already.

To defend ourselves and our freedom of action at the workplace, we propose the following pattern of simple collective actions:

1. Quit the state’s social organisations, such as the [government-supported] Federation of Belarusian Trade Unions, [the pro-presidential civic-political association] Belaya Rus and the Belarusian Republican Union of Youth. If you remain in these organisations, you are actually confirming your support for [president] Aleksandr Lukashenko.

2. Join the independent trade unions at your workplace, and if there is not one, organise it yourself.

3. Organise a mass meeting, declare “no confidence” in the results of the elections, and send it to the Central Electoral Commission. Collect the signatures of those who did not vote for Lukashenko.

4. Present demands to the management of your workplace, and the local authorities, for the cessation of aggression and violence on the part of the security services; for guarantees of safety for the enterprises’ workers and their families; of a guarantee that no-one will be dismissed on account of being seized [by the police] on the streets.

5. Record any mass meetings and demands in minutes; record videos; take photos and send this material to independent media.

In unity there is strength!

In solidarity, Maksim Poznyakov, president of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union.

This statement was published here on 13 August.

The Belarusian Independent Trade Union English-language page is here.

Belarusian Independent Trade Union contact details: Telephone.+375 17 424 18 80. Fax. +375 17 424 18 90. E-mail: bnpsoligorsk@gmail.com

===

An appeal by the recently-established Telegram channel ZabastovkaBY (Strike Belarus)

Belarus is in the grip of a protest movement … and now many people are demanding that the factories be stopped, in order to stop police violence. But that is just the start.

We don’t just need a one-off strike for free elections. We need an organisation, that will rouse workers every time that the manager or boss “loses the plot”. All of us spend most of the day at our workplaces, and it is from the situation there, from the fear of losing our jobs, that the most oppressive unfreedom grows among us.

We need effective organisations of working people, constantly active, and independent of the authorities and the owners of companies.

Furthermore, such organisations are needed not only at the gigantic state-controlled industrial enterprises. Today the majority of Belarusians already work in the private sector, and the situation there is often no better than at the state-owned workplaces. And those private bosses, no less than the state enterprises, are “sponsors of the system”.

We hear about these issues less often, because there is not a single businessman who would want an organisation in his enterprise that could stop him feeding his appetites. But without organisation by working people, and without struggle in the private sector, that feeling of oppressive unfreedom that is suffered by most Belarusians will never disappear.

What we are fighting for:

►The democratisation of the political system;

►The immediate release of those who have been detained without cause at demonstrations;

►A ban on the privatisation of enterprises;

►No job losses;

►Abolition of Decree no. 3 “on the prevention of social parasitism”;

►A ban on fines and the cancellation of bonuses [in workplaces];

►Abolition of the contract [labour] system;

►Expansion of social welfare provision;

►No to the pension reform;

►For trade unions that stand up for our rights.

What to do:

Meet up with your colleagues outside of work time. Organise chats on social media and messaging networks. Work out which departments could most effectively stop production or the provision of services by striking. Join up with our resources, and at the right moment be ready to go on strike. (14 August 2020.)

■ Londoners! There’s a picket at the Belarusian embassy tomorrow (Saturday).

■ Belarusian workers support protesters, by Maxim Edwards on Global Voices – a first-class survey of actions

■ And here is some analysis by Volodymyr Artiukh, published on Open Democracy just before the election.

Some social media clips

■ Redfish film of security forces clashing with demonstrators in the centre of Minsk.

■ Film of a mass meeting at Grodnozhilstroya, a construction company. The chair asks who has voted for Lukashenko, “don’t be shy”, a handful raise their hands. He asks who voted against, an overwhelming cheer goes up. Posted on Facebook.

■ Film of a mass meeting at the huge Minsk automobile factory (MAZ). The crowd shouts “[Lukashenko] Go!” and “honest elections!”. Posted on Facebook by Boris Kravchenko, a Russian trade union official.

■ Medical staff demonstrating in Minsk, as reported by Current Time TV. Those interviewed say they are protesting at the appalling character of the wounds inflicted on patients by the security forces.

■ A film circulating widely on Russian social media. A police officer, completely unprovoked and without warning, smashes the windscreen of a passing car. The elderly driver gets up to complain and is beaten by five officers, in broad daylight, and arrested. Those filming the incident are exclaiming “bandits! fascists!”.

Thanks to Gabriel Levy for sending this to me and graciously permitting me to repost it here. // TRR