Lugansk Miners Occupy Pit to Protest Wage Arrears and Closures

lugansk-1From Saturday’s motorcade: “Employers, corporations and chain stores: we will not allow you to insult people”

Lugansk miners occupy pit and defy security forces
People and Nature
June 9, 2020

Mineworkers are staging an underground occupation in defiance of the authorities in the Lugansk separatist “republic” in eastern Ukraine, who have responded with a campaign of intimidation and arrests.

There were 123 mineworkers underground at the Komsomolskaya pit, in the mining town of Antratsit, for the third day running on Sunday (7 June), the News.ru site reported yesterday. One who had fallen ill was brought to the surface.

The protesters are demanding that their wages for March and April be paid in full. A similar underground protest on 21 April resulted in some money being handed over by Vostok Ugol, a new company set up in the “republic” and charged with closing pits and cutting the labour force.

lugansk-3

An earlier protest, in Zorinsk in the Lugansk “republic”, on 4 May, against the closure of the local pit. Photo from Dialog.ua

The Lugansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” were set up by separatist military forces, supported by the Russian government, who clashed with the Ukrainian army in the military conflict of 2014.

The militarised regimes have clamped down on labour and social movement activists, and made independent journalism impossible in the “republics”—meaning that protest has been rare, and news of it does not travel easily. But this week mineworkers and their supporters have taken action nonetheless.

On Sunday the Lugansk “republic” police blockaded the Komsomolskaya mine and stopped food and drink being passed in to the occupiers. Galina Dmitrieva, a local trade union activist, received a a message saying that state security ministry (MGB) officials were on their way to the mine.

After that, mobile phone reception was blocked and the popular Vkontakte social media (similar to Facebook) was blocked. News.ru published text exchanges with local residents who said that the internet could only be accessed with Virtual Private Network (encrypted anti-spying) technology.

Transport in Antratsit was shut down, and on Sunday evening the authorities announced that this was because a medical quarantine was in place.

Aleksandr Vaskovsky, co-chairman of the Independent Union of Mineworkers of Donbass, said in a statement to News.ru:

A quarantine was announced in Antratsit on the evening of 7 June and the whole town closed down. The intention was to deprive the striking miners of subsistence. A curfew was declared and a military force assembled. This force was assembled at Rovenki, and they completely surrounded the Frunze pit, where miners had also tried to strike. […]

In Antratsit on 7 June, from the evening, they started arresting people who had given informational and organisational support to the miners, and organised the strike movement at other pits. They sought out activists at other pits and in other towns. There were arrests in Krasnodon, Rovenki, Krasnyi Luch and Belorechensk. State security ministry officials just came and, without any documents, were taking people with all their computers and mobile phones to an unknown destination.

We were able to find out where some of these arrestees were, in the MGB’s buildings. During the course of the day they had been tortured, with the aim of identifying other activists. At 8:00 another seven people were kidnapped, including two women, one of whom is pregnant.

Vaskovsky told News.ru that workers at Belorechenskaya mine tried to stage an occupation on Monday, but were prevented from going underground by managers.

Since the separatist “republic” was established in 2014, out of 32 pits, 10 have been closed. The mines now employ 44,800 people, less than half of the workforce before the military conflict began.

The Eastern Human Rights Group said on its Facebook page yesterday (8 June) that MGB officials had been in the Dubovsky quarter of Antratsit, where the Komsomolskaya pit is, since Friday, “questioning workers about the instigators of the protest”. Two miners had been arrested and sent for questioning to Antratsit; their whereabouts were unknown. The union president at the mine, Georgii Chernetsov, had been questioned but not detained. The statement continued:

Now a road block has been set up in Dubovsky, and MGB officers have gone to the families of the protesting mineworkers, to put pressure on the protesters through their families. Mobile phone signals have been cut off throughout Antratsit district, although WhatsApp and Viber are working.

This activity by the security forces of the Lugansk “republic” is directed at intimidating workers and suppressing the protest movement in the occupied part of Lugansk district.

Pavel Lisyansky of the Eastern Human Rights Group, based nearby in Lisichansk, in territory controlled by the Ukrainian government, wrote in a Facebook post:

The Russian Federation’s occupying administration in [the Lugansk “republic”] is disturbed by the systematic protests by the labour collectives at the mining enterprises, which are related to the restructuring of the industry, in other words the threat of mass closures.

In the course of these protests new leaders of public opinion have emerged, who have the support of the local population and do not fear the repressive actions by the occupying administration’s special forces.

For the last month, the mood of protest has grown stronger in Perevalsky, Antratsit and Lutuginsk districts in the occupied part of Lugansk region. The leaders of the worker protests have the support and solidarity of other labour collectives in the coal mining enterprises.

It is for this reason that the Russian Federation’s occupation administration has decided to take measures to counter the protests.

On the Ukrainian side of the front line, the Eastern Human Rights Group on Saturday staged a motorcade “to draw attention to the problem of the breaches of labour and social-economic rights of workers during the pandemic and quarantine measures”.

lugansk-2The Eastern Human Rights Group’s motorcade

The group said: “We are concerned about the situation in which the state labour inspection does nothing; about the pressure and bribery practiced by criminal groups against trade union leaders, to try to influence workers and employers (there has been a case at Toretsk that we will report on); the unlawful dismissal of workers; and so on.”

Thanks to People and Nature for permission to republish this article here.

Old King Coal Was a Merry Old Soul

Miners outside King Coal's offices in Gukovo. Photo courtesy of Caucasian Knot
Miners outside King Coal’s offices in Gukovo. Photo courtesy of Caucasian Knot

Miners in Gukovo Reject Governor’s Figures on Wage Arrears Payments
Caucasian Knot
October 6, 2016

About 100 miners have picketed outside the offices of the former coal mining company King Coal. The protesters claimed that reports they had been paid 20 million rubles in back pay were not true.

Caucasian Knot has previously reported that, on September 30, Vasily Golubev, governor of Rostov Region, stated the Regional Development Corporation had paid off 20 million rubles in back pay owed to miners working for the King Coal group of companies. The governor said the remaining debt was 270 million rubles.

The picketers, who gathered on October 5 outside King Coal’s offices in Gukovo, were outraged at the inaction of officials and information disseminated by the authorities, which they called “false.” In particular, they were upset by Governor Golubev’s announcement that miners had been paid 20 million rubles in back pay.

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Vasily Golubev. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

“What 20 million?! At twelve o’clock on October 3, we were paid 17,604,000 rubles,” said Nikolai Nadkernichny, a co-coordinator of the protest. He cited information from the Gukovo Territorial Committee of Trade Union Organizations.

“The governor probably rounded the figure. Well, he did a good job of it. Would that our pay were rounded up this way,” he added.

Nadkernichny doubted the governor’s claim that the remaining wage arrears amounted to 270 million rubles.

“On January 1, 2016, the wages owed us amounted to 319 million rubles. Even if you substract 20 million, you still don’t get 270 million,” sad Nadkernichny.

According to him, 200 people were still employed by King Coal in payroll and collections, accounting, and security. They were not being paid, so the actual amount of wage arrears was even higher.

Dmitry Kovalenko, an activist, reported that, on October 3, 406 workers at the Zamchalovo Mine, 93 workers at Tunneler LLC, and 279 workers at Rostovgormash had received payments.

According to Kovalenko, workers in the above-named organizers had not [sic] been paid for almost two weeks. Only at the Diamond Coal Company were workers being paid.

The protesters were also outraged that Mikhail Tikhonov, Rostov regional minister of industry and energy, had skipped a meeting with them scheduled for last Friday (September 30) and had kept brushing them off.

“His press office said he was in Moscow, but on Friday he was shown [on TV] at tube-rolling mill in Taganrog. The minister is obviously avoiding us, because this summer he promised 1,000 tons of сoal allowances [for heating and cooking] by October 15, but so far we have received only 100 tons,” said Nadkernichny.

“We are waiting for a reply from the President to the registered letter we sent him on September 23 after his community liaison office refused to take it. But so far there has been no response,” said Nadkernichny.

Caucasian Knot has also reported that properties (two administrative buildings and the right to lease the lot were they are located) owned by Diamond Coal Company JSC, a subsidiary of King Coal, had been put up for auction. The starting price for the properties was 50 million rubles.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Go to Caucasian Knot’s special page on the Gukovo wage arrears protests for this and earlier reports on the conflict.

Regime Cracks Down on Protesting Krasnodar Farmers

“They Have Really Gone After Us”
After returning to Krasnodar Territory, participants of tractor convoy feel the heat from the very people against whom they complained
Anna Bessarabova
Novaya Gazeta
August 28, 2016

The farmers after their tractor convoy was dispersed. They have been sentenced to three to ten days in jail. Not a single independent human rights activist came to their court hearings in the village of Kazanskaya. Photo courtesy of Anna Artemieva/Novaya Gazeta

The farmers were threatened during the convoy. We will stage a second Novocherkassk massacre for you and dice you like cattle in a slaughterhouse, they were told by security officers, who after the protest was dispersed have been zealously carrying out checks of their homes and farms.

Around thirty FSB officers raided Nikolai Borodin’s farm in the village of Kazanskaya, which they turned upside down. The tax inspectorate has been looking into property owned by the relatives of protest leader Alexei Volchenko. Other men have been interrogated by the prosecutor’s office. Nina Karpenko escorted her driver Seryozha Gerasimenko, a young fellow with three small children, to the detention center. He has been jailed for three days. The other men were also issued misdemeanor charge sheets: the authorities even went to the trouble of delivering the documents to their homes. The hearings took place on the weekend (Saturday) in the Kavkazsky District. Sergei Gorbachev was jailed for five days, Slava Petrovsky, for four days, Andrei Penzin and Semyon Smykov, for three. The rest of the protesters are waiting their turn.

“Nearly everyone in the villages has been paid visits by prosecutors and police,” farmer Ludmila Kushnaryova told Novaya Gazeta. No one knows what they are looking for. Or what the charges will be, either. The pressure has not stopped.”

“I cannot believe this is happening to us, in our country. We had no idea it would be so frightening,” said Nina Karpenko. “They have really gone after us. The deputy chief of the district traffic police escorted my tractor drivers and me to the hearings. He followed us for 250 kilometers. Whatever for? There were two people working in the courthouse on Saturday: the judge and the chairman. Didn’t they have anything else to do?”

Nikolai Maslov and Oleg Petrov, two convoy participants jailed for ten days, have been transferred to Novocherkassk.

“Dad called early this morning. He said everything was alright. But who knows. Maybe he just didn’t want to scare us?” said Igor Maslov, worried about his father. “We still haven’t found lawyers for them. How much do you think they’ll gouge us?”

Alexei Volchenko’s colleagues and friends have been looking for him. He has not been answering calls to any of his phones. He is not to be found in his home village. He has disappeared. The last thing the farmers heard was that Volchenko had been fined in Rostov Region. He made it back to Kuban, where he was detained again and sentenced to ten days in jail in Ust-Labinsk. The authorities are now, allegedly, preparing to charge him with extremism.

The Russian government, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the Russian Investigative Committee have been pretending nothing is happening in Kuban. The official TV channels have been airing election campaign spots about the ruling party’s ability to listen to people, but they have not aired any stories about the events in Krasnodar Territory.  They have maintained their silence for a week.

Alexander Popkov, a lawyer with the Agora International Human Rights Group, Boris Titov, federal commissioner for the rights of entrepreneurs, former Federation Council member Ivan Starikov, and Russian Federal Public Chamber chair Georgy Fyodorov have promised to help the participants of the tractor convoy.

“Obviously, the farmers have committed no offenses, and the wild imitation of law enforcement involving riot police and arrests for a ‘rally’ in a cafe are aimed at suppressing a peaceful and reasonable protest campaign,” said lawyer Alexander Popkov. “The first thing we are going to do is file appeals, and then we are going to see whether there is any point in beating our heads against the courts in Russia or whether we should immediately file a class-action complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.”

“I have been in contact with the farmers, their wives, and their children. They are drafting an appeal, and next week we plan to hold a big press conference in Moscow,” Ivan Starikov informed Novaya Gazeta. “Their problem needs to be solved systemically. People’s land shares are being confiscated, and there are around 300,000 victims of this practice nationwide.”

According to Valentin Pyshkin, attorney for convoy participants Nikolai Maslov, Oleg Petrov, and Sergei Vladimirov, the farmers have filed an appealed against the court decisions that sentenced them to ten days in jail.

“But we won’t get an answer earlier than Monday,” the lawyer explained. “On August 26, I was not admitted to the Novocherkassk detention center and allowed to talk with my clients, because, you see, according to their internal regulations, prisoners are entitled to representation by a lawyer only from two to four in the afternoon. It is an odd rule. But at four o’clock I had a court hearing in Aksai. Rustam Mallamagomedov from the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) was on trial. On August 24, he had gone to the police station on his own to find out what had happened to the detainees, and the police didn’t let him back out of the station.”

Truckers Ready to Fight for Farmers 

Andrei Bazhutin, chair, Russian Association of Carriers (OPR):

“We arrived from Petersburg to Moscow, where we were getting ready for a car convoy through Siberia. We learned about the arrest of the tractor convoy on the morning of August 23 and changed our plans. We went to support the tractor drivers. We were stopped by police for eight hours on the Moscow Ring Road, and eight hours in Voronezh Region. Along the way, we were written up for violating Article 20.2 of the Misdemeanors Code [“Violation of the established rules for organizing or holding an assembly, rally, demonstration, march or picket”  — Novaya Gazeta], but they did not stop us from traveling further.

“By the time we got to Rostov, two of our activists [who had been with the tractor convoy from the beginning — Novaya Gazeta] had been sentenced to ten days in jail, while another two had been fined 10,000 rubles. Now we are here in Rostov: we have four big rigs and some cars. We are working with the lawyers and human rights activists and trying to help the guys out. We think it is necessary to gather journalists and advance on Krasnodar Territory to draw attention to these court hearings. Center ‘E’ [the Interior Ministry’s Center for Extremism Prevention — TRR] has intimidated everyone here.

“We have also contacted the miners on hunger strike in Gukov and agreed to support each other. Our demands will be voiced at their next picket too.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Read my previous postings about the protest by Krasnodar farmers and the regime’s crackdown against it.

We Are Just Making It Up as We Go Along

A map of European countries by average monthly wage, as denominated in euros. Source: Wikipedia
A map of European countries by average monthly wage, as denominated in euros. Source: Wikipedia

Personal income of Russians shrank by 52.2% in January 2016 as compared to December 2015. According to the report by the state statistics body Rosstat, the monthly income in January averaged only 21365 rubles (about USD $291) though only a month ago it was 45212 rubles ($614). Elena’s ModelsMarch 9, 2016

Pollocracy continues its triumphant march across the sweeping plains and endless forests of the world’s largest country, stamping out the last vestiges of real reality there.

Less than a month before nationwide elections to the Russia State Duma and regional legislative assemblies, on September 18, 2016, the Public Opinion Foundation (whose Russian abbreviation FOM should be changed to FOAM) has published the results of a new survey, according to which more than fifty percent of Russians believe the country’s economic situation is satisfactory. At the same time, reports RBC, 44% of respondents said depositing money in Russian banks was a reliable way of saving it.

This astounding victory for what the FOAMsters euphemistically call “sociology” comes amidst a spate of bank license revocations by the Russian Central Bank, a hunger strike by miners at Rostov mining company King Coal, who have not been paid back wages amounting to over 4.1 million euros since May 2015, and an abortive attempt by Krasnodar farmers to drive their tractors in a convoy to Moscow to protest the parceling off of prime land by authorities in the region to big agribusinesses instead of to them.

And those are just the recent “economic achievements” that came immediately to mind when I saw those dubious poll results. There are hundreds of more such examples that I could adduce, starting with the fact that there have been more than a few reports in the media and elsewhere about a decline in the real wages and income of Russians over the past couple of years.

Things are indeed going swimmingly for the Russian economy, and we know that is the case, yet again, because the utterly objective Russian pollsters have told us so. TRR

Greg Yudin: The Last Circle of Hell

Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, speaking at meeting with relatives of miners who perished in the Severnaya coal mine in Vorkuta, Komi Republic. Photo courtesy of medialeaks.ru
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, speaking at meeting with relatives of miners who perished in the Severnaya coal mine in Vorkuta, Komi Republic. Photo courtesy of medialeaks.ru

Greg Yudin
March 3, 2016
Facebook

The transcript of Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and Severstal president Alexei Mordashov’s meeting with relatives of miners who perished in the recent coal mine disaster in Vorkuta makes for hellacious reading. It is like the last circle of hell.

I won’t even mention the fact they did not want to take any responsibility for the incident, that it was their incompetence which lead to the deaths of rescuers, and that they covered for a flagrantly brutal system in which miners were forced to turn off sensors and worked like slaves.

But these people really, seriously consider themselves heroes, because they came to the meeting with the unfortunate relatives.

Dvorkovich: You know, many people tried to dissuade me from coming here and traveling here at all, because it is incredibly difficult, really difficult. Nevertheless, my colleagues in the republic and I decided we had to share this grief along with you.

I can just imagine the “many” people who tried to dissuade Dvorkovich.

“Arkady Vladimirovich, what is with you? Why are you going there? There are those stupid widows there. They don’t understand a thing, and they cannot control themselves. How are you going to help them? All the orders have been given already. They will get the money, bawl a bit, and calm down. Dmitry Anatolyevich is not insisting that you go. As it was, we were planning to order a table at a restaurant and drink a toast for the greatness of Russia and our common victory in this difficult time. Well, and we would drink a toast for the dead miners, too, of course.”

“No, I have to go! Of course I know it will be hard for me, very hard. I must show the country’s leadership is mindful of the common people and shares their pain.”

“Oh, Arkady Vladimirovich, what heroism! You’re a hero. It is people like you who make Russia strong.”

You get the sense they flew in from another planet. Why do miners tamper with the sensors? What do you say? They are afraid of losing their jobs? Let them find another job! We have a free labor market. Loans, you say? You cannot afford to buy an engagement ring? So who forced you to take out a loan?

Mordashov: Well, you know, coming to see you all was a personal choice for each of us. Those of us present here made this choice. We cannot force anyone else to make it.

How has it happened that Russian officials and fat cats have come to think they could choose not to come and talk with the relatives of victims, that it is their “personal choice”? I remember quite well how twenty years ago or so Prime Minister Chernomyrdin talked with terrorists to save people’s lives, but nobody reported that it was his “personal choice.” Because it was his job.

But now a billionaire from the Forbes list and a guy who has spent the better part of his life as a government minister say with a straight face that after a disaster involving dozens of victims it is okay not to come and explain themselves, and that basically they are doing people a favor by traveling from Monaco or wherever they live and stopping by this godforsaken mine.

Actually, it isn’t difficult to understand why these bastards consider themselves heroes. Because hiding behind them is a man who sixteen years ago, when the Kursk sunk, was so frightened he went into seclusion for several days, but then called the widows of the drowned submariners “paid whores.”*

Since then the country has been ruled by men and women incapable of sharing the grief of their own people in a way that at least would appear convincing, because they fear and despise the people.

Translated by the Russian Reader

*The new Russian president grew particularly irate early in his tenure when the submarine Kursk sank in the Barents Sea in August 2000 and Russian television aired tough reports about the government’s slow response and dishonest public statements. Even state-controlled Channel One, under Berezovsky’s control, broadcast critical segments, including interviews with the wives of Kursk sailors distraught at the way the situation was being handled

Outraged, Putin called personally to rail about the report and accuse the journalists of faking it. “You hired two whores … in order to push me down,” Putin exclaimed, as former anchor Sergei Dorenko remembered it. Dorenko was taken aback. “They were officers’ widows,” he said, “but Putin was convinced that the truth, the reality, did not actually exist. He only believes in [political] technologies.”

Putin’s anger boiled over at a closed-door meeting with relatives of the crew six days after the submarine sank. When fuming relatives shouted him down, saying they knew from television that the Russian government had initially turned down foreign assistance, Putin bristled.

“Television?” he exclaimed. “They’re lying. Lying. Lying.”

Peter Baker and Susan B. Glasser, “Nuts and Bolts of Project Putin,” Moscow Times, June 8, 2005