Sergei Vilkov: Everything You Thought You Knew About the Russian Working Class Was Wrong

kalashnikov workersWorkers of the Kalashnikov plant in Izhevsk, Russia, on September, 20, 2016. Photo by Mikhail Svetlov (Getty Images). Courtesy of Fortune

The Heroes of the Day: What We Know about the Russian Working Class
How the Proletariat Stopped Fearing TV and Came to Dislike It
Sergei Vilkov
News.ru
April 30, 2019

It has been a tradition on the eve of May Day to recall the working class, which in Russia has seemingly been usurped by televised images of the “patriots” and regular blokes who work at the Uralvagonzavod plant in Nizhny Tagil.

Actually, Russia’s workers are a genuine black hole to sociologists. No one had seriously researched their circumstances, sentiments, and views for thirty years.

The first tentative attempts to research today’s Russian industrial laborers have produced a portrait that many had not expected. It transpires that today’s proletarians, at least, the most politically and civically dynamic among them, almost never watch television. They have a sober take on politics. They are immune to state propaganda. They have a relatively relaxed attitude toward migrant workers.

They regard themselves as outside observers in the debates between the regime and the opposition, not finding their own interests reflected in them. They are more likely to feel trampled upon by plant management than by a new law passed in the State Duma.

It is the factory where they fight their battles, which are usually invisible to official statisticians. Most important, according to researchers, they have more in common with early twentieth century social democrats than with current parties who try and speak on behalf of workers. However, the new research leaves a lot to be desired, to put it mildly. News.ru took a look at it.

They Got What They Fought For
According to official data, 26 million people in Russia or over 36% of the able-boded population are employed in industry, transport, agriculture, fishing, and several similar sectors. These figures do not include, for example, the large numbers of people employed in commerce and services. Overall, however, sociologists estimate that workers make up 40% of Russia’s population. They identify them as the largest group in society.

These people dwell on the dark side of Russia’s moon, as it were. It would be hard to say when someone last tried to examine them through an academic lens. However, understanding the nature of Russian society and its largest segments is, perhaps, the most ambitious humanities research project in the country today.

In government reports, Russia’s workers are imagined as a passive, homogeneous milieu that positively exudes tranquility. In 2017, Rosstat, the state statistics service, recorded only one strike, while in the preceding years their official number oscillated between two and five strikes annually.

By comparison, in 2005, according to official data, there were 2,600 strikes in Russia. And yet the following year, Rosstat claimed the number of strikes had decreased by a factor of 325. Since then, according to official statistics, it has remained consistently scanty, despite the economic crises of 2008 and 2014.

However, the Center for Social and Labor Rights, which has monitored the situation on its own, claims there were an average of 240 labor protests between 2008 and 2014. In 2016, when the political opposition was quiet, there were twice as many labor protests, while in the first six months of 2018, the last period for which it has data, the center recorded 122 strikes and acts of civil disobedience. Nearly half of these incidents led to workers downing tools.

Since 2014, a year dominated by an apparent “patriotic” consensus in politics, the number of strikes has increased abruptly due to an upsurge of resistance in provincial cities, including district seats. The largest number of walkouts and protests occurred in industry, especially the machine building and metalworking sectors, which have accounted for 28% of the overall number of strikes. The transport sector has accounted for the same percentage of strikes and protests, despite the fact they have mainly been carried out by employees of private transport companies based in the cities. The construction industry has accounted for 19% of strikes and protests during the period.

The main cause of protests and strikes remains unpaid back wages, which accounted for 60% of incidents. Demands to raise pay were factors in 19–20% of incidents.

The Center for Social and Labor Rights noticed a curious thing. In 2018, the number of spontaneous, unorganized protests by workers rose abruptly by 22%. Trade unions were involved in a mere 17% of all strikes and protests. The experts claim this was partly due to the fact that the Russian hinterlands, where there have been no real trade unions for the last one hundred years, have taken the lead in labor activism, along with sectors dominated by precarious employment.

Shop Floor Intellectuals
Someone has been organizing these strikes and protests, however. It is evident there is a core of energetic progressive activists among Russia’s workers.

On April 22, Alexander Zhelenin gave a lecture at a round table held in the offices of Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

Zhelenin is a well-known expert on workplace conflicts, and part of his talk dealt with a research study on the Russian proletariat. In July and September 2018, he and his fellow researchers did a small-scale qualitative sociological research study in Kaluga and Omsk that focused on the self-identification and sociopolitical views of workers.

A total of twenty-three people were interviewed. The small sample was offset by a thorough probing, through in-depth interviews, of the respondents’ attitudes and views, which are never revealed by run-of-the-mill public opinion polls. The workers interviewed by the sociologists were somehow connected to independent trade unions, which had, apparently, supported the research study. However, in the main, the interviewees were not politically engaged: only one of them was a member of a political organization.

We should also not forget it is usually the most energetic people who agree to be interviewed for ordinary official public opinion polls, which affects their outcomes.

In Kaluga, the respondents worked in the food industry and the new auto assembly plants, while in Omsk, they were employed at old Soviet military-industrial complex plants. They ranged in age from twenty to fifty, and included women and men. They were quite well-paid technicians who were proud of their contributions to society. On the other hand, they had a constant sense of their status as subordinates. They tended to strongly associate themselves with their workplaces. Family “labor dynasties” were a possible factor in their outlooks.

Most of the workers interviewed at the auto plants had been abroad one or more times, and this partly had to do with Volkswagen’s work exchange programs. One of the things they had learned on these trips was independent trade unions were ordinary, valuable organizations.

On the contrary, a foreign-travel passport was a rarity among the workers of the old defense plants, and yet both groups of workers tended to spend their holidays on the Black Sea coast. Some respondents in Omsk said they had never seen the sea or had seen it in early childhood.

Mortgages were the main financial obstacles to holidays away from home. Financially, the skilled workers felt they were members of the so-called middle class. In terms of standards of living in their regions, however, they noticed the gap between the more affluent segment of the populace and themselves. Thus, they had a keen sense of the difference in life chances for their children and the children of rich families, talking about it with great indignation.

Pavel Kudyukin, ex-minister of labor and employment and a lecturer in public administration at the Higher School of Economics, commented on the growing social segregation in Russia.

“It comes to the fore when talk turns to children’s futures. It is an aspect that will become more acute, because we are moving from segregation to social apartheid. I think it will facilitate [grassroots] civic activism,” he said.

The authors of the report did not hide their amazement at the fact that the respondents were quite well-educated, intelligent people. Nearly a third of them had a higher education or an uncompleted university degree. Many of them pointed out it was ordinary to find university-educated workers on the shop floor.

Tellingly, a man from Kaluga, identified as Anatoly, who did not finish his university degree, and whose outward appearance (a bespectacled intellectual), cultivated manner of speaking, and hobbies (music and organizing non-profit music festivals) gave the researchers the impression he was a local intellectual, although he said he had been employed as a skilled laborer for over eleven years. Like some other respondents, Anatoly noted he had become a laborer because life had worked out that way and he had to earn money. Industry was the only place where it was possible to earn a more or less decent wage, the study noted.

They Have Their Own Values
And yet 74% of of the respondents unambiguously identified themselves as workers, stressing their difference from other groups in society and their direct involvement in production. The remaining 26% preferred to call themselves “employees” and supported the notion of so-called social partnerships with management. However, despite their decent standard of life, it followed from the interviews that the workers believed they occupied one of the lowest rungs on the social ladder. This had to do with their palpably subordinate positions at work and the lack of prestige in their occupations. This circumstance was painfully apparent in the tension between blue-collar and white-collar workers at one plant, a tension exacerbated by the arrogance of the latter towards the former.

The workers were very annoyed by the fact that, as Sergei, a grinder who was involved in the Omsk focus group, said, “In terms of wages and education, the blue-collar workers often outperform the office workers, but the latter still treat them as inferiors.”

In Omsk, for example, the wages of workers fluctuated between 20,000 and 30,000 rubles a month, but workers at some defense plants could earn up to 70,000 or 80,000 rubles a month. However, according to the same interviewee, the well-paid jobs were “inherited.”

Besides, he said, to earn such a wage, one virtually had to live at the factory, working twelve hours a day and enjoying only one day off a week, something not all workers would do. Meanwhile, office workers at the same plant could earn only 20,000 rubles a month, but they treated the workers “as if they were above [them],” said Sergei.

“A really interesting thing is the split in self-identification as workers and members of the middle class,” said Kudyukin. “It clearly manifests the pressure exerted in society by hegemonic views. It is like what Marx wrote: ‘The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.’ Since the notion of the middle class is constantly in the air, people give no thought to the fact that it’s a sociological fiction. People realize they are workers. They work on an assembly line or operate a machine. Yet in terms of income they identify themselves as middle class in the sense that they are neither rich nor poor. Maybe this has to do with the notion that the middle class is formally defined by income.”

“Russia is a quite highly stratified country, and it is constantly becoming more stratified,” explained Gregory Yudin, a professor at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. “It’s not a matter of income gaps, but of what these people say: the sense of symbolic superiority in cases where there is no income gap. When this sense takes root at a particular factory, what happens is quite predictable. In this sense, Marx was more or less right.”

Speaking about their place in production, the workers voiced the opinion their plants could run without managers, but without them the shop floors would grind to a halt. However, they sensed the arrogant attitude towards manual labor that had emerged in other parts of society. They realized that, from this perspective, their status was not considered prestigious at all. The factory laborers responded by opposing the values of their milieu to “other” values, saying that nowadays the chic thing to do was to steal and mooch, to make lots of money for doing nothing.

“I think this is an ordinary means of compensation, a psychological defense mechanism. We are considered impoverished in some way, whereas in fact we are the salt of the earth, and everything would grind to a halt without us. Their sentiments are quite justified. Despite the importance of managerial work, if you got rid of the management staff, the shop floor would function all the same. But if the workers suddenly disappeared, the plant would shut down,” said Kudyukin.

The research study showed the respondents perceived Russian politics as an established system that ignored their interests. This applied not only to the government but also to the opposition. Nearly half of the respondents consciously refrained from voting. By comparison, during the last presidential election, in March 2018, the Central Electoral Commission reported that 32.5% of registered voters did not vote.

Some of the respondents voted for the CPRF (Communist Party of the Russian Federation), A Just Russia, and LDPR [Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party], although they noted these parties were entangled in establishment and supported workers’ interests more in words than in actual deeds. They were not a serious opposition.

What they had to say on the matter was telling.

“I have little trust in politicos and parties. I have more faith in the people here, the people with whom I work, the people I know. Here, at the local level, there are decent people among the members of different [political] movements. But the leadership is usually a bloody shambles,” said Sergei, 35, a grinder at the Aggregate Plant in Omsk.

“There are currently no parties that would defend workers’ interests. We need to create such a party,” said Sergei, who works at the Volkswagen plant in Kaluga.

Volodya, who also works at Volkswagen in Kaluga, was likewise certain such parties did not exist.

“All of them are against us [workers]. They represent business and big money, even the CPRF and A Just Russia. Those parties just use the ‘movements’ to score political points. They have great jobs. United Russia try and pass bad laws. They have the majority in the Duma, so [the three other parties represented there] can pretend to oppose them, since the bad laws will be passed all the same,” he said.

He quoted Mark Twain.

“If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”

The federal government was a source of considerable irritation to the workers, especially in connection with the pension reform.

Roman, a 45-year-old worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga, was the only respondent in either city who said he had always voted for Putin and United Russia, but since the pension reform had passed, he was severely disenchanted and was more inclined to vote for the CPRF.

Vladislav, a 28-year-old worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga, had a confession to make despite the fact he had never voted.

“I was never opposed to Putin. But I did not believe to the last that he would say yes to this cannibalistic reform,” he said.

“Their statements jibe with what we see in other studies,” said Yudin. “People are depoliticized, yes. They distrust the system profoundly. This distrust grew even deeper last year. It’s a typical Russian scenario, and I am not entirely certain it has something specifically to do with workers. It typifies many segments of the populace. People who espouse this worldview serve as the base for different populist projects.”

Researchers describe their views as a contradictory mix of spontaneous anarchism and paternalistic expectations from the state. They would like to see the state solving society’s problems and intervening in the economy to raise wages, create jobs, and distribute incomes more fairly.

Igor, a worker from Omsk, had a typical view of the matter.

“The government should definitely solve these issues if workers have hired them to serve the people. When are they going to handle all of this if they work six and seven days a week? They just don’t have the time to deal with their own improvement [sic],” he said.

However, their political beliefs were more leftist and democratic than conservative and reactionary, even when it came to ethnic, religious and gender issues.

“The workers with whom we spoke, irrespective of whether they believed in God, wanted to lived in a secular state, while hoping the Russian Orthodox Church would be behave more modestly when it came to secular issues and would be less politicized. The views of workers on gender roles, the place of women in families, society, and the state were generally quite democratic. In terms of their worldviews, the workers had more in common with classic leftists than with a good number of current leftist parties and movements in Russia,” write the study’s authors.

Cool Heads
The researchers claim the workers they surveyed were clearly not victims of government propaganda. Their attitude towards Russia’s involvement in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria was generally very restrained, if not sharply negative. Many of them argued that Russia’s foreign policy, as defined by the country’s leadership, had nothing to with their interests and was even capable of harming them. They also had a skeptical attitude to the promotion of great-power patriotism, seeing it as a means of distracting working people from real problems. But while they openly voiced their attitudes to foreign policy, the workers were cautious about discussing it, emphasizing a lack of information on the subject.

Many of them said society was not told everything.

To the surprise of the sociologists, most of the interviewees (78%) identified the internet as their main source of information, despite the fact they were asked about this part of their lives in a way that mentioned television and newspapers first, while the internet was among the information sources listed last.

By comparison, in March 2018, Levada Center published a poll claiming 85% of Russians got most of their information by watching television; moreover, 72% of respondents preferred watching state-controlled Channel One. On the contrary, only five of the workers (22% of the focus group) watched news and political programs on television. They regarded what they saw on television quite skeptically, trying to detect the influence of certain third-party interests.

They had a rather low opinion of the state of the nation.

“Lately, I’ve been ashamed of my people,” said Roman, a worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga.

Another worker, Vladimir, countered Roman.

“To stop feeling ashamed of your nation, just don’t identify yourself with it. Russia, the people, and the nation are illusions that have been pounded into our heads. There is just the earth and the people who live on it. The people who lived before us dreamed up border: here is Russia, there is Ukraine, here is America. In fact, we are all people. If you look at things from this standpoint, everything falls into place. For example, I don’t acknowledge the existence of national Olympic squads. My world is the people I know. When they say, “Our guys are playing football,” I think of “our guys” as my neighbors, workmates, family members, and the clerks at the shop. I could not care less what is going on in Syria and Donbas,” said Vladimir.

The researchers got rather unexpected and ambivalent results when they asked the workers about their attitudes towards migrant workers. In July 2018, Levada Center reported that 67% of Russians regarded them negatively. It is such sentiments that currently fuel nationalism and xenophobia. Among the workers in the survey, however, the intensity of these sentiments was considerably lower.

The different focus groups were split in their opinions of migrant laborers.

“Why hide it? I have a positive attitude toward them, because they are former brothers [within the Soviet Union]. We have the same troubles as they do. They get paid under the table, and so do we. And sometimes they are not paid at all,” said Mikhail, a 55-year-old freight handler.

“I tend to believe we need to create jobs for our own people first, and only then can we create jobs for migrants. As a worker, I consider them competitors, but as a human being I have no problems with them. On the other hand, how do we employ Russians if no Russians want to work as janitors?” said Svyatoslav, a truck driver at the Volkswagen plant.

Ultimately, 45% of the respondents took anti-migrant worker stances. In Omsk, the breakdown between migrantophobes and internationalists was six to four. In Kaluga, on the other hand, where the focus groups and in-depth interviews were dominated by workers from modern, foreign-owned production facilities, there were seven internationalists, as opposed to three migrantophobes.

The study’s authors argue the discrepancies are due to the different types of industry in the two cities, contrasting the workers from the old Soviet defense plants with the employees of foreign companies. However, we would be remiss not to note the relatively low level of nationalism in all the groups surveyed.

“In our view, this is because the workers have closer and more frequent contacts with migrant workers, and thus have more personal experience with them, something that always shatters stereotypes. It is yet another testimony to the fact that the dominant media coverage in Russia has less impact on the views of workers,” argue the study’s authors.

As for attitudes towards religion, twelve of the twenty-three respondents identified themselves as believers, while eleven identified themselves as atheists or agnostics. Two of the respondents regarded themselves as deeply religious Russian Orthodox believers. However, all the respondents said they wanted to live in a secular country in which the Russian Orthodox Church should have a smaller role in secular issues and politics.

The views of the workers on gender relations and the place of women at home and in society were quite democratic. According to the researchers, nearly all the men agreed women had the right to pursue any career or calling. They would not stop their own wives from getting involving in public life and politics or pursuing a career.

However, they regarded female politicians in the State Duma quite skeptically, since they did not see them as politicians who hailed from the grassroots. The respondents named German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović as positive examples of women involved in politics.

At the same time, both of the experts we interviewed, Pavel Kudyukin and Gregory Yudin, agreed the research study had serious methodological flaws. Besides, it gave its readers no sense of the particular life experiences that had prompted the workers to embrace particular outlooks.

Thanks to Alexander Zamyatin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Motherlandish

5568220a-c275-4d49-b6df-c8de6ceeee3aDenis Shtroo. Photo courtesy of Daily Storm

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
March 15, 2019

Climate change demonstrations took place in many cities around the world today.

Schoolchildren and adults took to the streets to demand implementation of the Paris Agreement, which primarily aims to counter global warming.

Maybe you have heard of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish schoolgirl who organized the movement #fridaysforfuture by skipping classes at school every Friday and picketing the Swedish parliament instead.

It makes sense. What is the point of going to school if the future is threatened? Humankind has killed off 70% of wild animals in the past four years. The oceans contain more discarded plastic than fish. And the list goes on.

But what about Russia? In Russia, environmental activist Denis Shtroo has been murdered in Kaluga. He campaigned against the construction of new waste landfills.

Earlier today, an excavator ran over a trailer containing an activist, who, along with other activists, had been trying to stop garbage trucks shipping Moscow’s garbage to Arkhangelsk Region.

I really want there to be a future, but this is what it looks like.

Like no future at all.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Put Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes

Lyubov Moseyeva-Helier
A Korean Adventure in Kaluga
7X7
April 28, 2017

Whew!

Now, after a ten-hour marathon, I can sum up the results.

My son, a member of Kaluga Prisons Public Monitoring Commission No. 3, found a North Korean national in Correctional Colony No. 5 in Sukhinichi in late March 2017.

My son tried to speak with Kim in Russian and English, but Kim understood neither. According to the assistant director of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s Kaluga office, who was present during the meeting, Kim “only shook his head like a Chinese bobblehead.”

The North Korean is the first such inmate who, after he is returned to his country of origin, faces life in a work camp or the death penalty.

In North Korea, inmates are rehabilitated through starvation. They are given one cup of rice daily.

First, I consulted with human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina. She replied that, in her opinion, Kim faced threats to his life and health in North Korea.

Then I contacted the UNHCR. I informed them that Kim, a North Korean national, had never once been provided with an interpreter during his two and a half years at the Kaluga Correctional Colony. The state of his health was thus unclear, nor was it clear what he wanted himself: to return to his country or move to a safe place.

I posted information about the case on Facebook, asking for a heads-up from Kaluga human rights activists. Kaluga attorney Elvira Davydova read my plea to help the North Korean and decided to help, working the case pro bono.

I signed a contract with Elvira Davydova, a young, vigorous attorney, to defend Kim’s interests for a purely nominal sum of money (I couldn’t afford to spend any more money on the North Korean out of my old-age pension), and the lawyer went to work.

The UNHCR assigned Kim a Korean interpreter.

The lawyer and I made a deal with the assistant director of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s Kaluga office that when the Korean was released, Kaluga prison officials would help Kim get in contact with the UNHCR interpreter.

Unfortunately, this did not happen, although this was to be expected from the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s Kaluga office.

At twelve noon, the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s Kaluga office handed Kim over to the Kaluga police and the Migration Authority.

I thought Kim would be transferred to the regional center and formally charged with violating Article 18.8 of the Russian Federal Code of Administrative Offenses. (“Violation by a foreign citizen or stateless person of the rules of entry into the Russian Federation or of residence in the Russian Federation.”)

From noon to three p.m., the attorney looked for her client at the Migration Authority’s building, which is way outside the city.

But Kim had been moved to an “alternative jurisdiction.” He was transported to another district, which has a prison for foreigners, a so-called temporary detention center for foreign citizens. The lawyer was unable to go there.

But the lawyer phoned the Dzerzhinsky District Court and found out the name of the federal judge. She asked to speak to him, but was turned down. Moreover, she was told that “Kim already [had] a representative.” Is a Migration Authority official acting as his representative?

The lawyer will make a request to the district court to find out whether a ruling to deport Kim has been issued, and whether Kim had an interpreter with him in court.

The lawyer talked with the guards who escorted Kim, but the Migration Authority officer refused to let Kim talk on the phone with the UNHCR interpreter.

Moreover, someone called the UNHCR and said that he (that someone) would now be handling all contacts with Kim. Apparently, our opponents from the security forces haven’t been dozing, either.

16465267_1265080213580436_242739289438289920_n
This is what the prison for foreigners in the Dzerzhinsky District looks like nowadays. It used to be a village school. Photo courtesy of Lyubov Moseyeva-Helier/7X7

Today, the lawyer filed complaints against the Migration Authority for preventing her from meeting with her client, although they knew Ms. Davydova was Kim’s attorney, and against the on-duty prosecutor.

Ms. Davydova also filed a request with the police to meet with Kim at the temporary detention center for foreign citizens on May 3, 2017.

In the future, we’ll have to go through the same business with the court bailiffs in Kaluga.

Today’s human rights marathon has identified several pressure points, showing that, when it comes to human rights, something is rotten in the state of Denmark known as Kaluga Region.

1. It is impossible to file a complaint in the chancellery at the Migration Authority, whose building is located in the distant outskirts of the regional center. They simply do not accept complaints. To file a complaint, migrants must travel to the Russian Federal Interior Ministry’s Kaluga Region office, which is ten kilometers away, in downtown Kaluga.

2. It is difficult to find anything in the Migration Authority’s building. There is no one to ask for information. Not all the doors have signs on them, and there are no listed working hours for the departments.

3. The lawyer had to wait a long time in the Russian Federal Interior Ministry’s Kaluga Region office for her complaint to be registered and to be issued a receipt.

4. In the Kaluga District Court, it is impossible for a lawyer to learn the name of the on-duty judge who handles administrative violation alleged to have been committed by foreigners.

5. A violation of Article 9, Part 6 of the Russian Advocate’s Professional Code of Ethics was committed in the temporary detention center for foreigner. (“Imposing one’s assistance on individuals and retaining them as clients through the use of personal connections with judicial and law enforcement officers, by promising a favorable resolution of a case, and through other underhanded methods.”)

40436_profileLyubov Moseyeva-Helier is a legal adviser for the Kaluga regional grassroots movement For Human Rights, an expert for the Russian grassroots movement For Human Rights, a lead expert for the project Russian Public Monitoring Commissions: A New Generation, and a voting member of Kaluga Polling Station Commission No. 1139.

Originally published at helier59.livejournal.com on April 28, 2017. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

A Certifiable Genius

Monument to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Petersburg, July 18, 2015
Monument to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Petersburg, July 18, 2015

The pioneering Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was, undoubtedly, a certifiable genius.

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is quite small (0.03%), which does not facilitate crop yields. Its quantity could be increased 30 times (to one percent) with great benefit to plants and no harm whatsoever to man. The gas is not poisonous, and an abundance of it in the atmosphere would only hinder its secretion from the lungs. One percent would cause almost no hindrance, even if we are talking about human lungs.
—Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, “The Future of the Earth and Mankind” (Kaluga, 1928)

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

The Extremist Proofreader from Kaluga

photo0327
“Extremism is no joke, even virtual extremism. You can easily go down for it, and get a harsh sentece. Russian Federal Criminal Code, Articles 282 and 280.” Public service billboard, Lesnoy Prospekt, Petersburg, August 7, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

Kaluga Resident Faces Criminal Charges for Two-Year-Old Repost
OVD Info
December 19, 2016

On November 17, FSB officers came to Kaluga resident’s Roman Grishin workplace and took him away to an investigator. After being interrogated on camera, Grishin was informed he stood accused of inciting enmity and hatred (Criminal Code Article 282.1) for reposting a video in 2014. Grishin wrote about the incident on Facebook on December 18. He was released on his own recognizance as a suspect in a criminal case.

“A group of FSB officers in balaclavas and special kit showed up in the morning at my work, plunging my coworkers into a considerable stupor,” writes Grishin.

The video is entitled “New Hit from Kharkov! This Is Russism, Baby.” Acccording to Grishin, it is freely accessible on YouTube.

As Grishin told OVD Info by telephone, the main topic of his interrogation by FSB officers was his regular trips to Ukraine. They asked why he had his picture taken on the Maidan. Grishin visits the country as a tourist, stays with friends, and stresses that he does not collaborate with any organizations in Ukraine.

Grishin lives in Kaluga. Educated as a philologist, he works as a proofreader. The FSB’s scrutiny has been a real shock to him.

“I never voiced any appeals [for enmity or hatred]. You could say I’m a couch activist,” he said.

This is not the first case of persecution for publishing the video to Boris Sevastyanov’s song “This Is Russism, Baby.” Previously, however, its posting was the occasion for filing misdemeanor charges of disseminating extremism matter (Administrative Offenses Code Article 20.29). In April 2016, Krasnodar LGBT activist Nina Solovyova was convicted of commmitting a misdemeanor for posting the video and sentenced to ten days in jail. Solovyova told her story to OVD Info in April of this year.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give an example of persecution by Center “E”.

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Russian Reporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A signal had to be sent”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Layoffs at Auto Factories in Kaluga Region

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

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

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

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

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

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