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.

Free Leonid Tikhonov!

Why was Leonid Tikhonov actually convicted?
January 11, 2015
unionrights.ru

On December 15, 2014, Nakhodka City Court handed down a guilty verdict against Leonid Tikhonov, chair of the Dockers’ Union of Russia (DUR) local branch at Vostochny Port JSC in the Russian Far East. The trade union leader was sentenced to three years and six months in a medium security prison. Moreover, in future Tikhonov will be barred from engaging in trade union activities for three years.

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Leonid Tikhonov

Tikhonov was accused of embezzlement. But the trade union is certain the prosecution and harsh sentence were port management’s revenge against Tikhonov and the entire local for acting too aggressively to prevent them from capitalizing on the deteriorating labor conditions of dockworkers.

The case has been much discussed in the media. But we can draw our own conclusion about who is in the right here. We only have to examine the facts in the case.

* * *

Criminal charges against Tikhonov were filed on June 22, 2012. He was accused of misappropriating 359,571 rubles (approx. 8,600 euros at the time) from Vostochny Port JSC, money allocated to the trade union for purchasing New Year’s gifts. None other than Anatoly Lazarev, managing director of Vostochny Port JSC, filed the charges against Tikhonov.

However, neither the trade union committee nor trade union members employed at Vostochny Port complained about the allegedly misappropriated funds. On the contrary, they came to the defense of their chair.

The trade union submitted to the court a written decision by the Vostochny Port JSC trade union committee to allocate funds as New Year’s gifts in the amount of five hundred rubles per member and the subsequent transfer of the money to shop stewards for presenting to union members employed at Vostochny Port JSC. That is, the money was allocated for gifts.

Perhaps Tikhonov had violated the trade union committee’s decision? The trade union submitted to the court affidavits given by members of the DUR local at Vostochny Port JSC. Around ninety-five per cent of the local’s members testified. They confirmed they had received gifts in December 2011. In some departments, gifts had taken the form of baskets containing sweets and alcoholic beverages. In others, the five hundred rubles were given in cash to each member. Each shop steward had decided how exactly to distribute the money, as gifts or cash. Only fifteen of all the members surveyed did not confirm receiving gifts that year: some recalled they had not received them, while others could not remember the events because they had happened too long ago. It thus transpires that the allocated funds had indeed been spent on gifts.

The court, however, decided not to admit these documents and affidavits as evidence.

On the other hand, the fact that criminal charges were filed after a representative of port management made a complaint cannot but raise questions.

The fact is that the money that Tikhonov was accused of embezzling did not belong to Vostochny Port JSC.

Vostochny Port JSC had allocated the funds to the DUR local at the port, as stipulated by the collective bargaining agreement between the trade union and the port. The money is allocated for funding cultural, sporting, and recreational activities. The local must submit a report on how the money is spent, but as soon as it is credited to the trade union’s account, under Russian law the money belongs to the trade union local.

The DUR has a special independent audit commission for checking the financial activities of its local branches. It had audited Tikhonov and concluded he had not allowed funds to be misused.

Thus, the trade union did not consider itself a victim. And under Russian law only the person or organization to which the funds in question belonged can be recognized as the injured party in embezzlement cases. Vostochny Port management is completely irrelevant in this instance.

The lack of a proper injured party eliminates the possibility of criminal prosecution. But charges were filed, and precisely at the insistence of port management.

Why did this happen?

* * *

Criminal charges were filed against Tikhonov in the wake of an active campaign by the trade union, including mass rallies and public protests by port workers, in June 2012.

On June 2, 2012, port workers held a rally demanding a rise in base pay and salaries for all grades of workers at the port, because freight turnover and shareholder dividends had been increasing there for quite a long time.

The trade union also sought an end to the practice of transferring dockers to fixed-term employment contracts (more than a thousand such contracts were signed at the port annually) and recruiting an ever-increasing amount of workers through subcontractors. Fixed-term contracts and casualization mean that dockers lose supplemental pay and additional holidays, earn less money, and are stripped of benefits. However, this means additional income for shareholders, and additional bonuses for port managers.

A mere two weeks later, on June 19, 2012, authorities searched the trade union’s offices at Vostochny Port and seized financial records. And on June 22, 2012, as we recall, charges were filed for the “misuse” of funds on New Year’s gifts.

Isn’t it curious that port management showed its concern over the New Year’s gifts—purchased with money not belonging to it and without any complaints by those who received the gifts—in June 2012, right after the trade union rally?

* * *

The Dockers’ Union of Russia has no doubt that Leonid Tikhonov is innocent.

The trade union’s members, dockers at the ports of Vostochny, Nakhodka, and Vladivostok, also have no doubt of his innocence. They all came to support Tikhonov at the court hearings.

“Leonid Tikhonov is innocent. The charges against him are farfetched and amount to nothing more than persecution for trade union activities.” This is the position of the fraternal trade unions of the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR) and dockworkers’ unions in other countries affiliated with the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

“We are shocked by Leonid Tikhonov’s sentence and imprisonment,” says the DUR’s executive committee. “Our lawyers are currently seeking a review of this harsh decision and the release of the trade union leader. We will appeal the verdict, of course.”

The trade union is also preparing a complaint to the International Labor Organization.

* * *

Leonid Tikhonov’s colleagues and comrades have not wavered in their support of him.

We hope to secure Leonid’s release and restore his good name. We will keep fighting for this until we have won. The trade union does not abandon its members.

Together we are strong!

* * *

Leonid Tikhonov
unionrights.ru

Leonid Tikhonov is chair of the Dockers’ Union of Russia (DUR) local branch at Vostochny Port in Primorsky Krai.

Tikhonov was born on March 25, 1963, in the city of Sarapul in Udmurtia, where he grew up. At the age of sixteen, he went to work as an equipment tuner at the local radio equipment factory.

In September 1983, Tikhonov arrived in the Soviet Far East, where he enrolled in Vocational School No. 30, in Vrangel, near Nakhodka. The school then trained specialists for the entire region.

A year later, Tikhonov was drafted into the army. He served with a radar unit in Chukotka.

After the army, in 1986, he returned to Nakhodka and continued working as an equipment operator at Vostochny Port.

In March 1988, Tikhonov was married. His wife, Svetlana, works as an electronic engineer at the Ship Traffic Control Center in Nakhodka Bay. They have a daughter, who was born in December 1988.

Tikhonov founded the Vostochny Youth Residential Complex and chaired the Vrangel Youth Residential Complex Council.

Tikhonov worked for fifteen years as an equipment operator at Universal Handling Terminal No. 1 in Vostochny Port. In 1998, he was elected deputy chair of the Vostochny Port JSC trade union committee of the Dockers’ Union of Russia. He has been chair of this same local since 2003. During his tenure, he received a law degree so as to defend the interests of workers more intelligently.

Tikhonov’s hobbies include sports and camping. He took first place in his weight category at the European Powerlifting Championship in 2012 and the World Championships in 2013. He has also won a number of other prizes.

His friends, colleagues, and trade union comrades know Tikhonov as an open and communicative but also infinitely principled, resilient, courageous man, intolerant of injustice and always ready to come to the rescue.

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