Oleg Volin: How Capitalism Kills in Nizhny Tagil

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

Oleg Volin
Facebook
February 20, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The nooses should be reserved for other heads.

This text is based on media reports.

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

Advertisements

“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.

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.

tikhonov photo

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.

docker_baner_uniorights_630px_EN

Support Leonid Tikhonov by sending messages to the Union Rights Defence Centre!