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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Fatherlandish

I am going to break an unwritten rule today and publish a long videotaped interview with the Russian independent trade union organizer Dmitry Kozhnev without providing a translation in English.

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time covering the struggles of Russia’s independent trade unions, as well as the abuses of labor rights in the country and the grassroots pushback against these abuses.

I was alerted to the interview by my friend Comrade Moose who, when he posted it on Facebook, wrote that it was “perfect.”

I agree with him completely. Kozhnev provides an ideal primer on why we need trade and labor unions, and how to organize them into effective tools for advancing the interests of workers, not only in Russia, but anywhere else in the world.

In fact, the conversation between Kozhnev and his engaged, smart interviewer on the YouTube channel Station Marx is so exemplary of the other Russians and other Russias to whom I have been trying to give a voice to on this blog and its predecessor for the last twelve and half years, I would urge my readers who teach high school and university students Russian language, history, culture, and current events to use the interview to look at subjects such as labor rights and the fight to protect the interests of workers in Russia and elsewhere, and grassroots political and social movements in Russia today.

Station Marx‘s annotation to the video, which I have translated, includes a long list of the websites run by Russia’s independent trade unions and other good stuff. Maybe it would be worth your time and that of your students to take a break from Tolstoevsky and “There is no Russia without Putin” to see what some real Russians have been doing against incredible odds.

Sooner or later, the other Russias and the other Russians who exist in the subjunctive mood in this interview and on my blog will win the day. Why don’t we get to know them now? In a few years or so, they will be running Russia, while Putin and his gang of criminals will be rotting behind bars, utterly forgotten. {TRR}

Why Do Trade Unions Not Work in Russia? Dmitry Kozhnev
STATION MARX
March 15, 2019

Our guest today, Dmitry Kozhnev, is an activist with the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR), a trade union organizer with MPRA and Novoprof, and a member of the Marxist group Workers Platform. He came by for a cup to coffee and talked about Alexei Navalny’s program for a new-model trade union, the problems of the trade union movement, and how strikes are organized.

Our videos are made possible only through your support. You can donate money to us via:

Russia’s independent trade unions and other labor organizations:
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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

Danone, Discrimination, Chekhov

danone_logosIs Danone Socially Responsible? Or Do Danone’s Managers Put Pressure on Trade Union Activists?
Novoprof
December 24, 2018

For the last two years, management at Danone’s flagship plant in the city of Chekhov, Moscow Region, have tried to destroy its trade union local. Senior and junior managers at the plant have attempted pass off each incident as separate, unrelated, and harmless cases, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

After the trade union local at the plant fought a hard fight to raise the wages of employees and improve work safety, plant management has clearly and deliberately tried to shut the trade union down.

Management has used various methods to “explain” to trade union members why they should refrain from activism, fighting for pay rises, and being members of a workers organization. Management has often resorted to telling plant workers that trade union members would have problems and spreading lies about the trade union’s work. They have tried other things as well.

Two years have passed, and another case of anti-union discrimination has emerged. Alexander Chubukov, a key activist in the Danone plant’s trade union local who has never yielded to threats and coercion, has recently been subject to pressure from management.

At the beginning of the year, Chubukov was formally reprimanded for an alleged infraction. To make a long story short, Chubukov was alleged to have failed to notify the responsible manager of a malfunctioning production line. He continued to work on the line, which produced spoiled products. A court is currently examining the case.

Currently, plant management has a different gripe with Chubukov, accusing him of warning management about malfunctioning machinery and refusing to work until the machinery was repaired.

What is the rationale in this instance? Management is not concerned about machinery and malfunctions. They simply want to get rid of a trouble-making trade union activist.

Plant management wants to transfer Chubukov to another shift. They want to put more distance between him and the trade union committee’s chair and leading activists. They want to “teach” him how to work, although Chubukov has worked as a machine operator and mechanic at the plant for over ten years.

The trade union would not be surprised were management to take more serious measures, since they have been trying to force Chubukov to resign all this time.

Danone’s “socially responsible” management agreed to meet with trade union local chair Alexander Ivanov and Alexander Chubukov, of course, but the quality of the meeting left much to be desired.

Plant management has failed to supply the trade union local with the necessary documents. It has reacted in no way to specific complaints about the condition of the malfunction production line. It has failed to prove Chubukov committed any of the infractions of which it has accused him. Nevertheless, it has decided to transfer him to another shift for “training.”

“Novoprof cannot ignore this case. We will do everything possible to end the discrimination at Danone. We believe management’s behavior is motivated solely by the desire to eradicate the trade union local at the Chekhov plant. There are special means of ending the discrimination  at the company’s disposal and the trade union’s disposal. We will use all means necessary,” said Ivan Milykh, chair of the Novoprof Interregional Trade Union.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Russian Trade Union Blues

f98cd1
“Peace, Labor, Putin.” The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR) has 22.7 million members, who annually pay out almost 68 billion rubles to fund their trade union associations. (The FNPR has 122 such affiliated organizations nationwide). At best, only 140 million rubles make it to Moscow. The rest stays at the local level. Photo courtesy of vestnikburi.com

An RBC Investigative Report: How Russian Trade Unions Make Money 
Vyacheslav Kozlov
RBC
April 29, 2016

The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR) will celebrate May Day with a march in support of workers. As RBC has found out, the budget of the country’s largest trade union organization runs in the billions of rubles, much of it earned from real estate it freely inherited from the Soviet Union. 

In February 2016, Crimea’s most famous resort got a new owner. The Foros Spa, right down the road from the residence where Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was held captive during the 1991 coup attempt, was purchased for 1.4 billion rubles by the Federation of Trade Unions of Tatarstan.

Even their bosses in Moscow could not understand where a little-known noncommercial organization from Kazan had got its hands on that kind of money.

“When we saw the news, we didn’t even reprint it at first. We called and checked whether it was true,” an employee at the FNPR’s central office told RBC. (The Federation of Trade Unions of Tatarstan is an affiliated member of FNPR.)

The folks in Kazan reassured the trade union bosses in Moscow. The organization, which is mainly funded by membership dues paid by workers, really did not have that kind of money. It had acted as a middleman in the purchase of Foros, getting the money from major regional companies.

“There are such companies there: KamAZ, Tatneft, petrochemical plants [part of the TAIF GroupRBC],” said FNPR leader Mikhail Shmakov, bending his fingers back as he listed off the companies.

Shmakov spoke with RBC in his office on Leninsky Prospekt, 42, in Moscow. In keeping with Soviet tradition, the building is even nowadays called the Trade Unions Palace of Labor.

foros
Ukrainian billionaire Igor Kolomoisky, who owned the property before the peninsula was annexed by Russia, could have insisted on imposing sanctions on the buyers of the famous Crimean spa Foros. The scheme for buying Foros, involving the Tatarstan trade unions, made the deal less risky, sources told RBC. The view, above, is of the government dacha Zarya (Dawn), where the coup plotters held Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. Courtesy of Mikhail Pavlishak/TASS

Shmakov could not conceal his satisfaction with the deal, calling it “brilliant.” RBC’s source in the FNPR executive committee and another source, close to the Tatarstan government, said the scheme for buying Foros, involving trade union bosses, was employed so the real buyer would not end up on the sanctions lists of the European Union and the US.

“To act as a middleman in such deals you have to have good connections with the authorities and big business. They have to consider you one of their own. You have to be a loyal organization,” a source close to the FNPR leadership explained to RBC.

The FNPR has long been cooperating with the authorities and business. Heir to the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions (VTsSPS), the federation is proud of the fact it is the largest labor union in Russia, with 122 affiliates and over 20 million members.

How does the country’s largest trade union organization make its money?

Budget
Despite its federal scale, the FNPR is an extremely closed organization. It does not publish financial statements.

“This information is available only to members of the executive committee, and even then documents containing specific figures are not distributed to everyone. Some are given documents without any figures,” said an employee in the central office.

RBC has obtained a document describing the FNPR’s budget in terms of percentages. From this document it follows that the federation has only two sources of income, membership dues and “other income,” a phrase that mainly conceals revenue from commercial operations.

shmakov
FNPR chair Mikhail Shmakov (pictured above) has remained at the helm of the country’s largest trade union organization for all 25 years of its existence. Photo courtesy of Oleg Yakovlev/RBC

The document reveals that membership dues make up 70% of the FNPR’s revenues, while “other income” amounts to 30%.

Expenses are more complicated. 40.5% is spent on organizational and business operations, and 46.6%, on subsidizing FNPR institutions. Six percent goes to the so-called solidarity fund (for holding protests, paying wages of workers during downtime on the job, and making one-time payments to members involved in work-related accidents), while another 6.3% pays for dues in the international organizations of which the FNPR is a member, and 0.4% is spent on maintaing the auditing commission. In other words, nearly 90% of expenses go towards maintaining the organization itself.

Shmakov confirmed the income percentages in conversation with RBC. (He said nothing about expenses.) In 2016, the FNPR’s budget was 200 million rubles, according to Shmakov. An RBC source close to the Kremlin, who was well acquainted with the operations of the trade unions, confirmed that the FNPR’s annual budget was comparatively small.

“A few years ago, it did not exceed one million dollars,” he said.

The amount looks strange when you consider the number of people paying membership dues nationwide. The income of FNPR’s various affiliated trade unions, from factory locals to central committees, is incomparably greater than the parent organization’s budget.

Membership dues in most Russian trade unions are one percent of wages. If we take the official membership figures (according to Shmakov, the FNPR has around 20.7 million dues-paying members, plus another three to four million students and pensioners who do not pay dues) and the national average monthly wage (according to Rosstat, it was 33,900 rubles in February 2016), the dues paid by all FNPR-affilated trade unions should come to approximately 5.7 billion rubles monthly or 67.9 billion rubles a year.

But not all that money makes it to Moscow.

“The money is spread around the entire organization,” said an employee in the central office.

Locals keep from fifty to ninety-five percent of collected dues, explained our source. The rest is split among central and regional organizations.

How are these billions of rubles spent?

Expenditures
“Exempt trade unionists” is the Soviet-era legal term for trade union employees, from executives to secretaries, who are exempt from working directly at a particular enterprise. Their salaries are usually paid by the trade union itself. Trade union association executives surveyed by RBC confirmed that up to half of an organization’s budget can go to paying exempted workers. For example, the Pskov Federation of Trade Unions spent nearly 30 million rubles of its 2015 budget of 66 million rubles on the salaries and bonuses of over sixty exempt employees, says the federation’s head, Ulyana Mikhailova.

RBC asked the FNPR to provide it with the number of exempt employees nationwide but our request was turned down. Open sources mention the number of elected trade union officials. According to a 2011 FNPR executive committee decision, there were 13,500 such officials.

union membership
How Union Membership Has Declined. [According to the graph, union membership in Russia has declined from 65 million in 1992 (the first full year of independence) to 20.7 million in 2016. – TRR.] Sources: RBC interview with Mikhail Shmakov; decisions of the FNPR executive committee; white paper edited by Sergei Khramov and Mikhail Delyagin. Inserted text reads: “On average, 24% of the able-bodied population, i.e., approximately 17.2 million people, admit they are trade union members, according to an October 2008 poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM).” Courtesy RBC

But this is only a small part of the trade union army. According to figures for 2011, there were 191,000 trade union locals in Russia.

“At least one exempt worker emerges in a local with no less than three hundred members,” said Yuri Milovidov, director of Proftsentr, which assists trade union activists. “By my calculations, at least a quarter of these locals have at least one trade union worker. Some have several. There are fifty to seventy thousand such workers countrywide.”

A source in the FNPR executive committee said there were fewer trade union employees, around forty thousand. But even if we take this figure at face value, it turns out that the FNPR is one of the country’s major employers. (By way of comparison, AvtoVAZ, Russia’s largest auto manufacturer, employed around fifty thousand people as of late 2015.)

According to the FNPR employees surveyed by RBC, the average monthly salary among trade union employees is around 25,000 rubles, a little lower than the national average. The payroll bill for professional trade unionists across the country thus might be as much as one billion rubles a month.

Known as the Labor Palace of Trade Unions since Soviet times, FNPR's headquarters on Leninsky Prospekt in Moscow is of the most well-known pieces of real estate managed by the federation. Photo courtesy of Oleg Yakovlev/RBC
Known as the Trade Unions Palace of Labor since Soviet times, the FNPR’s headquarters on Leninsky Prospekt in Moscow is of the most well-known pieces of real estate managed by the federation. Photo courtesy of Oleg Yakovlev/RBC

The exact number of employees in the FNPR central office is unknown. The federation declined to answer this question when asked by RBC. A source in the central office said there were no more than 120 employees. Another source said their salary was small but higher than the national average: around 60,000 to 70,000 rubles a month.

Shmakov declined to disclose his salary.

28 Kilometers from Moscow
In the village of Chigasovo, in an elite neighborhood on the Rublyovskoye Highway in the Moscow suburbs, there is a house and plot of land (516.2 square meters and 1,798 square meters large, respectively) owned by a Viktor Shmakov, which is the exact same name as that of Mikhail Shmakov’s son. The FNPR chair’s son does business. According to SPARK, he is the director of Art Mix LLC, which organizes celebrations and events. As ads on the real estate and property rentals website CIAN.ru indicate, several five-hundred-square-meter cottages sited on fifteen-acre plots in Chigasovo are valued at around 36 million rubles. Mikhail Shmakov forwarded our questions about the house and land’s ownership to the proprietor, as listed in the Unified State Register of Real Estates Rights and Transactions (EGPR).

The Russian Federation of Spas
The FNPR acquired property amid the turmoil of the early 1990s, when familiar institutions of Soviet power crumbled. It was then that the young trade union leader Mikhail Shmakov, previously employed as a rocket engineer, managed to gain standing among Russian leaders and head the new organization, which immediately declared itself the VTsSPS’s legal successor. In legal terms, its property was transferred to the FNPR in 1992 through a special agreement. This property is now the source of the “other income,” mentioned above, the revenues the trade unions generate from commercial operations.

The exact number of real estate properties and land plots that were donated to the FNPR is contained in the appendices to the 1992 agreement, which the federation keeps secret. During the twenty-five years of its existence, the agreement has never been published. (The FNPR also refused to provide a copy to RBC.)

Milovidov, who worked for the FNPR for many years, claimed that 2,582 properties were transferred to the federation: 678 health spas, 131 hotels, 568 stadiums, and over 500 Young Pioneer camps.  It is unclear how many of these properties are still managed by the federation, but informally, sources there said the trade unions had lost around sixty percent of the property belonging to the VTsSPS when the Soviet Union collapsed.

According to Profkurort, the main trade union tourist agency, the trade unions now run exactly 374 resorts (health spas, boarding houses, vacation retreats, and children’s summer camps) in sixty-five regions from the Russian Far East to Kaliningrad.

The FNPR’s most profitable properties are in the southern Russia and Moscow. The trade unions particularly cherish their properties in the Caucasian Mineral Waters area. Their health spas account for over a quarter of so-called bed capacity among all the resorts in the area. Annually, they can take in 160,000 guests.

“Shmakov personally handles the Caucasian Mineral Waters. It’s his project,” RBC’s source in the federation’s central office explained.

To manage all its properties in the Caucasian Mineral Waters area, the federation founded Spa Management (Holding) LLC in 2005, which runs twenty-two health spas, including balneo baths and mud baths, mineral water drinking rooms, three boiler plant companies, a kindergarten, a library, a repair and construction company, and a car and truck pool. The federation’s share in the holding is nearly 85%, while over 15% belongs to the Stavropol Territory Association of Trade Unions, also affiliated with the FNPR. In 2015, the holding’s total revenue was 5.4 billion rubles, and its net profit was 294 millions rubles, Yulia Korogodova, Spa Management’s director, told RBC.

The FNPR’s other claim to fame are its hotels and health spas in Sochi. (According to RBC’s calculations, the FNPR and its subsidiaries own twenty-six buildings and seven lots there.) Sochi was the site of the FNPR’s biggest project in recent years, the reconstruction of three hotels for the Winter Olympics.

“Everyone was surprised that Shmakov had decided to get involved in the reconstruction of Sochi along with billionaires Vladimir Potanin and Oleg Deripaska, and other big businessmen. The authorities set them the harsh task of finishing in time for the Olympics at all costs, and this led to the fact that the poor FNPR was almost among the first to deliver its sites,” a source close to the federation’s central office told RBC.

metallurg
Steelworker Spa in Sochi is one of three properties reconstructed by the FNPR for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The federation borrowed two billion rubles from Vnesheconombank to finance the work. The trade unions are now attempting to restructure their debt. Photo courtesy of PhotoXPress

The trade unions had no money of their own, said our source, so they took out a loan from state-owned Vnesheconombank, which was the main source of funding for the Olympic projects, another source close to the FNPR told RBC. Shmakov confirmed that there was a loan. RBC found out from Vnesheconombank that the funds had been allocated to three joint-stock companies: Adler Spa, Steelworker Clinical Spa, and Trade Union Spas (Svetlana Spa). These companies all manage trade union properties in Sochi.

According to Shmakov, the loan amounted to 1.5 billion rubles. Spa Management, however, clarified that 2 billion rubles had been borrowed. The total investment in the Olympic hotels was 2.7 billion rubles, according to Spa Management, although they did not explain the source of the additional 700 million rubles. Shmakov said the FNPR was forced to put up Adler Spa as collateral for the loan. He confirmed that all revenues from the reconstructed hotels now have to go towards paying off the loan. In the current circumstances, however, the FNPR would rather not have to pay. According to sources at Vnesheconombank, the FNPR has sent them a request to restructure the loan.

Vnesheconombank’s money was used to rebuild the Svetlana Health Resort as the Sea Galaxy Hotel Congress & Spa and renovate the Steelworker Spa and one wing of the Adler Spa. There are 690 beds in the 18-story Sea Galaxy. In high season, a standard single room, according to the hotel’s price list, costs 5,300 rubles a night. In 2014, Profkurorty (Svetlana Spa) JSC, which manages the reconstructed hotel, recorded revenues of nearly 197.3 million rubles and a net profit of over 178.6 million rubles.

The ownership of trade union real estate is extremely confusing and opaque. Without engaging in commercial operations itself, the FNPR has founded dozens of companies to manage its properties nationwide.  (The Krasnodar Territory Trade Unions Council alone has registered 74 subsidiaries at various times.) However, as analysis shows, many of the spa companies in the Caucasian Mineral Waters areas and Kuban are closed organizations: over thirty of them are closed joint-stock companies, while the rest are private legal entities. From 2010 to 2014, these companies earned nearly 45 billion rubles.

From One Funeral to the Next
In late June 2015, the latest memorial service took place in the House of the Unions on Bolshaya Dmitrovka in Moscow, a building that belongs to the trade unions. People came to pay their last respects to former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Even President Putin attended the ceremony. Almost three weeks later, Alexander Bulgakov, perennial director of the House of Unions, was arrested by police investigators right in his office, next door to the State Duma.

The Investigative Committee reported that Bulgakov had been detained as he was receiving 308,000 rubles from the director of another commercial entity, House of the Unions Refreshments LLC. Allegedly, Bulgakov had extorted the money, which was ten percent of the cost of the banquets and receptions catered by House of the Unions Refreshments. A year later, Bulgakov was sentenced to four years in prison.

house of unions
The House of the Unions, adjacent to the State Duma building in Moscow, has long been considered the country’s primary venue for paying last respects to famous politicians and public figures. Along with the Trade Unions Palace of Labor, it is the most popular architectural landmark belonging to the trade unions. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

An RBC source, close to the FNPR, did not rule out a link between the two events, the memorial service for Primakov and Bulgakov’s arrest.

The service’s organizer, the Presidential Property Management Directorate, was, allegedly, displeased with the original fee Bulgakov had asked for holding the ceremony, said the source. (According to the state procurements site, the event’s final cost was 1.222 million rubles.) Complaints against Bulgakov were made to law enforcement authorities. RBC’s source in the FNPR’s central office confirmed he had heard this hypothesis.

Shmakov also acknowledged he had heard the story about dissatisfaction with the price of the memorial service, but he said it was not confirmed in the end. According to him, when negotiating the arrangements for Primakov’s service, Bulgakov had quoted the usual rate for such an event.

“It all started with the memorial service for Shvetsova [former State Duma deputy and former Moscow deputy mayor Ludmila Shvetsova — RBC]. It cost four million rubles. Moscow city hall paid this money, because that is how much such events cost. It was this price that he [Bulgakov] offered,” Shmakov said now.

Like most of the trade union properties in the capital, the House of the Unions belongs to the Moscow Federation of Trade Unions (MFP), which is part of the FNPR. The MFP also owns the Izmailovo Hotel Complex, Krylatskoye Velodrome, Znamensky Brothers Olympic Center, Trud Swimming Pool, Sokolniki and Peredelkino Spas, and Planernaya Olympic Center in Khimki.

Izmailovo-Hotel
The Izmailovo Commercial and Hotel Complex in Moscow is trade union property like, for example, the Sputnik Hotel on Leninsky Prospekt. In contrast to the Sputnik, however, which is owned directly by the FNPR, the Moscow Federation of Trade Unions holds the controlling stake in the Izmailovo complex. Photo courtesy of top10hm.net

The most profitable asset in Moscow is the Izmailovo Hotel Complex. The Moscow Trade Unions Property Fund owns 75% of the shares in Izmailovo Commercial and Hotel Complex JSC, which manages the Gamma, Beta, Delta, and Vega buildings, while the FNPR holds a seven-percent share. (The remaining shares are owned by members of the board of directors.)

In 2014, the total revenue generated by the hotels in the Izmailovo holding was over 3.25 billion rubles, with a net profit of over 240 million rubles. The MFP wholly owns the Alpha Commercial and Hotel Complex, which manages one more of the Izmailovo hotels, which is not part of eponymous joint-stock company. In 2014, Alpha’s gross profits were over 770 million rubles; its net profits, over 33 million rubles.

The FNPR does not own so much property directly in Moscow. It owns the Trade Unions Palace of Labor on Leninsky Prospekt, where the organization has its central office; the nearby Sputnik Hotel; a motorpool near Kaluzhskaya subway station; the building of the Academy of Labor and Social Relations, in western Moscow; and its own tailor’s shop and primary care clinic.

At Public Expense
People who began their careers in Soviet times know the terrifying sounding word sotsstrakh (“social insurance”). These were payments made by the Social Insurance Fund (FSS), which was managed by the trade unions until the early 2000s. Sotsstrakh paid for children’s trips to Young Pioneer summer camps, and for workers and pensioners to go to health spas. Then the FSS was taken over by the state, but the health spas were left to the trade unions, providing them with yet another way of making money.

“When the state lacks enough of its own health spas to provide treatment for everyone who has a legal right to it, it refers people to trade union spas,” explained Nikolai Murashko, director of the FNPR’s Spa Directorate.

Judging by public procurement records, government contracts are a serious source of revenue for the trade unions. Over a period of six years, from 2010 to 2016, FNPR’s Resort Holding implemented government contracts worth more than 4.8 billion rubles. During the same period, the spas owned by the Krasnodar Territory Trade Unions Council sold holiday packages worth a total of approximately four billion rubles.

The FNPR’s affiliated trade unions also make money on government contracts. The MFP and its member organizations, for example, were awarded government contracts worth more than 617 million rubles during the same six-year period. The Federation of Trade Unions of Saint Petersburg and Leningrad Region earned 242 million rubles, while the FNPR earned 32 million rubles itself.

What does the FNPR give the state in return?

A Necessary Organization
Shmakov had no doubt the federation fulfilled its main functions: protecting labor rights and controlling the propertied classes. For sixteen years, the government has convened a special tripartite commission for regulating social and labor relations. Government ministers, employers (e.g., the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and Opora Russia), and trade unions officials sit at the same table. A Kremlin official, however, warned against exaggerating the commission’s role.

“The minutes from some of the meetings are long, but that is where it ends: in the minutes. The state conducts its own policy,” he said.

He was echoed by someone who had been involved in the meetings.

“A trade union that, for example, is capable of getting people onto the streets can have a real impact on social and economic policy. Because of this, when it comes to the FNPR’s bread-and-butter issues, pensions, for example, the federation finds it quite hard to pound its fist on the table and say things will be the way it says.”

Rosstat’s data suggests that while in the 1990s there were several hundred or even thousands of labor strikes recorded annually, the numbers slumped to several strikes a year in the 2000s. One of the causes was the tightening of procedures for striking, as described in the new Labor Code, which took effect in 2002.  One of the authors of the new Labor Code was current State Duma deputy speaker Andrei Isayev, formerly a secretary of the FNPR.

“The law on strikes is prohibitive,” said Boris Kravchenko, chair of the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR).

The KTR, like a number of other independent trade unions, such as the locals at AvtoVAZ and the Ford plant outside Petersburg, emerged in the late 2000s as a counterweight to the the FNPR, which cooperates with the authorities.

The Kremlin appreciates the fact that the FNPR does not go on strike and cooperates with the United Russia Party. [Isayev is a member of the party’s general council — RBC.]

“The FNPR are constructive critics. The goal of certain other organizations is to get people protesting on the streets. The FNPR has a different stance: solving a problem before people take to the streets,” says an official in the presidential administration.

* * *

In May 2011, the FNPR was one of several organizations that joined together to establish the Russian People’s Front (ONF), headed by Vladimir Putin. The ONF is now the only public organization in Russia comparable to the FNPR in terms of numbers of regional offices. And, like the FNPR, the ONF does not disclose its budget.

With additional reporting by Mikhail Rybin, Anastasia Napalkova, Maria Zholobova, and Yevgenia Glazova.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sean Guillory for the heads-up. NB. Because of the sheer quantity of figures given in rubles in this article, I have foregone my usual practice of converting them into euros for ease of comprehension. Current and historical currency rate conversion tables, however, are eminently accessible on the web, so knock yourselves out. TRR

“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.

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