On 14 May miners and their families demonstrated in the town square of Mezhdurechensk in the Kuzbass coal basin in western Siberia. The gigantic spontaneous protest followed two explosions in the Raspadskaya mine, Russia’s largest, on 8-9 May, which left 66 miners and rescue workers dead, 24 missing and 84 recovering in hospital.
A local television report said that people had arrived “marching in whole work brigades”. There were various demands – for improvements in safety standards, better pay and living standards, and for Raspadskaya’s management to show compassion to the bereaved families. One miner told TV reporters that he and his workmates wanted “to live humanly and decently”, and to be able to work underground for reasonable wages without constantly cutting corners.
The demonstration ended in clashes with riot police, and at the time of writing the situation remains tense. By far the best source of information in English on the dispute is http://chtodelat.wordpress.com/
This translation of an appeal by a local organisation is copied from there:
Open Appeal from the Union of Inhabitants of the Kuzbass to the President and People of Russia and the Residents of the Kuzbass
While our labor makes billions of dollars for people who then spend it to build themselves palaces and villas where later our prime minister celebrates, we die by the hundreds in mines and our people destroy themselves for kopecks.
The latest events in Mezhdurechensk were the last straw for us — we can be patient no longer.
We will not be slaves, beasts of burden that do not have to be taken into account, however much certain people in charge would like to do this. We are tired of slavery and humiliation. Enough!
We appeal to President Medvedev. If, of course, he is really our president, and not someone else.
Our demands are as follows:
1. Release all those who have been arrested in Mezhdurechensk in the coming days and drop all criminal charges against them. Put an end to the mainstream media’s insults and slander against the people of our town.
2. Raise the wage in all profitable mines in the region to three times above the minimum wage, but no lower than 45,000 rubles [per month, approximately 1200 euros]. It is low wages that lead to safety violations that result in our people dying by the hundreds.
3. End persecution of independent union activists who defend the interests of workers. Those responsible for this persecution should be severely punished.
4. Remove from Mezhdurechensk all the Interior Ministry forces that have been brought in from other towns.
5. Introduce in every town monthly mass meetings of the people with the head of the local administration, at which he would report to the people what useful things he has done for them over the past month and personally answer questions and receive petitions and appeals from citizens.
We will not be satisfied with other proposed solutions to our problems.
We await your answer, Mr. President of Russia. We expect an answer by the morning of Friday, May 21. If our demands are not met, we will then be forced to speak and act in the realm of politics, not of social demands.
Now we appeal to the people of our region.
In order to hear what the high authorities of our country have decided, we will gather on Saturday, May 22, outside the administration buildings in our Kuzbass towns at 4:00 p.m. sharp. We appeal not only to miners and their families to attend these assemblies, but also everyone who is not indifferent to the overall state of affairs in our land. Let the bureaucrats come out and respond to our demands. The only thing that will satisfy us is complete compliance with all demands.
We immediately warn [Interior] Minister Nurgaliev and Governor Tuleyev that we do not advise them to play tricks with us the way they did on the evening of May 14 in Mezhdurechensk. We know that we are often not heard and that instead of talking with us they bring in the OMON.
1) We appeal to all parties and public organizations in our country. We ask for your support, if only in the form of an official announcement that you support our demands and are prepared to work with other parties to help us defend ourselves any way you can. If you do not announce your official position before May 21, this will mean that you are in fact against the people. And we will make this fact known to the entire country. We see that so far a representative of only one party has tried to help us; the rest are silent. We will need informational support and legal assistance — this assistance is already required for our arrested brothers in Mezhdurechensk. We will also need other kinds of support from you, including organizational help.
2) We ask all mass media that are not sell-outs to tell the public about our demands. Send us your representatives on May 22 and publish truthful information about the events here, not the lies that are broadcast on TV.
3) Because we are in an informational blockade — our forums and groups on social websites have been blocked by the FSB, and the ones that remain open are crawling with paid mercenaries, special services employees, and policemen who pass themselves off as ordinary residents and deceive people and the country with their lies — we appeal to all the people of Russia to tell the truth to their friends and on the Internet, to talk about the events here so that the country knows what is happening and the [powers that be] won’t be able to crush us. If they crush us today, tomorrow they will crush you.
4) We appeal to the residents of our region to make lists of everyone who lives in your town — bureaucrats and policemen — who is involved in persecuting our popular self-defense. Make these lists and publish them on the Internet, post them in the streets. Your whole town should know these people by name. The families of people who are prepared to beat women, as happened in Mezhdurechensk, should be ashamed of their fathers, brothers, and sons. If you know someone who has been sent to other towns to beat our people, collect information about them as well. Make your own leaflets with the list of our demands and information about the meeting places on May 22, and post them on the streets and on houses. Tell all your acquaintances and friends about the demonstrations. Do not believe anyone who tells you that our action has been cancelled, even if this information allegedly comes from us. Do not believe any other mendacious slander of the sort that is already flooding all the corrupt media. Collect money to aid our brothers who have been arrested and give it to their relatives. Do not be taken in by the propaganda of mercenary pseudo-activists, people who have been bought off by the authorities. Make your own white armbands and put them on at the assembly on May 22. Organize your own clandestine cells of the Union of Inhabitants of the Kuzbass.
We will meet on the streets of our towns on May 22.
For Freedom and Justice!
Mezhdurechensk has a significant place in the history of the Russian labour movement. It was there that the miners’ strike movement of 1989 – a key event in the renaissance of workers’ struggles in the dying days of the Soviet Union – broke out.
An article I wrote touching on some of the mine safety issues here: http://www.emergingmarkets.org/article.asp?PositionID=search&ArticleID=2486581