British union backs jailed Russian miner

December 24, 2009

The British mineworkers’ union has called on Russian president Dmitry Medvedev to intervene in the case of Valentin Urusov, the miner jailed for six years in Yakutia for his trade union activity.

Ian Lavery, president of the National Union of Mineworkers, has written to Medvedev urging him to free Urusov immediately, and appealed to other British trade unions to support Urusov too.

See an article from the NUM’s paper reproduced here:

Urusov’s case is the most serious for some time in which a trade unionist has faced state intimidation in Russia. Union activists face many types of victimisation, including workplace harassment, sackings and beatings by company thugs. But this is the first time in recent years that union activity has been “punished” with a lengthy jail sentence.

The NUM’s stand is in the best tradition of international working-class solidarity.

More information on the case here:

Car workers defy legal threats

December 22, 2009

A Russian car workers’ union has issued an international appeal to support activists who are being harassed by the security services, courts and prosecutors’ offices.

The Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers, set up in 2008 during a surge of union organising activity in the car industry, has told the International Metalworkers Federation that trade union leaflets issued in Tver have been classified as “extremist” – opening activists to the threat of lengthy prison terms.

A letter (in English) from Aleksei Etmanov, cochair of the leader of the union and leader of the shop stewards’ organisation at Fords Vsevolozhsk near St Petersburg, is here:

Ukraine coal plant strike leaders on trial

November 8, 2009

This week two trade union activists from the Yanovskoe coal enrichment plant in Krasnyi Luch, eastern Ukraine, go on trial for leading an “illegal” strike.

Ukrainian activists are asking friends and supporters internationally to protest to the public prosecutor, the high court and the Lugansk regional administration.

The two defendants, Anatoly Moskalev and Anna Antropshchenko, were among the organisers of a strike committee formed to protest at a four-month delay in paying wages. (No-one’s been prosecuted for not paying the workers’ wages, of course!)

The strike is one of the more militant protests against widespread non-payment of wages in Ukraine during this year. The workers blocked the railway leading to the plant and formed an independent union organisation.

I’ve posted a letter with all the details here:

Anyone interested in the reaction by Ukrainian workers to the impact of the economic crisis can read a first-class account of the workers’ struggle to defend jobs at the Kherson combine harvester plant here, on the Dutch GlobalInfo web site (scroll down under the first picture – it’s all in English!):

Avtovaz car workers resist cuts

October 12, 2009

The independent trade union Edinstvo (Unity) at Avtovaz, Russia’s largest carmaker, is calling on the Russian government to negotiate with workers’ representatives to save 27,600 jobs under threat.

Edinstvo is organising a protest meeting this coming Saturday (17 October), after a resolution addressed to the government by a 2000-strong “hands off Avtovaz” rally in August went unanswered. The resolution demanded a moratorium on job losses, more transparent accounting and nationalisation of the factory.

The board of Avtovaz earlier this month decided to cut investment in half and lay off 27,600 workers by mid 2010. Production under the plan would focus on new Renault models.

Avtovaz is Russia’s largest factory with more than 100,000 employees, and completely dominates the economy of Togliatti, in Samara region on the Volga. Avtovaz’s main owners are the state corporation Rostekhnologiya, Renault of France and Troika Dialog bank.

Faced with demands to defend the town’s livelihood, the government and Rostekhnologiya are hiding behind each other. Prime minister Vladimir Putin last week urged the owners to come up with investment funds – although in Rostekhnologiya’s case, such a decision would have to be approved by government.    

Avtovaz has 37 billion rubles of debt outstanding, and another 25 billion rubles of 10-year quasi-sovereign notes guaranteed by Rostekhnologiya. A debt-for-equity deal under which state-owned banks take stakes could help lessen the burden.

In the tug-of-war for financial resources between Avtovaz, Rostekhnologiya and the state-owned banks, all sides remain wary of another group of stakeholders who could upset any applecart: the car workers.

Andrei Lyapin, the Interregional Union of Auto Workers coordinator in Togliatti, said in a telephone interview: “The government told us to address our demands to Rostekhnologiya. That’s no answer: this is a political issue. There is a prospect of new employment in a special economic zone being created in Togliatti, but that will be in 2012. What about the interim?” There are already more than 18,000 unemployed in Togliatti, and only 5500 vacancies.

The fear of unemployment hanging over Togliatti is replicated in dozens of Russia’s “mono-industrial” towns, dozens of which have been listed by the government as potential flashpoints of social unrest, due to the effects of the recession.

The Edinstvo resolution is here (RUSSIAN ONLY), reported on Russia’s premier site for labour and social movements:

Avtovaz workers' rally on 6 August. The white-on-black banner says "For workers' control"

Avtovaz workers' rally on 6 August. The white-on-black banner says "For workers' control". Picture from

Occupations and roadblocks: they are catching

August 23, 2009

Those Russian workers hard hit by the consequences of the recession have more and more readily been taking to occupying factories and blocking highways.

Russian power showed just how nervous it gets about popular reaction to the effects of the crisis in June, when prime minister Vladimir Putin made an astonishing visit to the tiny town of Pikalevo in north-west Russia, where the road-blocking tactic had been used effectively.

Pikalevo’s single workplace had in 2004 been carved into three: two cement factories and a chemicals plant, owned by Oleg Deripaska, the main owner of the aluminium company Rusal, and two other oligarchs. In January 2009, as cement prices crashed, all three plants stopped work.

After months of being laid off without pay, about 1000 of Pikalevo’s 9000 workers blockaded the main highway to St Petersburg. Putin flew into town with Deripaska and the other factory owners and commanded, live on television, that they restart operations. They meekly acquiesced.

Such populism comes at a cost to power. In the weeks that followed, activists reported discussions about the need for direct action Pikalevo-style in other towns hit by unemployment. In Altai region in eastern Siberia, a giant tractor factory was occupied and a highway blocked by laid-off construction workers.

In Sverdlovsk workers at a stood-down engineering factory formed a council to replace the management, as reported by Paul Goble’s blog here:

and in Finansmag (IN RUSSIAN) here: