Who Is Bothered by Alexei Etmanov?
Reprisals against union leaders have, unfortunately, ceased to be merely a part of the ancient history of the trade union movement. They have more and more often become a reality of labor relations in today’s Russia.
On the night of November 8, when Alexei Etmanov, chair of the union committee at Ford-Vsevolozhsk and co-chair of the Russian Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA), returned home after his shift, he was attacked by three armed bandits. It is clear that the people who sent them wanted to ensure numerical superiority. Here, however, their calculations ran afoul: Alexei managed to force his attackers, who were armed with knuckledusters, to retreat in shame.
However, in order to dispel any doubts as to the motives for the attack, the “organizers” of this piece of brigandage telephoned another union leader at Ford, Vladimir Lesnik, and threatened reprisals if the Ford unionists “didn’t stop getting in [their] way.”
Over the past two years such attacks have happened more than once: labor activists have been savagely beaten in Kaliningrad, Togliatti, and Taganrog. Each time the targets were union activists who challenged the complete sway of their employers and thus all employers who recognize no one’s rights other than their own sovereign right to dictate the work conditions and the lives of “their” workers.
Each time the reprisals followed a heightening of conflict at the respective factories. Despite the fact that police investigators have still not managed to solve any of these crimes, there can hardly be any doubt as to the names of the people who really commissioned them since it is much too obvious whose interests were threatened.
In this case everything is more complicated. The attack on Alexei Etmanov, leader of the Ford workers and an iconic figure for the reborn labor movement and independent trade unions in Russia, happened a year after the last, widely publicized strike at the plant, at a time when passions had cooled and the union was preparing for what has become an ordinary affair—negotiations over the next collective bargaining agreement. But, lo and behold, it turns out that the Ford union has interfered with someone’s plans to such an extent that the enemies of the workers are prepared to commit crimes. They openly announce that they won’t stop at anything in order to “remove the question” of the free labor and trade union movement from the agenda.
The attack on Etmanov is, without a doubt, a challenge. It is a challenge to all the healthy forces that have dared to raise their voices in defense of the interests of workers in today’s Russia. This challenged has been thrown down by those find inimical the very idea that hired workers have a right to self-organization, a say in their own working lives, a right to negotiations and equal dialogue with their employers. Their name is legion. It is not important who, in this case, gave the ignoble orders or the number of the telephone in Vsevolozhsk, Taganrog, Togliatti, Petersburg or Moscow from which the scum got the call. We know whom the free trade unions bother. And we can answer their challenge by closing our ranks and demonstrating general solidarity. For today the bell tolls not only for Etmanov and Ford, but for us all.
Let us prepare ourselves for the battle!
—A. Lyapin, Union Activist