Category Archives: international affairs

Valentin Urusov Wins Arthur Svensson Prize for Trade Union Rights

The Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights 2013 is awarded to the Russian Valentin Urusov  

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Falsely imprisoned for leading a strike in Russia

The Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights for 2013 is awarded to Russian trade union leader Valentin Urusov. He was falsely imprisoned after leading a strike against dangerous working conditions in the diamond industry.

“Urusov has become symbolic of the struggle for workers’ rights and freedom of association in Russia,” says Leif Sande, committee chair and head of the LO trade union Industri Energi.

The Arthur Svensson prize is a prize from a broad Norwegian trade union movement. This year’s prize goes to fearless trade union leader Valentin Urusov, who has been falsely imprisoned for many years. As the leader of the trade union Profsvoboda at Alrosa, the world’s second largest diamond mining company, he led a hunger strike with more than one thousand workers against inhumane working conditions and low pay.

The prize committee:

Leif Sande, Committee Chair (Industri Energi), former LO presidents Gerd-Liv Valla and Yngve Hågensen, Randi Bjørgen (former President of the Confederation of Vocational Unions), Helga Hjetland (former President of the Union of Education Norway), Finn Erik Thoresen (Board Leader of Norwegian People’s Aid) and Liv Tørres (General Secretary of Norwegian People’s Aid).

A forced confession

After the strike, Urusov was arrested, beaten up and his life was threatened. He was forced to sign a confession admitting possession of drugs. The police had brought an executive from Alrosa along as a witness, an example of how the company controls courts and the police in the republic.

“He was imprisoned on what were clearly false accusations, and both the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Russian and international trade union organisations have been involved in trying to get him released,” says Leif Sande, committee chair and head of the LO trade union Industri Energi, which took the initiative for the prize.

Released, but not free

Urusov was released in March of this year after it became known that he had been nominated for the Svensson prize. The rest of his five year prison sentence has been converted into a fine demanding 15% of his income throughout the remainder of his sentence. In addition, he is not permitted to leave the country.

The imprisonment and harassment of Urusov has become symbolic of the struggle for workers’ rights and freedom of association in Russia.

The committee alludes to the fact that he has full support from all the Russian trade unions, and that he was nominated for the prize by a number of trade union organisations throughout Europe. The international trade union movement, led by the International Trade Union Confederation, has been highly involved in his case.

“The Arthur Svensson international prize is first and foremost a helping hand – and an acknowledgment – to union officials and trade unionists around the world fighting for workers’ rights under dangerous conditions,” says Sande. We thank this year’s recipient of the prize, Valentin Urusov, for his courage in the fight against poor working conditions in the Russian diamond industry.

The committee expresses concern

In their citation, the committee write that they are concerned about the workers’ rights situation in Russia. The right of free association, right to collective bargaining and right to strike have long been under pressure, and it may appear that conditions are deteriorating further under Putin’s current regime. Thus, the prize is also being awarded to bring these conditions into focus, and in support of Russian workers.

For more information about the prize: www.svenssonprize.com

The Arthur Svensson International Prize

The Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights is awarded to individuals who, or organisations which, have made noteworthy efforts to promote the work of trade unions and workers’ rights nationally and internationally. Last year’s prize went to the Cambodian trade union the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Union, C.CAWDU. The prize is NOK 500,000 and is awarded annually. The prize is named for the former leader of the Norwegian Union of Chemical Industry Workers, Arthur Svensson, who was especially engaged in international solidarity.

This year, the prize will be awarded during a formal ceremony held at Folkets Hus on 19 June.

Photo by Aleskey Maishev

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Marxism Today (or, The Soft Power Approach to Changing Perceptions of Russia)

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Join us for the first stage of Sarajevo-born artist Nada Prlja’s new commission Subversion to Red, a performative round-table discussion reflecting upon the relevance and application of socialist and Marxist ideals today.

Speakers include: Dave Beech, Hannah Black, Gail Day, Mark Fisher and Nina Power. Chaired by Vlad Morariu

As part of First Thursdays the gallery will be open until 9pm.

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In March 2011 the London arts foundation Calvert 22 and the Russian investment company VTB Capital have announced a strategic partnership designed to showcase cutting-edge Russian artists in London and widen the exposure of the British public to creative Russian culture as part of a wider artistic programme that presents culture from Russia, Central and Eastern Europe.

VTB Capital is positioned as Calvert 22’s primary strategic partner, providing support for the artistic vision and core activities of the organization. Calvert 22 and VTB Capital are committed to promoting global co-operation through cultural understanding. 

VTB Capital is the recognized leader in Russian investment banking, and one of the company’s key objectives is to promote Russian culture throughout the world. VTB Capital’s partnership with Calvert 22 provides a unique opportunity to engage an open dialogue with the British audience.

Working together, VTB Capital and Calvert 22 are committed to promoting and developing new possibilities for global cooperation through cross-cultural understanding and exchange by implementing an ambitious artistic programme that is part of the company’s soft power approach to the global community.

Nonna Materkova, Founder/Director of Calvert 22, comments:
“I am delighted to announce VTB Capital as our primary strategic partner and proud to be associated with such a highly regarded, trailblazing organisation. This partnership marks a truly exciting and significant new phase in Calvert 22’s development and one that will ensure the foundation continues to present the very best of contemporary Russian, Central and Eastern European art as well as supporting new artists and cultural practice from these regions so as to genuinely introduce fresh and original perspectives to the UK. We are immensely grateful for their support and look forward to working together.”

Olga Podoinitsyna, Member of the Board at VTB Capital, comments:
“Throughout the nearly 3 years of partnership between VTB Capital and Calvert 22 Foundation, we have made a considerable contribution to the showcasing of Russian art in London, and also promoting the understanding of Russia as part of the global community. We support Calvert 22 as a unique vehicle for bringing contemporary Russian culture to Britain, putting people in touch with the actual trends in the country and offering them a new perspective on Russia. Our company plays an important role in strengthening ties between the Russian and British business communities and the partnership with Calvert 22 is a key part of VTB Capital’s soft power approach to changing perceptions of Russia.

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VTB Bank (Russian: ОАО Банк ВТБ, former Vneshtorgbank) is one of the leading universal banks of Russia. VTB Bank and its subsidiaries form a leading Russian financial group – VTB Group, offering a wide range of banking services and products in Russia, CIS, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the U.S. The Group’s largest subsidiaries in Russia are VTB24, Bank of Moscow, and TransCreditBank.

VTB was ranked 236th on the FT Global 500 2011, The Financial Times’ annual snapshot of the world’s largest companies. It climbed to 82nd in the ranking of the 500 largest companies in Europe, the FT Europe 500 2011, and to 38th in the FT Emerging 500 2011, the list of the 500 largest companies on the world’s emerging markets. The Moscow-based bank is registered in St. Petersburg and came 65th in the British magazine The Banker’s Top 1000 World Banks in terms of capital in 2010.

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The main shareholder of VTB is the Russian Government, which owns 75.5% of the lender through its Federal Agency for State Property Management. The remaining shares are split between holders of its Global Depository Receipts and minority shareholders, both individuals and companies.

In February 2011, the Government floated an additional 10% minus two shares of VTB Bank. The private investors, who paid a total of 95.7 billion roubles ($3.1 billion) for the assets, included the investment funds Generali, TPG Capital, China Investment Corp, a sovereign wealth fund responsible for managing China’s foreign exchange reserves, and companies affiliated with businessman Suleiman Kerimov.

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As of September 2009, the Supervisory Council of VTB Bank consist[ed] of Alexei Kudrin (Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance of the Russian Federation), Arkady Dvorkovich (Aide to the President of the Russian Federation), Anton Drozdov (Chairman of the Management Board, Russian Pension Fund), Andrey Kostin (President and Chairman of the Management Board, JSC VTB Bank), Alexey Savatyugin (Head of Financial Policy Department of the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation), Vitaly Saveliev (CEO, JSC Aeroflot-Russian Airlines), Alexei Ulyukaev (First Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation), Grigory Glazkov (Independent Consultant), Matthias Warnig (Managing Director, Nord Stream AG), Nikolai Kropachev (Rector of the St. Petersburg State University) and Muhadin Eskindarov (Rector of Finance Academy under the Government of the Russian Federation).

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CALVERT 22 FOUNDATION

Founder and Director
Nonna Materkova

Board of Trustees
Nonna Materkova (Chair)
Alexey Kudrin
Margarita Gluzberg
Innokenty Alekseev
Dominic Sanders
Nigel Nicholson

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From 1990 to 1996, Kudrin worked in the Saint Petersburg Saint Petersburg City Administration under the liberal mayor and reformer Anatoly Sobchak. His first position was Vice Chairman of the Committee for Economic Reform. Until 1993, he worked in various financial positions in the city administration, before he was promoted to Deputy Mayor, in which position he served from 1993 to 1996. Future President Vladimir Putin was the other top Deputy Mayor of Saint Petersburg at the time. Kudrin was also Chairman of the City Administration’s Economic and Finance Committee.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin jokingly called former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin a “slacker” on Thursday [April 25, 2013] for refusing to rejoin his government, as the two jousted on live television over how to revive a weakening economy.

“I offered – he refused,” Putin told a live call-in show after Kudrin took the microphone to criticise his administration’s economic policies. Smiling, Putin added: “He’s a slacker and doesn’t want to work.”

The good-natured exchange indicated that, although Putin remains on good personal terms with Kudrin, who served as finance minister for 11 years before resigning in September 2011, their economic views remain far apart.

Since quitting, Kudrin has publicly sympathised with opposition protests over alleged ballot fraud in the ensuing parliamentary and presidential elections that secured Putin’s return for a third Kremlin term.

His presence in the audience of Putin’s annual question-and-answer session and his tough questions were probably stage-managed to show that Putin could tolerate hard questioning.

Kudrin, a fiscal hawk and economic liberal, told Putin it was important to find political consensus and take into account the concerns of people who want to invest money and create jobs.

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Dolly Bellefleur, “Stop, Stop, Stop, Putin!”

On April 8, 2013, thousands of people protested in Amsterdam against President Putin’s homopobic laws and the general lack of human rights and free speech in Russia. “Beauty with Brains” Dolly Bellefleur made a protest song especially for this occasion

Thanks to the Free Pussy Riot! Facebook page for the heads-up.

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Hello, Amsterdam!

Amsterdam welcomes the Russian president:

Thanks to Comrades Alexander and Elena for the heads-up. This posting was edited on April 14, 2013, after the Vimeo video originally featured here was removed.

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Thatcher’s Britain and Putin’s Russia: Separated at Birth?

The Battle of Orgreave (June 18, 1984):

There were 95 miners arrested at Orgreave and prosecuted for riot, a charge that carried the potential for a long prison sentence up to a maximum of life. But a year later, on 17 July 1985, all 95 were acquitted. The prosecution withdrew, from the first trial of 15, after police gave unconvincing accounts in the witness box: it became clear that the miners had themselves been attacked by police on horses or with truncheons, and there was evidence that a police officer’s signature on a statement had been forged.

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The Battle of Bolotnaya Square (May 6, 2012):

According to a report by the newspaper Izvestiya, which cited a statement issued by the working group of the Presidential Human Rights Council: the events of May 6, 2012 on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow were provoked by the police and cannot legally be deemed to be riots. By the evening of Thursday, January 31, the statement had been signed by about half of the Council’s members. 

According to Izvestiya’s information, the statement had been signed by the journalists Leonid Parfenov and Ivan Zasursky, civil society activist Irina Khakamada, and head of the Russian Aid Foundation (Rusfond) Lev Ambinder. Having completed an investigation into the circumstances of the incidents at Bolotnaya, the human rights activists decided that the opposition protesters had been compelled to act the way they did. The statement calls for all the accused in the “Bolotnaya Case” to be released from custody. 

“Neither before nor since 6 May, have the police created such unbearable and provocative conditions for demonstrators,” the working group declared in their statement. Notably, the statement specifically drew on evidence provided by members of the Human Rights Council, who had been present at Bolotnaya as public observers. They stressed that the disorder arose as a result of the pressure caused by the huge police cordons, Lenta.ru noted. 

[…]

In May, at Bolotnaya Square the “March of Millions” escalated into clashes between protesters and the police. At present, twelve people involved in a criminal case pertaining to the alleged riots are awaiting sentence in custody. Investigators want to send one of the alleged rioters for compulsory psychological treatment and another five are under house arrest. The only sentence in the case – 4.5 years in prison – was handed down in November against Maksim Luzyanin, who confessed to attacking the police. 

Previously, in May 2012, Federal Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin had declared that there had not been any rioting at Bolotnaya Square, but merely isolated clashes between demonstrators and police. In November, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group proposed that a public inquiry be held based on Lukin’s findings. But on January 30, 2013, it emerged that an independent group consisting of people opposed to the government had already interviewed around two hundred witnesses to the disturbances and presented this information to independent experts.

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Now check out the surprise ending:

Putin Decrees 2014 as Year of British Culture
09 April 2013
The Moscow Times

With an eye on further improving ties with Britain, President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree designating 2014 as the year of British culture in Russia.

The decree, which is aimed at fostering closer relations between the two countries, also calls for a celebration of Russian culture in Britain next year, the Kremlin said in a statement Tuesday.

The head of the organizing committee on the Russian side will be Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets, Interfax reported. Committee members will include Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, Kremlin cultural aide Mikhail Shvydkoi, and the heads of the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theaters and the Pushkin and Hermitage museums.

Relations between Russia and Britain have shown a revival in recent months after falling to a low point after Moscow’s refusal to extradite State Duma Deputy Andrei Lugavoi in connection to the 2006 poisoning death of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced in mid-March that Russia and Britain had agreed to set aside 2014 as a year to celebration of the other country’s culture.

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Photos courtesy of John Sturrock/Socialist Worker and politzeki.tumbler.com. Thanks to the invaluable Comrade Agata for the heads-up. Read her timely 2010 interview with artist Jeremy Deller, who re-enacted the Battle of Orgreave in 2001, here.

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Which Side Are You On?

Ken Loach, Which Side Are You On? (1984)

Stunning documentary on the 1984 UK Miners Strike where international capital used Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government to mount a vicious campaign of violence and hatred on the British working class. The film features the miners and their families experiences told through songs, poems and other art.

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How to remember Margaret Thatcher? Shall we recall the friend of Augusto Pinochet, the woman who protested bitterly about the arrest of Chile’s murderous dictator, a man to whom, she said, Britain owed so much? What about the staunch ally of apartheid, the prime minister who labelled the ANC ‘terrorists’ and did everything possible to undermine international action against the racist regime? The anti-union zealot who described striking miners defending their livelihood as an ‘enemy within’, hostile to liberty? The militarist who prosecuted the Falklands war, as vicious as it was pointless? The Cold Warrior, who stood by Reagan’s side, while the US conducted its genocidal counterinsurgencies in Latin America? The British chauvinist who allowed Bobby Sands to slowly starve to death?

Jeff Sparrow, “On Margaret Thatcher,” Overland, April 9, 2013

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When Thatcher was elected in 1979, tens of thousands rallied against her: 50,000 protested against her racist immigration laws; 50,000 protested in favour for women’s right to choose abortion; and thousands fought cuts to the public sector.

Many people on the left are aware of the defeat of the miners’ union in 1985, but few know of the major industrial and political battles that precipitated the defeat.

In 1980, the steel strike was the first national strike against the Tories. The steelworkers went for a 17% pay increase (the inflation rate was 20%) and fought to protect jobs. British Steel offered 2%, and proposed plant closures and 52,000 redundancies.

The steelworkers fought hard. Huge pickets were mounted at some sites, like Hadfield’s in Sheffield, and flying pickets were organised against private sector steel users.

After a 13-week battle, the workers won a 19% wage increase (including 5% for productivity trade-offs), but thousands of jobs were lost. It was a victory for the government. The main reason for the partial defeat was the isolation of the steelworkers.

Following this, the Tories moved to beef up anti-union laws by outlawing solidarity strikes and picketing. The TUC’s response has to call a national day of action, in which 250,000 people marched in 130 cities. But there was no follow-up action and the anti-union legislation was passed.

By October 1981, the Tories were on the nose. The Social Democratic Party-Liberal Alliance was scoring 59% in opinion polls. The Tories announced new anti-worker legislation, which included outlawing unions from engaging in political action, allowing employers to sack and selectively redeploy workers, and sequestrating unions’ assets if they broke industrial laws.

The union tops failed to call for strike action. Instead, they adopted a position of “non-cooperation” with the act. If a union was attacked, the TUC promised to support it.

In the meantime, an earth-shaking event occurred — Britain went to war with Argentina. This was the perfect diversion for the unpopular government. A short, sharp war — oozing with nationalism — which Britain could not lose.

In the first major test of the Tory’s legislation, railway workers launched an all-out strike to stop trade-offs in working conditions. The strike was solid and picket lines were respected.

The TUC called a general council meeting, ordered the workers back to work and warned that if the strikers did not obey, the rail union would be suspended from the TUC. The union was forced to accept defeat and go back to work.

TUC betrayal

The TUC “non-cooperation” with the act turned into a cynical betrayal. The rationale was that the strike must end to get Labour re-elected.

Thatcher was re-elected in a landslide in 1983 and worse was to come for the union movement. The next major industrial stoush was in the printing industry, between the National Graphical Association and Eddie Shah, the owner of the Stockport Messenger.

Shah won an injunction to have the union remove a picket line but the union refused. The union was fined £150,000 for contempt of court. The picket line at Warrington was attacked by 3000 riot police. The cops broke the line, chased people into neighbouring fields and beat them up.

A further fine of £375,000 was imposed and the union’s assets were sequestrated. The union called a 24-hour strike and went to the TUC for support, citing its pledge to defend any union under attack.

The TUC decided not to support the printers — a move warmly welcomed by Thatcher. Thornett’s describes the TUC’s decision as a “total collapse in front of the anti-union laws without a shot being fired — a defining moment in the history of the British trade union movement.”

Thatcher now knew that she could pick off each union one by one. The coalminers were next in line, followed by Murdoch’s attack on the newspaper printers.

James Vassilopoulous, “How Thatcher smashed the unions,” Green Left Weekly, September 23, 1998

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Arkady Kots, “S kem ty zaodno?” (Which Side Are You On?). Video by STAB Critical Animation Workshop (Joshik Murzakhmetov & Samat Mambetshayev). The song can also be played and downloaded here.

Thanks to various Facebook and listserv comrades for all the heads-up.

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Mark Knopfler Is a True Friend of the Russian People

This is what everyone who is in Mark Knopfler’s position should do. Not “try and talk some sense” into fascist homophobes like Vitaly Milonov, as the otherwise admirable Stephen Fry recently did. Or “stand in solidarity” with political prisoners Pussy Riot on a Moscow concert stage, as Madonna did, all the while raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in concert fees. The first tack violates the old anti-fascist “no platform” rule, while the second does that, too, while also generating tons of buzz for the Milonovites. More important, it rewards the relatively well-off strata of the Russian urban populace, the people who can afford tickets to Madonna and Knopfler concerts and the like, who are in fact the real bulwark of Putinism (rather than some imaginary post-Soviet “conservative” provincial “grassroots” post-proletariat), at least (but only at least) insofar as these people have been mostly absent from the fight against Putinism or any of its manifestations. In fact, if nothing else, Knopfler’s one-man boycott of their cities might alert otherwise “blissfully” unaware Petersburgers and Muscovites to the recent prosecutorial raids against NGOs in the country, which have included not only (as Knopfler mentions in his statement) Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, but hundreds of lesser organizations like the Finnish Institute in St. Petersburg, the Caritas Catholic charity’s support center for disabled children in the city, the Petersburg rights organizations Citizens Watch and Coming Out (Vykhod), as well as the NGO Development Center, the German-Russian Exchange, the Centre for Independent Social Research, the Institute for Information Freedom Development and the offices of the LGBT film festival Side by Side (to mention only a few), as well as branches of Alliance Française in several other major Russian cities.

We recently reflected, so to speak, on the odd news that Manifesta, the ultra-progressive European biennial of contemporary art, had chosen Petersburg—once the “cradle of three revolutions,” now a depressive semi-fascist dump ruled over by dreary officially titled bandits in bad suits who think that legislative homophobia and “Cossacks” are a terrific way of preventing their subject population from noticing the really obvious drawbacks in their continuing “governance” of the city—for its super-serious high-brow art hootenanny next year. Upon hearing this same news, Russian contemporary art curatorial doyenne Olga Sviblova commented, “[T]here’s no reason to get all stirred up about it being in St Petersburg. We have already spent 20 years living in a normal, free country, just the same as any others.” This is manifestly not the case, and it is only by pulling (temporarily, we hope) the plug on their supply of entertainment and cultural labor that people outside Russia who are in a position to do so can show real solidarity with Russian political prisoners, local NGOs, and other people and groups targeted by the Putinist police state.

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www.markknopfler.com

Russia dates cancelled

Thursday – Apr 04, 2013

Mark’s June 7 show in Moscow and June 8 date in St. Petersburg have been cancelled. Ticket holders should contact their point of purchase for refunds.

Please see Mark’s official statement below:

Given the crackdown by Russian authorities on groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, I have regretfully decided to cancel my upcoming concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg in June. I have always loved playing in Russia and have great affection for the country and the people. I hope the current climate will change soon.

MK

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