Category Archives: trade unions

Open Letter to Calvert 22 from Precarious Workers Brigade

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Open Letter to Calvert 22 from Precarious Workers Brigade

Dear Calvert 22,

We notice that you have recently advertised an unpaid gallery volunteer placement for your forthcoming exhibition “…how is it towards the east?”

Whilst we acknowledge that you are aiming to take the time and effort to train young people who want to work in the arts, we are concerned that the tasks described in your volunteer placement sound very much like work that should be paid: ‘invigilating the exhibition’, ‘assisting with Front of House duties’ and ‘working in the Calvert Café’, as well as ‘the option to help out with our diverse talks and events programme’. We are curious as to why this work is not paid? We know that it is possible for arts organisations to avoid legal problems with volunteer positions through using the exemption to the National Minimum Wage legislation designed for charities. We would hope however, that such weak legal frameworks for our sector do not act as our only ethical guide on such matters.

We are concerned that by not paying people to carry out these jobs, only those who can afford to work for free will be able to benefit from your placement scheme: such placements contribute to producing a cultural sector in London that is increasingly reserved for the privileged. Surely such exclusionary employment practices are in direct contradiction of your constitution as a charity, and to the Foundation’s stated mission of connecting the gallery to histories of political radicalism and activism in the local area of East End? We also note that the exhibition ‘examines modes of self-organisation’ focusing on the histories of those on the left who have struggled for worker’s rights, specifically on the 1st May 1886, when they called for 8-hour working day – a date which coincides with the opening of the exhibition. We find that the use of unpaid labour in this context to be particularly paradoxical.

Furthermore, we note from your website, Calvert 22’s partnership with VTB Capital. Whilst we find there to be an incredible contradiction between your partnership with the investment banking sector, and the stated aims of artistic programmes such as “…how is it towards the east?” we would at least hope that these kinds of partnerships would ensure that everyone who works on the programme is paid at least a Minimum Wage.

We raise these issues with you, not to single out Calvert 22 for such practices, but as our friends at Artleaks have succinctly expressed, to draw attention to concrete situations that:

“[…] underscore the precarious condition of cultural workers, and the necessity for sustained protest against the appropriation of politically engaged art, culture and theory by institutions embedded in a tight mesh of capital and power.”

Like Artleaks, we are concerned that:

“By co-opting cultural activity, these sponsors obtain social credibility, which they then proceed to misuse: by refusing decent conditions for cultural workers through oppressive measures – the same workers whose labor makes their subsistence possible.” 

The normalisation of practices of free labour through volunteer positions such as this, contributes to a situation where it is acceptable to abstractly question the role of sponsorship and free labour on panel discussions, but unacceptable to concretely act against them. Volunteers, speakers and artists are often subtly frozen out of the sector if they challenge this non-payment or under-payment, and thus feel coerced to prop up the system further.

We have been organising around issues of free labour and precarity in the arts and culture for several years, analysing corporate cynicism and the increasingly intense contradictions in our sector. In this climate of enforced austerity, brought about by investment banks, we encounter over and over again a culture of resignation and silence in art schools and art institutions. Do programmes such as “…how is it towards the east?” simply perpetuate the damaging paradox of providing a subject of discussion that is clearly not to be acted upon? Do they not in effect, simply add to this silencing? We wonder what Calvert 22 want to achieve in this exhibition and programme, what the motivations of the foundation are? We wonder what position the foundation wants to take in relation to its own workers, its own work culture and the community in which it is situated?

There are many guidelines available today that might help you develop a new and more equitable approach to work. Please see the links below:

Art Council England’s guidelines “Internships in the Arts”: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/publication_archive/internships-arts

Counter Guide to Free Labour in the Arts: http://carrotworkers.wordpress.com/counter-internship-guide/

Intern Aware: http://www.internaware.org/about/why-unpaid-internships-are-wrong/

Artquest’s Intern Culture report: http://www.artquest.org.uk/articles/view/intern_culture

Interns: Volunteer or Employee? volunteernow.co.uk/news/item/61

We would like to ask the foundation to consider the ethics of offering unpaid volunteer placements in your organisation, and to hear your response to this open letter.

With best regards,
Precarious Workers Brigade

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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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Kazakhstan: Hands Off Roza Tuletaeva! (solidarity appeal)

campaignkazakhstan.org

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Roza Tuletaeva starts hunger strike as prison regime refuses medical aid

April 24, 2013 

On 22nd April, Roza Tuletaeva, one of the activists from the Zhanaozen oil workers’ strike, started a hunger strike. She has taken this extreme step because she has been refused essential medical aid at the women’s prison colony in Atyrau, where she is currently serving a lengthy jail sentence. She was arrested after the notorious massacre of Zhanaozen oil workers’ by government forces in December 2011 and sentenced to seven years in prison (later reduced to five, on appeal), on the charge of “organising mass disorder.”

According to friends and relatives of Roza, she is suffering from chronic liver disease. The refusal to provide suitable treatment appears to be intentional revenge by the authorities. It is a form of torture against this political prisoner, who refused to accept that she was guilty as charged.

During her court trial, Roza experienced torture and sexual harassment at the hands of the state security police (KNB), and the lives of her children were threatened. Nevertheless, she refused to give evidence against herself and her co-strikers, refused to give evidence against Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the Party Alga (who was later sentenced to a prison sentence), and exposed the methods of the investigators during her trial.

Local human rights organisations have demanded the immediate provision of medical assistance to Roza Tuletaeva and have also demanded the right to visit her to make a proper assessment of her health. Clearly she is in danger, her health is already undermined and now her life is at risk. The hunger strike is eroding her health even further.

Campaign Kazakhstan calls for protest messages against these further attempts at torture, which are organized by government forces with the aim of breaking the will of Roza and her comrades and of anyone else prepared to resist the authorities. By attempting to physically annihilate Roza Tuletaeva, they are trying to scare all oil workers, and those who live in the Mangystau region, from further protest actions.

Hands off Roza Tuletaeva!

Freedom to the arrested oil-workers and political prisoners in Kazakhstan!

Please send urgent protests to the Embassy of Kazakhstan in your country (a list can be found here) and copies to kazakhstansolidarity@gmail.com and campaignkazakhstan@gmail.com.

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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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Valentin Urusov Released from Prison!

www.ituc-csi.org

Russian Trade Union leader Valentin Urusov Released from Prison

15 March 2013. The ITUC has welcomed the release of Russian trade union leader Valentin Urusov from prison today. In early 2008 Urusov, a miner and trade union leader, was detained by the authorities, alleging narcotics possession. However, his arrest coincided suspiciously with preparations for a protest rally by workers at the state-owned Alrosa diamond mining company – a rally which Urusov helped organise. He was sentenced to six years in a penal colony.

Urusov’s case was reported in a complaint to the ILO by the Confederation of Labour of Russia (KTR), supported by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, the ITUC, and global union federations IUF and IndustriAll. In a November 2012 report, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association explicitly requested his release. Earlier this month a district court decided to replace the rest of his prison term by an ongoing sequestration of 15% of his salary.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said “We welcome the release of Valentin Urusov, whom the international trade union movement has strongly supported during his time in prison. The release was result of the KTR campaign, supported by the combined efforts of the national and international trade union movement and the work of the ILO. It is a positive step that Russia has responded by implementing the ILO’s recommendations. We should not forget however the circumstances of his imprisonment, and the ITUC will continue supporting the KTR in demanding reconsideration of his case. All the charges against him must be withdrawn”.

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seansrussiablog.org

Good news from Russia is a rarity. But today is one of the those rare days. After four and a half years in prison on fabricated charges, the labor activist Valentin Urusov has been released. His release comes ten days after a Khangalssk district court decision. According to Andrei Demidov, the deputy director of Collective Action, Urusov plans to continue his work as a labor and human rights organizer.

Congratulations to Urusov, his family, and all those who tirelessly agitated for his freedom!

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Mattia Gallo: Interview with a Russian Comrade

The following interview with our comrade Ilya Matveev was made by Mattia Gallo and originally published in Italian as “La Russia ai tempi di Occupy.” Our thanks to her and Ilya for their permission to republish it in English here.

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What is the Russian Socialist Movement? When were you founded? Who are its members?

The Russian Socialist Movement (RSM) is the product of a merger between two far-left groups: Vpered (Forward) and Socialist Resistance. It was founded in March 2011. Both groups were heirs to the Trotskyist tradition. Vpered was affiliated with the Mandelist USFI. However, the RSM is not explicitly Trotskyist: it was modeled as a broad leftist force capable of uniting the non-sectarian far left into the nucleus of a future radical mass party. In part, it was modeled on the French Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA), although obviously on a smaller scale.

Currently, we have several organizations in different Russian cities. The largest RSM groups are in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Kaluga. We have a smaller presence in Novosibirsk, Samara, and other places, as well as an affiliated group in Perm. Overall, we have some two hundred to three hundred members.

The Kaluga group is probably the strongest and most coherent. There is an industrial cluster in this city, and it harbors a rare thing in Russia, an independent trade union, in this case, a local of the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (the ITUA, which is also present in Petersburg and the Petersburg area). Our members in Kaluga are union organizers, autoworkers, and radical youth. The RSM have taken part in strikes and in worker self-organization in Kaluga. In Petersburg, RSM also consists of union workers and activists, but its ranks also include radical intellectuals and artists. In Moscow, the RSM is mostly made up of intellectuals, and it has become increasingly popular in radical artistic circles.

Generally, despite some internal problems, RSM is slowly becoming a rallying point for the radical left in Russia, due to its open, non-sectarian character and strong intellectual foundations. We try and play a role in the trade union movement and various social movements, to bring radical politics into these milieux, not, however in typical sectarian “entryist” fashion, but by really working with people, talking to them, getting to know them. We are also working on developing a coherent leftist theory for our situation. Obviously, our success is limited, but at least that is what we recognize as our goal.

In today’s very difficult circumstances, the RSM is very much focused on defending political prisoners in Russia. One of them, Konstantin Lebedev, is a member of our organization. Another RSM member, Filipp Dolbunov (Galtsov), is currently seeking political asylum in Ukraine. The RSM is a driving force behind the international solidarity campaign against political persecution in Russia.

Apart from that major concern, we also work with independent unions and social movements, especially against neoliberal policies in education and health care, and in the environmental and feminist movements, as well as the anti-fascist movement. We organize various cultural activities, in part through our affiliated independent publisher, the Free Marxist Press. We publish a newspaper called the Socialist, and run a web site

When and how did Occupy Moscow begin? What things happened in Moscow? What demands did its activists make, and what difficulties did they face?

On May 6, 2012, a mass opposition rally in Moscow was brutally dispersed by riot police. The police violence was unprecedented, and in a twisted Stalinist move our government afterwards started arresting people for taking part in a “riot,” thus setting the stage for a latter political show trial. Still, after the events at the rally, a minority of the marchers, around a thousand people, refused to go home and began a game of “catch me if you can” with the police on the streets of Moscow. This group of protesters moved around the city, trying to outmaneuver the police. This lasted for two or three days. Finally, the group settled in a kind of permanent camp near the monument to the Kazakh poet Abay on a small square in downtown Moscow. People kept coming, and the police didn’t disperse the camp, probably because the new protest tactics disoriented them. That is how Occupy Moscow or Occupy Abay began.

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It should be noted that some leftist activists had tried to import Occupy tactics before these events, organizing small “assemblies.” The Spanish Indignados and the American OWS were of course important and inspiring for us. However, we didn’t really believe something like that could happen in Moscow—and yet it happened.

Occupy Abay was an OWS-style camp on a small square, with a thousand to two thousand people in attendance daily, and some fifty to a hundred people staying on site in sleeping bags overnight. It was such a fresh experience of self-organization beyond traditional leftist and social scenes! Leftists, including RSM members, and anarchists were truly energized by what was happening right before their eyes. Leftist activists grouped in a European-style “info point” on the square with literature and leaflets. We organized a series of workshops for camp participants on unions, social movements, and leftist politics. The RSM began publishing a daily Occupy Abay leaflet, which quickly became a kind of official newspaper for the camp. Other self-organized activities included a kitchen and cleaning shifts. The square was so immaculately clean that the authorities had to fabricate evidence to present the camp as a nuisance to the neighborhood. However, the most important self-organized activity was the general assembly.

From the beginning, there was tension in the camp (just as in the Russian protest movement as a whole) between rank-and-file participants and self-proclaimed “leaders.” Some established opposition personalities tried to name one person “governor” of the camp, but of course the people ignored them. The left presented an alternative—participatory democracy in the form of the general assembly. The process was very difficult in the beginning, but eventually the assembly became the real voice of the camp. The climax of this self-governing process was, perhaps, an episode during the final hours of the camp’s existence, when the police ordered people to go home. Opposition leaders asked to speak to the crowd. But they had to wait their turn in a queue, just like other regular participants. When their turn came, they made their case—to comply with police orders—but the assembly rejected their proposal. In retrospect, it was the correct decision, since the police didn’t disperse the camp for another day.

The whole history of Occupy Abay/Occupy Barrikadnaya/Occupy Arbat (the last two are subsequent names for Occupy Moscow, reflecting the sites it briefly occupied after Abay was broken up) didn’t last more than several days, but it was an incredibly rich period of improvisation, self-organization, political struggle, and agitation. It injected the ideas of participatory democracy and horizontal structures into the protest movement, which had almost completely lacked such ideas before. We are still reflecting on the political and social significance of this event.

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The major difference between Occupy Moscow and OWS, the Indignados, etc., is that the Moscow camp was not leftist as a whole. It wasn’t organized around social issues; rather, it was the temporary form that the opposition movement in Russia, mostly liberal, took in Moscow in May 2012. Therefore, the participants were not only leftists, but also liberals, even people from the far right (which was rather humble and didn’t cause trouble, being in a weak political position). However, only the left in Russia practices self-organization, self-government, and participatory democracy. Therefore, the left quickly became an essential force driving the camp and its activities.

Talking about civil liberties in Russia, the Pussy Riot case and the anti-gay laws enacted in several Russian regions and now proposed in the national parliament are emblematic in the eyes of the world. You wrote an article last November, “A Police Story (What Happened to Filipp Dolbunov),” about a Russian student abducted by the police. Can you tell us what happened? What is your analysis of civil liberties in Russia?

Well, I wrote about a specific case of police repression against one activist. Currently Filipp, who is my comrade, is seeking political asylum. He is in Ukraine, but this country isn’t safe for him, as the case of another activist, Leonid Razvozzhayev, shows: Leonid was kidnapped in Kyiv by Russian security forces, tortured, and brought back to Moscow.

The situation with civil liberties in Russia is outrageous and rapidly becoming more and more catastrophic. More than twenty people are awaiting trial for taking part in the May 6 “riot” (i.e., the brutal attack on a legal, sanctioned rally by riot police). Most of them are in jail. Hundreds of detectives are working day and night to conjure a case out of nothing. One of the arrested confessed and was sent to prison for four and half years. On January 17, while facing similar charges and imminent deportation from the Netherlands back to Russia, Alexander Dolmatov took his own life.

The police have merged the May 6 “riot” case with the Sergei Udaltsov case. Udaltsov is one of the few public opposition leaders from the left. He has been charged with “organizing the unrest” on ”evidence” presented to the entire country during a special broadcast on Russian state-controlled TV. Udaltsov and two other people, one of them, Konstantin Lebedev, an RSM member, are now accused of being the “organizers” of the “riot” that took place on May 6. There is an endless chain of fabricated evidence and trumped-up charges that is directed against the Russian opposition, but mainly the left.

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I was on Bolotnaya: arrest me!

Another group that suffers disproportionately from state repression are anti-fascists. Some of them have been sentenced to prison, while others have been arrested and awaiting trial for months on end.

Please read our appeal for solidarity to learn the details about the recent crackdown in Russia. The RSM and other left groups are in desperate need of solidarity, so any actions of support are most welcome.

Another article of yours, “The ‘Welfare’ State Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This,” talks about the situation of the “welfare state,” a term that in Italian and Russian translates to the “social state.” What is your analysis in this article? What are the social and economic problems in your country?

My basic point in this article is that Russia is not a welfare state, despite the fact that it’s called a “social state” in the Constitution. It lacks a minimum wage (which is set below official subsistence level, i.e., this minimum wage is not enough to avoid dying from starvation). Strikes are almost completely prohibited. The situation with housing, education, health care, childcare, science, and cultural institutions is scandalous, and it’s getting worse day by day.

Even though we now have more than 130 dollar billionaires and one of the world’s largest money reserves, teachers and university professors in some Russian regions are paid the equivalent of 150-250 euros a month, just like doctors and other public employees. Wealth inequality, according to some sources, is the greatest in the world.

Oil and gas-driven growth has not brought prosperity or a meaningful economic future to Russia. It is a country ruled by a parasitic, uncontrollable elite. And their answer to all problems is more neoliberalism, more deregulation. They are currently implementing neoliberal reforms in education, health care, and science and culture, just like in Europe. For example, schoolteachers are forced to compete for wage bonuses, just as schools are forced to compete for pupils. This deliberate introduction of market logic in fields completely alien to it, such as education, health care, and culture, is a basic sign of neoliberalism. And the result is European-style “budget cuts” in a situation where there’s nothing to cut to begin with. The social, scientific, and cultural institutions of the Soviet state are in shambles, and now they are being terrorized yet again by this new neoliberal assault.

What are the problems of universities in Russia? Is the education system under attack by neoliberal policies undertaken by the Putin government? What are the main changes and differences between the education systems in USSR and Russia today?

University teachers have been underpaid for decades in Russia. Average wages are 200-500 euros per month even for those who have degrees. In general, the share of educational spending in the federal budget is very low both in absolute and relative terms. Education amounts to about 4.5 percent of Russian GDP, lower than the OECD average—despite the fact that it needs to be rebuilt, not just maintained.

Another problem is university bureaucracy. The institutions of collegial self-government and university autonomy do not function. Both professors and students are subjugated to the will of the administration.

Some problems, such as the lack of autonomy, are inherited from the USSR; some are new.

For example, the authorities have embarked on a program of university reform. It is basically a neoliberal policy, which identifies “ineffective” institutions of higher learning and closes them or merges them with others. Students, professors, and society as a whole have no say in this.

Still, there are some encouraging signs. The atmosphere in Russia has changed since the protests began in 2011. It is not such an apathetic, depoliticized society as before. And university staff are becoming angry, too: when the education minister blamed them, in an interview, for their incompetence (which, he said, explained their low salaries), more than a thousand professors signed a letter of protest. A new independent university teachers’ union is being created. Just a few days ago, an activist at Moscow State University, Mikhail Lobanov, successfully avoided being fired after a strong campaign of solidarity on his behalf. This might be a small success, but it inspires hope: students are becoming more aware of their potential, and professors are, too. There is an incredible amount of work to be done, but it is much easier now to believe in our eventual success.

Photos taken from the Facebook pages European Revolution, OccupyAbay, and Elena Rostunova without permission but with much gratitude.

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Global Unions Urge Release of Valentin Urusov, Imprisoned Russian Trade Unionist

www.solidaritycenter.org

Global Unions Urge Release of Imprisoned Russian Trade Unionist

February 6, 2012—Trade unionist Valentin Urusov is proof that in Russia, it’s still possible to be imprisoned in the 21st century equivalent of the gulag for standing up for worker rights on the job. An electrical fitter at an ore-processing mill owned by the diamond mining company Alrosa, Urusov has spent more than four years of a six-year term in a penal colony in Yakutia in far northern Russia.

Described by friends as an intelligent and persuasive leader, Urusov in June 2008 formed the Profsvoboda trade union, affiliated with the Russian Metalworkers Trade Union. Profsvoboda sought to represent workers at the Udachny Pipe Diamond Mine, where workers toil in brutal cold in an open diamond pit just outside the Arctic circle.

Days after the union was founded, workers in one of the mine’s vehicle depots, dissatisfied with low pay and working conditions, announced a hunger strike. Alrosa refused to meet with them and instead unleashed a crackdown against trade union activists. When workers responded by preparing for a large-scale protest rally, Urusov was detained on suspicion of narcotics possession. The company’s deputy director for economic security was “coincidentally” present when the drugs were allegedly found on Urusov, enabling the deputy director to serve as an official witness, which is required under Russian law during police searches.

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Valentin Urusov was detained prior to the start of a rally he was organizing. Photo: CSID

According to the Russian Confederation of Labor (KTR), which for years has engaged the international labor community in pressing for Urusov’s release, Urusov told his lawyer that the men who arrested him threatened to kill him if he refused to sign a document stating he possessed the drugs. They took him to the woods, and shots were fired near his head. He was beaten with batons and told he should get ready to die. Further, they demanded that Urusov confess that his union deputy had given the packet to him, but Urusov refused to give false testimony against his co-worker. After Urusov’s conviction, a higher court set aside the verdict, finding that there were serious procedural errors in the handling of his case and referred the case back for retrial. But in a retrial, the lower court did not change the verdict. In 2011, Urusov applied for parole and was denied. Urusov, who suffers from chronic kidney disease, remains in prison.

With Urusov behind bars, the KTR says Alrosa continued its campaign to destroy the union. Management representatives threatened union supporters and even those who had applied to join the union. By March 2009, the company fired the last 13 union activists. They appealed their dismissal in court, but lost. Those dismissed failed to find jobs because all enterprises in the city are linked to the Alrosa company.

The KTR filed Urusov’s case with the International Labor Organization (ILO) which in November issued a report requesting the Russian government indicate whether the allegation of anti-union persecution had been investigated. If not, the ILO recommended the government conduct an independent investigation. Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights in January sent an appeal signed by journalists, human rights activists and other public figures to Russian President Vladimir Putin urging the government follow the ILO recommendations. A recent Human Rights Watch report harshly criticized Russia’s use of laws to restrict civil society.

Russian trade union activists face many types of workplace harassment, sackings and beatings by company thugs. But this is the first time in recent years, trade union activity has been “punished” with a lengthy jail sentence.

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Valentin Urusov: A Worker’s Struggle

In August 2012, the magazine Russian Reporter published a long, detailed article on Valentin Urusov, a diamond miner and trade union activist from Yakutia who was sentenced to six years in prison for drug possession in 2008. I hadn’t heard of Urusov before. Few in and outside Russia have. Despite efforts over the last four years to increase international pressure to have him freed, Urusov’s plight and that of Russian political prisoners like him get overshadowed by more capitalist friendly names like Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the late Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in Russian police custody in 2009, or the more sensational and repackageable Pussy Riot. It’s safe to say we won’t be hearing about the US Congress sponsoring a “Urusov Law,” nor will any of his tormentors find themselves on a US State Department persona non grata list.

Many regard Urusov’s conviction, based on what they allege is planted evidence, as a prime example of the frequent collusion between Russian capital (in this case, the state-owned diamond mining giant Alrosa) and state security organs to stamp out grassroots labor activism. This activism is any case severely handicapped by national trade union umbrella organizations like the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR), a holdover from the Soviet era when trade unions were in fact an arm of the state, and its member organizations, such as Profalmaz, the company-approved local labor union that Urusov and his comrades attempted to bypass by creating their own union.  As Valery Sobol, a local Communist Party leader, says at the end of Veselov’s article, “In our country, the authorities and big business are intertwined in a ball. And anyone who gets in their way is crushed. Here in Yakutia, in the provinces, it’s just more clearly felt.  But it’s the same thing all over the country.”

This is why Andrei Veselov’s profile of Urusov is so important. It complements the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) recent effort to get Valentin Urusov released. (In a similar vein, the Russian Confederation of Labour, the Russian LabourStart group, and the IUF, with backing from IndustriALL Global Union, have just nominated Urusov for the Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights.) But beyond the particulars of Urusov’s case, it illuminates what Russian labor activists struggling to establish independent trade unions endure in Putin’s Russia.

 Follow Free Valentin Urusov! on Facebook for updates.

Sean Guillory

__________

A Worker’s Struggle
How an attempt to create a real labor union lands you in a penal colony
By Andrei Veselov
Russian Reporter
No. 33 (262) • August 23, 2012
Originally published (in Russian) at: http://rusrep.ru/article/2012/08/22/borba

It is now acceptable to talk about political prisoners in Russia—it has become good form. But for some reason, bankers and financiers now and again end up on lists of “prisoners of conscience.” Their troubles are discussed in great detail, and there is sincere sympathy for them. Little is said about the fact that for the last four years Valentin Urusov, a rank-and-file worker, has been doing time at the penal colony in Verkhny Vestyak, Yakutia, for attempting to establish an independent labor union. Russian Reporter has decided to rectify this.

“When they drove off the road into the taiga, I hear, ‘Take out the plastic sheet so nothing gets splattered.’ That, as they say, is when I bid farewell to life, calmed down and resigned myself. I lay on the floor of the car and waited. Hands cuffed behind my back. They pulled me out, put me on my knees and fired three shots over my head. But they didn’t kill me.”

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Valentin Urusov. Photo by Aleskey Maishev for Russian Reporter


The senior officer for education at the colony listens attentively to my conversation with Valentin Urusov, a prisoner at Penal Colony No. 3 in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) and former leader of the independent labor union local in the town of Udachny. After the interview, the officer comes up to me and says, “You know, maybe he is really innocent. But if five percent are wrongly convicted in America, what can you expect from us?”

“What a terrific job!”

The idea that a full-fledged rather than puppet labor union could emerge in Udachny occurred to Valentin, a rank-and-file employee at Almazenergoremont, a subsidiary of the local mining and processing plant, after the scandalous “affair of the sandblasters.” Urusov himself is a local man, although he was born in Karachay-Cherkessia: he has lived in Yakutia since he was two years old and worked here since he was sixteen, mostly at facilities run by the state-owned diamond mining company Alrosa. There are few other options here.

Udachny is a town fourteen kilometers from the Arctic Circle, and one of the three main sites, along with Mirny and Aikhal, where diamonds are mined. Among the workers involved in the mining process are the so-called abrasive blasters or, more simply, sandblasters, whose job is to work solid surfaces with an abrasive, high-pressure stream of air pumped through a hose. It is not a job that is good for the health of the worker, to say the least: pulmonary silicosis is the occupational illness. Neither a safety helmet nor a [hazmat] suit, like cosmonauts wear, helps.

In 2007, a team of these sandblasters demanded overtime pay, which at that time went chronically unpaid. The workers filed a lawsuit and even managed to win their case: the Labor Code was clearly on their side.

“A special commission arrived in Udachny to arbitrate the dispute directly,” explains Andrei Polyakov, an Alrosa spokesman. “The company agreed with the validity of the claims, an agreement settling all grievances was signed, and compensation was paid out. The managers who were in direct dereliction of their duties were punished.”

This happened, it is true, but later. The main scandal occurred when the dispute was still being settled: the semi-official labor union at Alrosa, Profalmaz, negotiated not on the side of the workers, but on behalf of . . . management. This provoked astonishment and outrage in Udachny.

So, on the one hand, Profalmaz’s authority was undermined. On the other, the feeling arose that one’s labor rights could be protected—moreover, in a civilized manner, through the courts and arbitration, the European way, so to speak.

“I just found it interesting. I’m a generally curious person, and that is probably why I’m in prison,” jokes Valentin. “I went online and came across Sotsprof, a trade union association that is an alternative to the FNPR (the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia). I wrote an email to its leader, who was then Sergei Khramov. He replied by sending me documents on how to create a new union.”

“But why a new one?” I ask. “Was it really impossible to make things work within the existing union?”

“All [organizations] belonging to Mikhail Shmakov’s FNPR, including Profalmaz, are not labor unions but appendages of personnel departments. All they do is allocate vacation vouchers. They will never oppose management.”

“Was the only problem overtime and the fact it wasn’t being paid then?”

“Of course not. There were a lot of problems! And then, you understand, this is very difficult work: you have to work night and day, and on holidays, and take someone else’s shift, whatever management says. But you get paid for an eight-hour day. And then there are the working conditions and safety. In the department where I worked, the equipment should have been scrapped twenty years ago, at best. There are a lot of accidents as a result. The ones that were made public were like a speck in a big heap of sand. I got a big piece of flesh taken out of my hand, and that was nothing. Of course, it’s hard to hush up fatal incidents. But fractures and injuries are different. There are thousands of them and nobody cares. It was a shame that the company was so wealthy, that it built five-star hotels and all kinds of business centers, but scrimped on us.”

In Moscow I met with Sergei Khramov, to whom Valentin had sent the email and who had instructed him on creating a union local.

Udachnaya_pipe

The open pit of the Udachnaya Diamond Mine, Russia, from a helicopter,
July 17, 2004. Photo by Alexander Stepanov


“Add to this the aggressive water in the gully where they mine diamonds.” Khramov hands me a complaint from Udachny miners addressed to Vladimir Putin. “It’s nearly acid and it penetrates their rubber suits. Here they write, ‘We don’t know what it is we are breathing when the ventilation equipment is lubricated with used oil.’ Or there’s this one: ‘Cold, unheated air is pumped into the mine, even in winter.’ And it’s minus forty-fifty in winter there. What a terrific job!”

How to frighten a republic’s leadership

Right at this time, in August 2008, the so-called Siberian Social Forum was held in Irkutsk. “Free” trade unions were among the forum’s founders. Urusov’s new acquaintances invited him there, too. In fact, it was a small event, attended by no more than two hundred people, but it made a strong impression on Valentin.

“[Civil rights lawyer] Stanislav Markelov, who was later murdered in Moscow, lectured on legal issues. He was a very competent, energetic, lively man—it’s a shame [what happened] to him. He talked about how to act in this or that situation so as not to set oneself up and achieve [your goals] at the same time. And then the call came. Problems with pay had begun at the second motor depot, and the guys had decided to organize a strike.”

Events unfolded rapidly. In a small suburban home outside of Udachny, Urusov met with motor depot drivers and mechanics in an almost conspiratorial atmosphere and began persuading them to join the union. Armed with new knowledge, Urusov tried to prove to his comrades that if a strike began they would immediately be fired for trumped-up excuses, and there would be no one left to work on getting them reinstated. During the second “conspiratorial” meeting, sixty-two people joined Urusov’s union local.

There were two options as to how to proceed. First, a classic strike. But the Udachny miners had no experience with strikes, and therefore they could easily have been fired for “absenteeism.” And even if they had managed to get fired workers reinstated, they would have lost the initiative, and the remaining workers would have been demoralized. The second option was a hunger strike. Everyone goes to work; there is no downtime and, therefore, nothing for management to complain about. But demands are loudly declared and, basically, a scandal erupts. They chose the second option.

“At first, [management] demonstratively paid no attention to us. Then they see we aren’t going to back down. That is when they began dropping by,” Urusov laughs. “People came from the police, from plant security, from the company itself, trying to talk us out of it. In exchange for setting up a conciliation commission, we suspended the hunger strike.”

However, the commission was unable to achieve a compromise. Management made no concessions.

“We decided to hold an open union meeting right on the town’s central square. It wasn’t a [protest] rally, and by law we weren’t required to notify anyone. On the first day, all the motor depot workers came, plus another two hundred people. The director of the plant came and tried to say something. But he couldn’t answer a single question and left. And right there on the square, people began joining the union. By the end of the day something like three hundred people had joined. We decided to repeat the meeting. The second time, more than eight hundred people gathered. There was no rioting and no laws were broken. We didn’t even have a loudspeaker. By evening, I remember it even now, 1,012 people had joined the union.”

We have to remember that Udachny is a very small town with a population of slightly over ten thousand, and such developments outright scared both the local authorities and certain people in high places. The situation was headed towards a citywide strike and a potential stoppage of diamond mining in the Udachnaya kimberlite pipe—the largest in the world, by the way.

“We have enormous enterprises in our country. Often [they] monopolize their regions, and so a strike or simply a large [industrial] action could freeze an entire industry,” explains Alexander Zakharin, Urusov’s friend and colleague, and chair of the Sotsprof local in Surgut. “And if you organize such an action, you risk running into a brutal response. From the owners and from the authorities. But it happens that milder measures don’t work. Then you need to choose: take a risk or keep your mouth shut.”

At Alrosa itself, the union’s activities in Udachny are seen primarily as an attempt at self-promotion.

“A media effect—promoting awareness of Sotsprof and the number of times it got mentioned in the press—was probably the main objective for some of its executives,” argues company spokesman Polyakov.

As during the [dispute in 2007], Profalmaz adopted a peculiar position in the new confrontation. Its leader, Il Tumen (Sakha Republic State Assembly) deputy Pavel Tretyakov, not only failed to help the workers, but also asked the republic’s leaders to reason with the “rebels.” Profalmaz’s executive committee sent an appeal to the President of Yakutia, Vyacheslav Shtyrov, and FNPR head [Mikhail] Shmakov asking them to prevent “incitement of a conflict.”

Tretyakov later, in a similar vein, told Vasily Gabyshev, the Mirny town prosecutor, “It’s surprising that law enforcement authorities didn’t respond to attempts by various persons to artificially incite conflicts, to calls for illegal hunger strikes and [labor] strikes.”

The Yakutia presidential administration composed a panicked memo on the basis of Tretyakov’s appeals. The President instructed law enforcement agencies to figure out what was happening. (Russian Reporter has all these documents in its possession.) What exactly Shtyrov wanted from the security services is still unclear, but the local office of the FSKN (the Federal Drug Control Service) reacted to the situation, let’s say, in an extremely original way.

Udachny—Aikhal—Mirny

“Then what happened? Then the third of September came. I was leaving my place. I heard a car door open. I instinctively turned around.  It was a simple UAZ[-452], a “Pill” [i.e., a van] with tinted windows. Out came three guys in leather jackets and jeans with shaved heads. I didn’t know them. I immediately knew something was wrong and ran. They caught up to me and knocked me down.”

“Did they show you any identification?”

“Absolutely nothing. They restrained me and brought me to the van. First they handcuffed me with my hands in front. Later, in the van, they tried to cuff me with my hands behind my back. I clasped my hands and held on. They pulled and pulled, broke my finger, and finally handcuffed my hands behind my back. They threw me to the floor and one of them sat on top of me. We drove for a long time.”

It subsequently emerged that Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Rudov, the head of drug control in the Mirny District, had personally led this “operation.” In order to apprehend Urusov, he and his subordinates had driven six hundred kilometers [to Udachny]: [his] “Hunter” [i.e., jeep] was waiting for the “Pill” on the outskirts of the town. In court, Rudov claimed to have had “operational information” that Urusov was involved in selling drugs.

“We asked the court to confirm or refute Rudov’s testimony, and requested written confirmation that the ‘operational information’ had been registered in the police operational ledger,” says Urusov’s attorney Yevgeny Chernousov, a former police colonel who specializes in narcotics cases. “We didn’t demand that this information itself or its source be revealed. We just wanted to confirm that the information had existed. The court did not fulfill our request. There is thus no evidence of its existence. In light of this, Rudov’s unwarranted trip to Udachny and back seems more than suspicious.”

Valentin says that Rudov was on the phone with a certain Alexei Yurevich or Yuri Alexeyevich the whole time, reporting to him that they had “taken” Urusov and wanting to know what to do next. After one of these conversations, the van pulled off into the taiga. There the narcotics officers spread out plastic sheeting and fired a few shots over Urusov’s head, recounts Urusov.

“They were shooting the whole time,” says Valentin. “They shot at birds, and at trees. Apparently, they wanted to frighten me. We had already driven far from town, and basically they could have done whatever they wanted with me.”

At a fork in the Udachny-Aikhal-Mirny road, the car of Grigory Pustovetov, head of security at the Aikhal mining and processing plant, drove up to Rudov’s group “entirely by accident.” Only then did the police decide to search Urusov for drugs. Pustovetov and his driver acted as official witnesses. The search was a complete success: sixty-six grams of hashish oil were found in the union activist’s pocket.

“A number of questions arise,” says an outraged Chernousov. “First, when the arrest happens in one place, but the [official] search with witnesses happens dozens of kilometers away, it’s a clear sign that the drugs could have been planted. Second, if the head of one of a company’s security units serves as a witness when an employee in a labor dispute with that company is being searched, it also gives rise to the most unpleasant thoughts.”

Urusov himself claims the hashish was planted on him in the car after the fake execution. He says that hash oil was specially applied to his hands so that traces of the drug would later be detected when his hands were swabbed.

“When we were organizing the miners’ union in Neryungri (a major industrial center in Yakutia), I was reminded of this story,” says Valery Sobol, first secretary of the Neryungri Communist Party City Committee. “I won’t name the names [of the persons involved] because I live there. Employees of the so-called organs [i.e., the security services] invited me to a pub. We hung out there for a while. Then at another place, and then another. I myself didn’t drink, [but] they drank a lot. And, as if it was an afterthought, though they had summoned me there [to deliver just this message], one of them says, ‘You remember that thing with Urusov? You also better not be naughty. If anything happens, we’ll plant a gun [on you] or whatever.’ And then he laughed. Like it was a joke.”

Several months ago, Sobol nearly won the election for the head of the Neryungri District. He came in second by only a small margin. And if a potential district head can be threatened almost openly, then the kidnapping of a simple working stiff like Urusov, who has no political backing at all, does not seem farfetched.

Sobol and I sat in the kitchen of Sergei Yurkov, an engineer, businessman, and leader of [an organization called] the Russian Community of Yakutia. He met Urusov in a pre-trial detention facility. I ask him how he had ended up there.

“My story is simple. Transneft were building a pipeline here. They didn’t want to pay normal wages to the locals. So when the locals balked, they brought in rural Chinese willing to work for peanuts and live in barracks. When we organized a rally and put up flyers saying this wasn’t how things were done, I was arrested under Article 282 of the Criminal Code for ‘incitement of interethnic hatred.’ What does ‘incitement’ have to do with it? I was sentenced to two years in prison.”

Drugs via the Special Courier Service?

It must be said that the theme of drugs, with which they decided to shut Urusov up, did not arise by accident. Drug use is a local scourge. And this makes sense. There are few other ways to have fun in small towns and villages in the North. That is why on the surface Urusov’s prosecution under a drug statute was meant to have appeared more or less plausible.

“It’s a big problem here, as is drinking,” says Maxim Mestnikov, a Sotsprof spokesman in Yakutia. “When Friday comes, hang onto your head: there is a deluge of knife wounds [and] head injuries.”

But Urusov, in fact, never had the reputation of a mischievous drug addict. In his youth, at the beginning of the 2000s, he and a few friends created an organization called Youth for an Athletic Movement—North, whose activists patrolled the city monitoring places where drugs were sold. Eventually, the mayor of Udachny even suggested that they create a branch of City Without Drugs on the line of [Yevgeny] Roizman’s [controversial anti-drugs organization].

The relationship between certain local [Alrosa] subcontractors and drug dealers, however, may require a separate investigation. Russian Reporter has in its possession an official memo written by Sergei Denisov, predecessor of [Grigory] Pustovetov (the man who acted as a witness during the police search of Urusov) as head of security at the Aikhal mining and processing plant.

The memo is addressed to Yuri Ionov, former vice-president for security at Alrosa, and it deals with the overall crime situation in the area. Among many others, the memo contains the following passage: “It is impossible to ignore the fact that a drug trafficking network has developed in the village. According to operational information from the Mirny office of the FSB, the delivery of drugs is carried out by the [Federal] Special Courier Service, with which Alrosa has a contractual relationship for the transportation of diamonds.” Moreover, the memo shows that confidential and friendly relations exist between certain high-ranking Alrosa executives, law enforcement officers, and outright criminals.

“I’ll say this: the criminal world is generally in first place here,” [Sotsprof’s] Mestnikov says with conviction. “In this respect it is still the nineties here. Something needs to be done so you go to them and they handle it. And this could also have happened with Valentin. Perhaps it was better that they sicked the cops on him and not the wise guys.”

After he presented the memo to Ionov, Denisov was forced to resign and move to Novosibirsk.

“No decision was taken on my report. Ionov showed me the door and said he didn’t need any unnecessary problems. As for Urusov, I can say that it’s a pure frame-up,” [Denisov says].

In May 2010, Lieutenant Colonel Rudov was sentenced to three years probation for fraud and abuse of authority. According to [Urusov’s other] lawyer Inga Reitenbakh, “He was charged with receiving 2.5 million rubles from Alrosa for the purchase of an apartment in Mirny.” The investigators and Rudov himself categorically denied any connection between this case and the Urusov case. Nevertheless, the funds were allocated to Rudov shortly after Urusov’s arrest. According to Russian Reporter’s source, Rudov now works as a procurements specialist in the repair and construction office at the Mirny mining and processing plant.

“He shoots before he thinks”

Urusov was also unlucky in that he had set about creating a Sotsprof local in Udachny exactly when the union’s leadership had entered the complex process of building relations with the Kremlin.

“Beginning in 2007, people from the Russian Presidential Administration began to pressure us very actively,” says Sergei Khramov. “We were strongly recommended to name Sergei Vostretsov from the United Russia party as [our] new leader. I had good reason to believe that if we didn’t, we would simply be destroyed. And I figured, the heck with him, let Vostretsov be leader and do public relations, while I, as Sotsprof’s general labor inspector, will do the day-to-day work.”

The first outcome of this “castling” move was that the formerly oppositional Sotsprof supported Dmitry Medvedev in the 2008 presidential elections.

”And when they began pressuring Valentin, Vostretsov told me not to make any unnecessary noise, because he would fix everything anyway. I knew that the Vostretsov family—his younger brother was the youngest FSB colonel in the country—was very close to General Alexander Mikhailov, the then-director of the Federal Drug Control Service. I thought that Valentin’s case would be decided with a single phone call.”

For the sake of fairness, we should note that complicated events were underway at the Federal Drug Control Service at the time. Viktor Ivanov had replaced Viktor Cherkesov, who had famously publicized the existence of a war within the security services in an article [entitled “We Can’t Let Warriors Turn into Traders”]. In October, General Mikhailov left the FSKN as well. There was simply no one left to make that “single phone call.”

Subsequently, Vostretsov pushed Khramov out of Sotsprof altogether, and the organization became completely loyal to the Kremlin.

In December 2008, the Mirny District Court sentenced Valentin Urusov to six years in prison for drug possession. Vostretsov tried to fight it, but more from behind the scenes: he met with officials from the Yakutia administration and officials of the security services, and even, allegedly, raised the issue of Urusov with Medvedev. It was no use.

Khramov, in contrast, acted publicly. It was he who got the famous lawyer Chernousov to take the case. Chernousov convinced the Yakutia Supreme Court to overturn the verdict (on procedural grounds: the judge had not retired to chambers while considering a motion to dismiss), after which the case was retried.

“I had absolutely no illusions,” Valentin smiles. “After the Supreme Court decision, many people thought I would be exonerated.  I was certain of the opposite, that now I would be ‘shut down’ for sure. This was evident from the faces of those in the courtroom at the second trial. After the first hearing, I gathered my belongings, put on the track suit I’d been wearing while traveling between pre-trial detention facilities and prisons, and from then on I went to hearings in this outfit.”

In Udachny, there is a small newspaper with the humorous name of Gorodok [“The Burg”], edited by a local journalist named Alla Demidova. After Urusov was released, she published a short article. Immediately, the very same day, she got a call from Maxim Dobarkin, one of the police investigators who had participated in Urusov’s “arrest.”

“Dobarkin called me at home,” says Demidova. “Drunk. He told me how many bullets he would put in me, said that ‘he shoots before he thinks,’ that he knows where I live, and that he would ‘get’ me ‘whether in Udachny or in Sochi.’”

“What did you do?”

“I filed a complaint with the FSB.”

“Did they respond?”

“They responded by sending me a one-line answer: ‘There is no threat.’”

Dobarkin, however, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and together with Rudov took command of the Federal Drug Control Service’s interdistrict department in Mirny.

Another Yakutia journalist, Aitalina Nikiforova, was also threatened for covering Urusov’s case.

“I reported on every hearing during the trial from the courtroom. Rudov called me over during one of the hearings and said word for word, ‘Your oldest daughter is fifteen. It would be interesting to see how you’ll defend Urusov after some old drug dealers drug her up and pass her around.’ This definitely sounded like a threat. At the time I was working as editor-in-chief at the only independent newspaper in Mirny, Moya gazeta. The only printing plant in town refused to print us. Local Federal Drug Control Service agents began coming to my house, allegedly because of anonymous tips that I also used and dealt drugs. Some of [the agents] were insolent and rude; others were ashamed, because the last visits took place when I was six to seven months pregnant with my third child.”

After that Nikiforova decided it would be safer to leave her hometown and move to Yakutsk.

In June 2009, the Mirny District Court delivered a new verdict in the Urusov case that completely upheld the previous verdict, but in September the Yakutia Supreme Court lightened Urusov’s prison sentence by one year. The Sotsprof local in Udachny had been crushed. The second motor depot has been completely shut down. The company has had no more problems with the workforce in this town.

“Valentin, whom do you tend to blame for what happened to you?” I finally asked.

“Alrosa is a state-run company. It is owned by the government, by the state, so . . . you understand.”

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Valentin Urusov. Photo by Aleskey Maishev for Russian Reporter


***

“Our government is fascist,” Yurkov, the leader of the Russian Community of Yakutia, suddenly declares, and it sounds quite equivocal.

Sobol, the man who missed becoming head of the Neryungri District by a heartbeat, turns and stops smoking next to the window.

“We have to be precise with our terms: neither Nazi nor nationalist, but precisely fascist as it is understood in Mussolini’s theory of the corporate state, as Franco, Salazar and even Pinochet understood it. In our country, the authorities and big business are intertwined in a ball. And anyone who gets in their way is crushed. Here in Yakutia, in the provinces, it’s just more clearly felt.  But it’s the same thing all over the country.”


Translated by Sean Guillory and
Chtodelat News. Slightly different versions of the same translation have been published by n+1 and Sean’s Russian Blog.

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Campaign Kazakhstan Takes Protest to Tony Blair (London, December 17, 1 p.m.)

blair-protest-flyer-1

Free all political prisoners!

Kazakhstan is a one man dictatorship. Workers across the country are paid starvation wages whilst a tiny minority become fabulously wealthy. When people stand up for their social, human, workers rights, they face vicious repression. Kazakhstan is constantly ranked amongst the lowest in the world for press freedom, human rights, but amongst the highest for corruption and embezzlement. Tony Blair has acted as an apologist for this regime, speaking on its behalf many times.

But this has not stopped people fighting back. The repression is met with a heroic fighback by many in Kazakhstan. Kazakh president Nazarbayev is preparing the way to become the next Mubarrak or Ben Ali.

Aron Atabek
Aron Atabek, a poet and dissident, has been imprisoned for 5 years now for supporting the struggle of residents of Shanrak. They were evicted with no offer of alternative accommodation. For the ‘crime’ of helping in negotiations with the authorities and the residents, Aron was sentenced to 18 years. He has been in solitary confinement for 2 years, denied access to his family. This is illegal under international law. We demand his immediate release, along with all those imprisoned as a result of the Shanrak struggle.

Vadim Kuramshin
Human rights activist and lawyer Vadim Kuramshin has recently been sentenced for 12 years in a retrial, after a jury threw out the charges a few months earlier. Getting rid of all pretense of a fair trial, neither Vadim nor his representatives were not allowed to attend.

Vadim is in prison simply because he is a throrn in the side of the regime, highlighting the many human rights abuses that occur throughout Kazakhstan. For more details on the campaign for Vadim, see our website below.

Who are Campaign Kazakhstan?
Campaign Kazakhstan fights for democratic, social and workers’ rights in Kazakhstan. Through its campaigning material and its web-site, it highlights the conditions facing workers there and organises international solidarity. Many trade union branches and human rights groups have supported Campaign Kazakhstan internationally. Paul Murphy MEP has raised the campaign’s demands in the European Parliament. Jeremy Corbyn MP, Alan Meale MP and Billy Bragg have all supported the campaign.

Campaign Kazakhstan appeals to human rights and press freedom organisations, trade unionists and all those who support democratic, social, worker and political rights in Kazakhstan to:

a) Add their names to the list of sponsors and supporters of the campaign
b) Send letters of protest about the denial of democratic rights in Kazakhstan
c) Spread the word about the situation in Kazakhstan
d) Join protests, lobbies and other campaigns
e) Make a donation through the website and ask your colleagues, family and friends to do the same

campaignkazakhstan.org

_____

Counterpunch
December 13, 2012
The World Bank Brings Nazarbayev University to Kazakhstan
by Allen Ruff and Steve Horn

A year ago, on Dec. 15, 2011,  Kazakhstan state security forces opened fire with U.S.-supplied weapons on oil workers on strike since the preceding May for increased wages and better conditions in the Caspian Sea company town of Zhanaozen. According to the official count, 15 workers died and upwards of 70 were wounded. Unofficial accounts reported much higher number of casualties.  Several hundred miles to the east in the capital, Astana, business went on as usual that day for the Western faculty members and administrators at the recently built multi-billion dollar Nazarbayev University, a joint venture involving the country’s authoritarian regime, the World Bank, and a number of major, primarily US “partnering” universities. This is the first of a three-part series, stimulated by news of the “Zhanaozen Massacre” and initial word of “global university” dealings in Kazakhstan.

Part One

A number of prestigious, primarily U.S.-based universities are quietly working with the authoritarian regime in  Kazakhstan under the dictatorial rule of the country’s “Leader for Life,” Nursultan Nazarbayev.

In a project largely shaped and brokered by the World Bank in 2009 and  2010, the regime sealed deals with some ten major U.S. and British universities and scientific research institutes. They’ve been tasked to design and guide the specialized colleges at the country’s newly constructed showcase university.

As a result, scores of academics have flocked to the resource rich, strategically located country four times the size of Texas. They remain there despite the fact that every major international human rights monitor has cited the Nazarbayev regime for its continuing abuse of  civil liberties and basic freedoms.

Kazakhstan now serves as a key hub for the application of the World Bank’s “knowledge bank” agenda, a vivid case study of the far-reaching nature of a corporate – and by extension, imperial – higher education agenda. . . .

Read the rest of the article here.

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