Tag Archives: Center for Workers’ Mutual Aid (TsVR)

Pyotr Prinyov: “If you want to spit on your future, spit on a migrant worker”

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Pyotr Prinyov: “If you want to spit on your future, spit on a migrant worker”

Pyotr Prinyov is one of the most prominent figures in the Petersburg protest movement. You can spot him at rallies held by workers and forest defenders, dormitory residents and students, and before regular union meetings you can catch him reading Martin Heidegger and Eugene Debs. Having started as a labor activist at the company MM Poligrafoformlenie Packaging, Pyotr is now deputy chair of the interregional trade union NovoProf and one of the leaders at the Center for Workers’ Mutual Aid.

— Pyotr, NovoProf is one of the few Russian trade unions that work with migrant workers. Your campaign in support of Petersburg janitors made a big splash. Tell us how it all began and what the situation is now.

— It all started when workers at Evrotrakt approached us and asked help in organizing a trade union local. Evrotrakt is a property management company that also does cosmetic building repairs in [Petersburg’s] Nevsky district. According to rumors, a certain bureaucrat launched this little firm, which was incorporated in the [Leningrad region] village of Gostilitsy. They say that a Petersburg deputy governor oversees the firm.

The trade union local was formed last winter. The situation there is quite difficult: we are dealing with the issues of wages and migrant workers living in the area where they work. When the janitors started to fight for [better] wages and a more or less acceptable workload, eight out of twenty union members were immediately dismissed. They were also evicted from the place where they were living, in a building slated for resettlement.

— You’re saying the building is unfit for habitation?

— Practically speaking, yes. Evrotrakt lures migrants by providing housing; plus, they make some arrangements with the local police or the Federal Migration Service. Apparently, Evrotrakt, which is quite greedy, decided to house migrants from Tajikistan in this building, which it has been contracted to renovate. And make money off them in the process. Around two hundred people live in the building, ten to twelve people to a flat. There is no running water, and often there is no electricity and heat, as was the case this winter. Just today, we talked with Sevara, one of the activists. They offered to let her an apartment in this building for twenty thousand rubles, although the local council owns the apartment.

— What sort of wages do the janitors make?

— They’re ridiculous. According to the employer, they amount to fifteen thousand rubles a month [approx. 375 euros], but the real wage is much lower. And they have an entire thriving system of penalties [for infringement of work rules] in place. There are months when the workers take home six or seven thousand rubles [approx. 150 to 175 euros] – and this for people living in Petersburg! People are basically starving. Some of them pick leaves from trees to brew “tea.” The workday lasts from dawn to dusk, and they are forced to work on weekends. And they are constantly being conned when it comes to registration [with the Federal Migration Service] and work invitations.

— How are they conned?

— [Employers] use shady firms that ostensibly do the paperwork for the migrant workers, but really just fleece them of ten thousand rubles each [approx. 250 euros]. Then, when their documents are checked [by police or migration officials], it turns out they are fake. People disappear, and new ones arrive to take their place. Migrants are an easy target for law enforcement, and this is beneficial to employers. It is quite easy to force migrants to work a lot and for free or to get rid of undesirables. Especially if you have the right connections.

— Is the situation like this only at Evrotrakt?

— No, this is a quite typical situation. Two busloads of Tajiks are loaded up and taken to a construction site. The first week, they are give ramen noodles to eat; the second, they get nothing. And then they are told, “Beat it! We’re not going pay you. Be grateful we gave you back your passports.”

In fact, this is slavery, but no one pays any mind. Any law enforcement agency needs facts that are backed up by paperwork. But what sort of paperwork could there be in this case? You have to go to the work sites and actually check out what is going on.

— Does corruption play a big role in this business?

— Evrotrakt has close ties with law enforcement agencies, and with the prosecutor’s office. When the migrants filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office, the owner of the firm, apparently imagining he was the Lord God, rang up our janitors and said, “Why are you complaining about me? I have everything under control. You won’t get anywhere.”

The previous company, Lyuks-servis, which Evrotrakt squeezed from the market, was also not known for its philanthropy. Thanks to Memorial [Anti-Discrimination Center], they were fined one and a half million rubles [approx. 38,000 euros] for employing illegal aliens. But Evrotrakt is still fighting this [outcome]. For some reason, the authorities are turning a blind eye. We’ve already taken one case, asking for the fired workers to be reinstated, to court. This is the first step.

—  Does the firm work under a government contract?

— Not under a government contract, but through the tender system. Because they work cheaply, they win bids [for provision of services]. And they work cheaply because they don’t pay wages to their workers, and when they do pay them, it is only enough to buy ramen noodles, which the workers have to wash down with water from the Neva River.

All this is beneficial for the city authorities since they have a workforce they can use to clean the city cheaply.

— But not very efficiently, as the past winters have shown.

— Who cares about efficiency these days? It is easier to hire several thousand Uzbeks than to purchase decent snow removal equipment. Because you can use those Uzbeks to write off a payroll bill that would be enough for them to live on, socially adapt and get job skills. But why pay them when you can just steal the money?

— How do migrants end up in Russia? Is it a spontaneous process, or is it organized?

—  The workers who come here have already been hyped into thinking they will have a place to live, a job and money. Special runners are sent to recruit this workforce. Most of the people who turn to us are from Tajikistan, where things are the worst in terms of social benefits, wages and hope for the future. There are also lots of people coming from Uzbekistan. As a rule, these are people from rural areas who sign up for a job whatever the pay just to be able to leave. It is not just families that come here, but entire villages. The population there has been reduced to total poverty. But on the other hand, we should realize that these are active people, people willing to pick up stakes in one place and move to another country.

—  How well do the migrants know Russian?

—  In our trade union local [for janitors], only three people speak Russian. This is one of the reasons why exploitation of migrants is so advantageous. Tajiks and Uzbeks will not go and file a complaint, simply because they cannot speak Russian. In the slave-trading states they come from, Russian is a nearly forgotten language: it is not taught [in schools] at all. The employer communicates with workers through so-called foremen, who are paid a bit more and have managerial ambitions. A “foreman” of this sort can pocket a portion of the payroll, thus bypassing the boss.

— There have been repeated attempts to create trade unions for migrant workers, but they failed. How do you view the work of organizing foreign workers?

— I see a great future here, but there is one “but.” It should not be a trade union of migrant workers, but a trade union that defends the interests of workers whether they are migrant workers or not. Migrant workers must be included in existing trade union organizations. The trade unions themselves must do this in order to obtain normal industry-wide pay rates for labor and develop their trades normally, rather than relegating them to the level of menials, as we see, for example, in the case of roofers.

At NovoProf, we are now developing a whole program for working with immigrants. Our union basically covers the food industry, one of those sectors where foreign workers are employed. We want to involve migrant workers in the trade union struggle. Otherwise, sooner or later spontaneous riots will kick off, which will scare the local population and play into the hands of nationalists.

— It is argued that migrant workers are an evil, because they take jobs away from Russians. What do you think?

— This is nonsense! The people who make this argument pay no attention to the job market or what is happening around them. Migrants are mostly employed as unskilled laborers, unlike Russians, who usually do not aspire to work as janitors and construction workers. What, if we up and closed the borders right now, the Sukhorukovs and Bondariks [well-known local nationalists] would rush off to work on a construction site or go clean courtyards?

— Why, then, is the topic of migrant workers nowadays such a red flag for many people, including workers?

— These workers do not realize that if you just remove the migrant workers, the niche for slave labor and semi-slave labor will not go away. Our own fellow citizens will fill it. So, if you want to spit on your future, spit on a migrant worker.

Unfortunately, our society has lost the culture of internationalism that existed in Soviet times. I remember very well the attitude to people from other republics in the Kursk region, in the village where I grew up. A lot of families from the south came to our village when the Soviet Union collapsed and the bloodbath began. They were seen as perfectly decent people.

People do not realize that there is this whole policy to ensure that workers fear workers just like themselves who have come from another country. While workers are busy fighting fellow workers across ethnic lines, they are not fighting their immediate exploiters.

It is not profitable for employers to create decent social head starts for the younger generation, so that people not only achieve a certain level of consumption, but also have the opportunity to realize themselves. I guess as long as capitalism exists, this will always be the case. Because it is much more complicated to extract profit from a literate, educated person.

May 21, 2012 — Russian Socialist Movement

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Russian Sounds

Russian Sounds

Activist Film Studio, 2011

 

Concept and editing: Dmitry Vilensky (Chto Delat)

Production collective (research, screenplay, and direction): Sonya Akimova and Max Kulaev (DSPA); Pavel Arseniev, Dina Gatina, Roman Osminkin (Laboratory of Poetic Actionism); Nikolay Oleynikov, Dmitry Vilensky, Foma (Chto Delat); Oleg Zhuravlyev

This film was inspired by the editing, audio and narrative techniques used by Jean-Luc Godard in his film British Sounds (1969). Our film is an attempt to find out whether the spirit (if not the letter) of Godard’s experiments could be transferred to the suffocating reality of Russia on the eve of the 2011-2012 parliamentary and presidential elections. Godard’s film was released during a boisterous, revolutionary period in British politics and society. It was a manifesto for a new agitational cinema capable of describing the totality of social transformations in their dialectical emergence. Are we capable, in the midst of profound political and social reaction, of critically sharing Godard’s vision and aesthetics?

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Activist Film Studio aims to produce and distribute films dealing with activism and with different forms of (re)presenting and internally critiquing protest actions through experiments with the idiom of video art.

The studio’s films are not only educational experiences for viewers. They are the result of a learning process involving the entire collective researching and producing the films.

Activist Film Studio was initiated by Dmitry Vilensky (Chto Delat). It was inspired by previous work on a series of activist films produced by the Chto Delat platform in cooperation with a number of Russian and international activist projects.

Activist Film Studio’s films are produced by filmmakers who value the process of collective filmmaking and by people involved in the production and distribution of activist knowledge by means of cinematic narrative.

Activist Film Studio’s films are freely available on the Internet. They are meant to be screened in seminars and other educational contexts. In any case, public screenings of our films should be followed by open, public discussions.

Activist Film Studio is open to everyone interested in developing the (re)presentation of activist practices and ready to make films collectively. We encourage everyone to contact us for help in realizing their own film projects.

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May Day: The Missing Stanza (Saint Petersburg)

May Day: The Missing Stanza

Directed by S. Krainykhvzlgliadov and Eugene Nevermind; voiceover texts by the directors and Bertolt Brecht

Who? The [May Day] column organized by the Center for Workers’ Mutual Aid (TsVR)

Today is May 1, 2011. The place: Petersburg.

TsVR’s column has been given a permit [to march] by the authorities. The groups planning to march in this column include trade unionists, the Rubezh union [of co-op garage owners], Novoprof [a newly formed trade unions association], organizations protesting the eviction of residents from [former factory and workers’] dormitories, the Petersburg Parents organization and school teachers, as well as university students and instructors who are in solidarity with them, leftist political groups, Autonomous Action, anarchists, the Pyotr Alexeev Resistance Movement (DSPA), and the Russian Socialist Movement.

May 1 is [officially known as] the Day of Labor and Spring, but the majority have come for a demonstration. May 1 is the only day of the year in Petersburg when it is permitted to march down the city’s central thoroughfare and voice one’s demands. All the other days of the year, the city is shut down tight against such demands. City Hall diverts protest actions to the ghetto of the bedroom districts and encircles them with metal detectors and ranks of riot police.

Activist: First, we’ve come to once again voice our civic stance. We’ve merged with TsVR’s May Day column in order to say once again to the authorities that we remember everything. We remember Parnas, and sooner or later someone will have to pay for this.

What? The police

Come here, they say.
You’re a good man.
You’re incorruptible.
But so is the lightning that strikes a house.
You don’t back down from what you said before.
But what was it that you said?
You’re honest: you say what’s on your mind.
But what’s on your mind?

Who? The oppressed

The classical Marxist definition of the state as a coercive apparatus remains true for Russia today. The police, the militia, and other [expletive deleted] are incapable of countenancing a critical stance towards the world they defend. Their argument is the billy club and superior numbers. [Russian] society has become inured to direct violence on the part of the state and right-wingers. The use of brute force has become the norm in politics. The crisis of political power and society exposes chains adorned with flowers.

Man off camera: He cannot tell me why those people were detained.
Police commander: So you’ve stopped your column and don’t want to go any further, right? So now you have to fold up your flags and disperse, or else you’ll be charged with an administrative offense.

You are bold,
But in the struggle against whom?
You are intelligent,
But whom does your intelligence serve?
You are not concerned about your own gain,
But whose gain are you concerned about?
You are a good friend,
But are you a good friend of good people?
Listen, friend!
We know you are our enemy.

Police commander: …cans of mace, paint cans, knives, and so forth – things [the law says] have to be investigated at a police precinct. […] As far as I know it was anarchists who were detained, on whom we found knives, cans of mace….
Man off camera: What sorts of knives?! Hunting knives? I also have a knife in my pocket: I always carry it.
Police commander: Well, I don’t [carry a knife].
Second man off camera: Did you search the fascists to see what they’re carrying?
Police commander: Fascists? There are no fascists here.

Who? Those who show solidarity

Activist: We have to stay here as long as possible, until a confrontation begins.
Man off camera: But what are we going to do if they took [the anarchists] away?
Activist: Let [the police] bring them back. It’s their fucking problem: they arrested part of [our] column.

Activist with megaphone: [This is] lawlessness directed against absolutely innocent people, against the participants of this demonstration. Comrades of ours who were marching in our TsVR column have just been arrested. These actions on the part of the police were not explained in any way. Therefore we are not moving this spot until our comrades and fellow marchers are released.

Forty members of our May Day demonstration have been arrested. For us, the demonstration is not a demonstration if our friends are not with us. Solidarity. So-li-da-ri-ty. It’s not a empty word for us, but rather the only means for confronting violence.

Petersburg, 2011

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Anarchists Arrested Ahead of May Day Celebrations
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
May 4, 2011

St. Petersburg authorities arrested dozens of anarchists and left-wing activists to prevent them from marching as part of the May Day demonstrations on Nevsky Prospekt on Sunday.

Spearheaded by St. Petersburg Governor and pro-Kremlin party United Russia member Valentina Matviyenko, a wide range of political parties and movements, trade unions and pressure groups took part in the demonstrations.

The main demands of the opposition in St. Petersburg were the dismissal of Matviyenko and the restoration of gubernatorial elections that were abolished by then-President Vladimir Putin in 2005.

More than 50 anarchists, including 14 minors, were approached by the police at the assembly point on Ligovsky Prospekt and arrested without any reason given, they say. Videos uploaded on anarchists’ web sites show them being dragged roughly into a police bus while trying to raise an anti-Nazi banner and shouting, “Down with the police state!”

The arrested activists were due to march as part of a column of leftist groups led by the Center for Workers’ Mutual Aid (TsVR), which had been authorized by City Hall. The other activists in the column refused to march until the anarchists were released, and remained at the gathering point, preventing columns of democrats and nationalists from moving forward for some time.

In a report on the TsVR Livejournal.com community blog, they said they stood on the spot for an hour and a half and left only when police threatened to disperse and arrest them.

According to Tatyana, an anarchist who did not wish her last name to appear in print, the arrested activists were charged with violating the regulations on holding public events and failing to obey police orders.

Later, seven more anarchists were arrested when they attempted to block the United Russia column — the largest group in the march, estimated by officials to number between 15,000 and 20,000 supporters — on Nevsky Prospekt. The police promptly dragged the anarchists away after they lay down on the ground and interlocked their arms. Later, two managed to escape from the police precinct they were taken to, while another two were sentenced to two and three days in prison, respectively.

Two years ago, more than 100 anarchists were arrested in a similar manner — despite having a permit from City Hall — before they started their May Day march, but last year they were allowed to march on Nevsky Prospekt. They moved down the street in a close group wrapped in banners, with their arms interlocked to counteract possible arrests.

Commenting on the arrests on 100 TV channel the same day, Matviyenko claimed that “every political party or group that was legal was allowed to march on Nevsky.”

Under the Soviets, people were asked to participate in marches to demonstrate their support for the state and the party either to obtain benefits or under mild threat. In modern Russia, the holiday has remained, though it has been renamed from International Workers’ Solidarity Day to Spring and Labor Day.

Although the ultranationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) was banned by Moscow City Court a week ahead of May Day, the nationalists had no problem in marching in St. Petersburg on Sunday. City Hall had authorized their demo when they applied as private citizens.

In the same television interview, Matviyenko denied that nationalists had taken part in the rallies, despite the fact that they marched on Nevsky with “imperial” Russian flags and nationalist banners.

LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender) activists were not authorized to take part in the marches by City Hall. They were invited to hold a standup meeting instead in a distant park, but late last week they were told that the site would be occupied by a different event.

City Hall’s new suggestion for the LGBT group Ravnopraviye (Equality) was to hold a meeting outside the city, at a location described by an activist as a field between a forest and a lake.

Eventually, a small group of LGBT activists joined the democratic group featuring the Yabloko Democratic Party and Solidarity Democratic Movement, marching with rainbow flags and posters.

One hundred and eighty activists of The Other Russia party, twelve members of which are under criminal investigation for alleged extremism, marched with the banner “You Can’t Jail Everybody” and shouted slogans against Putin and Matviyenko. No one was arrested.

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