Tag Archives: ITUA (Interregional Trade Union of Auto Workers)

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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Filed under activism, critical thought, interviews, leftist movements, political repression, protests, Russian society, trade unions, urban movements (right to the city)

Update! Leftist Activist Andrei Bitkov Press-Ganged into Russian Army for Supporting Striking Auto Workers in Kaluga

anticapitalist.ru

Andrei Bitkov, who was kidnapped on the morning of May 22, has been sent from the Kaluga military enlistment office to a military unit, said Dmitry Kozhnev, Kaluga coordinator of the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA/MPRA). The recent harassment of Bitkov and other Russian Socialist Movement (RSD) activists by law enforcement authorities was provoked by their involvement in the trade union struggle; in particular, they supported workers at the Benteler Automotive plant during a strike in March 2011.

According to Kozhnev, Bitkov was kept all day [May 22] at the military assembly point [in Kaluga]. “The draft board wanted to send him for an additional medical examination, but the FSB made a deal with the commander of the conscription center. On the part of the FSB, this was all organized by the very same Andrei who put pressure on Daniil Pyatov [another RSD activist],” Kozhnev said. Bitkov has already been dispatched to Military Unit No. 49345, in the Moscow region town of Shcherbinka.

“The actions of the security services and the military enlistment office are deliberate and blatantly illegal. A court hearing was scheduled f0r May 29 to decide whether Andrei Bitkov could be exempted from enlistment due to health reasons. In fact, Kaluga authorities are taking revenge on a active member of the labor and leftist movements,” said a an RSD spokesperson.

RSD and ITUA activists fear for Bitkov’s health and safety. The military unit where he has been sent is notorious for its cruel treatment of conscripts. In addition, there is every reason to believe that law enforcement agencies will soon carry out other provocations against leftist and trade union activists in Kaluga.

For more information, contact Dmitry Kozhnev, ITUA Kaluga coordinator, at +7 (903) 800-3696.

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Turn Off the News: Tikkurila Is Lying

Turn Off the News: Tikkurila Is Lying

What would you think if you saw a news report on TV claiming that Citizen A. was engaged in a “dirty campaign” against Citizen B., who in turn was presented as an utterly honest man, but the evidence against Citizen A. took the form of quotations from anonymous sources? If a report like that were shown on Russian TV, any viewer with an ounce of common sense would deem it the product of the “black PR” techniques common in our country and would suspect that the journalists who filed it had sold out. Although they rightly do not trust their own mass media, Russian citizens customarily believe that the mass media in western countries are independent. Reporters at the Finnish channel MTV3 have managed to discredit that opinion.

“A Strange War”

On October 13, viewers of the MTV3 news and analysis program 45 minuuttia (“45 Minutes”) were told about a “strange war” being carried about “by a tiny group of [Russian] activists” against the Finnish company Tikkurila. According to the report, Tikkurila management is perplexed by the “dirty campaign” that has been organized against it and informs the Finnish audience that other Finnish firms have been “attacked” in this same strange manner. Viewers are told that that fourteen lawsuits are currently under review in the courts in connection with this campaign, a video detailing the horrible working conditions at the company’s Petersburg facilities has been uploaded to the Internet, and numerous negative articles have been published in newspapers. However, “according to Tikkurila management, the unpleasant video is for the most part fabricated. The shop floor [in question] was shut down half a year ago, and now it looks like this [we are shown a pleasant picture].” Sergei Kruglov, chair of the trade union committee at Tikkurila Petersburg, tells viewers that management is pressuring the union. Tikkurila Petersburg’s managing director, Simo Laitala, comments on Kruglov’s remarks: “It would be interesting to know what pressure he’s talking about. At our company, one can freely join a trade union or leave it.” This is followed by a brief prehistory of the conflict as interpreted by management: “The problems began when Tikkurila purchased TEKS [a similar paint-manufacturing plant in Petersburg] in 2006. A portion of the jobs at the plant was eliminated after production was automated. Later, problems began with a small local of the ITUA [Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers], which complains of harsh working conditions, bad wages, and bad management.”

All that the Finnish audience is told about the trade union is that it is small and “marginal,” but that it has a “large leadership”: “When it was founded, all ten members were appointed either chairs or vice chairs.” “In practice, this means they’re all protected by the law, that none of them can be fired,” comments Mr. Laitala. In its protests, the trade union “has gone surprisingly far,” says Mirja Tiri of the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce: “Trade union activists have carried out actions against Tikkurila products at retail outlets. This is not normal trade union activity, but something else… The motives for such actions are not clear; we do not know who is behind them and on what principles this trade union operates. It is not known who is financing them.” Simo Laitala again comments: “I first learned about their demands through the media. They’re constantly demanding the dismissal of two people – the personnel manager and the head of security. And that the pressure against them be stopped. But outsiders cannot hire or fine anyone… There has been no pressure [on the union] on the part of company management.”

Viewers are then treated to excerpts from comments given by anonymous “experts,” “who did not consent to appear on camera.”

A representative of the Finnish Foreign Ministry: “There have been protests at certain foreign firms [operating in Russia], but there are no clear demands for improvements. The organizers [of these protests] might come from the outside or this activity might have been commissioned from outside ‘consulting companies.’”

General director of a Finnish company: “I’ve also heard that when the protesters were asked why they were participating in pickets, they replied that they didn’t know, that they’d been paid to do it.”

An employee of a Finnish company who is in charge of operations in Russia: “In Russia, there are two types of trade union organizations – those that sincerely try to improve working conditions, and those that create the problems themselves and then offer to solve them.”

Potemkin Villages

Before we evaluate this report, we have to discuss how it was filmed. In late September, ITUA activists were contacted by a group of Finnish TV journalists interested in the conflict at Tikkurila’s Petersburg facilities. The reporters simultaneously asked company management permission to film at the company’s plants. On September 28 and 30, a TV crew visited the production facilities in Obukhovo (the “old” Tikkurila plant) and on Utkin Prospect (the former TEKS plant). However, Sergei Kruglov, chair of the ITUA Tikkurila local, was able to accompany the TV crew only at the Obukhovo facility. None of the trade union’s activists was admitted into the former TEKS facility along with the TV crew. In fact, there were no other workers at the plant, either, because an inventory check had been (accidentally?) scheduled for the day shooting took place. Journalists were shown empty, ideally clean shop floors.

At the Obukhovo facility, Ms. Rennblad, director for production, proudly demonstrated to her guests a showcase shop floor that had been outfitted with recently purchased, up-to-date equipment. However, the toxic warning labels on the containers used to store harmful raw materials had been removed beforehand. Sergei Kruglov’s attempts to lead the “tourists” away from the management-approved route were peremptorily nipped in the bud. Ms. Rennblad thus categorically refused to show the journalists Shop Floor No. 1, where, according to the trade union, occupational safety rules are crudely violated (the quantity of hazardous substances present there surpasses all imaginable norms, there are no exhaust fans, etc.)

Along with detailed commentary, trade union activists supplied the journalists with a number of documents backing their accusations against Tikkurila. However, as the broadcast report shows us, all this evidence was ignored.

Lie No. 1: “A Conspiracy against Finnish Companies”

Tikkurila management declares that not only has it fallen victim to a “strange attack,” but “other Finnish firms” have been attacked as well. The anonymous spokesman for the Finnish Foreign Ministry claims that “there have been protests at certain foreign firms” without clear demands; moreover, “this activity” has been commissioned by outside forces. That is, there is a certain conspiracy against Finnish or foreign entrepreneurs in Saint Petersburg, and the ITUA’s campaign at Tikkurila is part of this conspiracy.

In reality, these claims are absolutely groundless. Tikkurila is the only Finnish company in Saint Petersburg (and, as far as we known, in all of Russia) that has sparked protests this year in connection with its violations of labor rights. The pickets held this past summer at the building supply supermarkets in the K-Rauta chain (a subsidiary of the Finnish concern Kesko) were meant to inform consumers about the exploitation of workers at Tikkurila’s Petersburg facilities and the persecution of the trade union local at the plants. It goes without saying that no complaints were directed against K-Rauta or Kesko. We requested only thing from the management of these supermarkets: that they express their displeasure over what is happening at the plants to Tikkurila management. We held exactly the same pickets outside supermarkets in the French chain Leroy Merlin. Whether a company is Finnish- or foreign-owned has never made any difference to us. We do not divide workers by nationality or race, nor do we divide employers in this way either.

When we held pickets outside the Finnish consulate in Saint Petersburg and the local office of the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce, we submitted written appeals in which we asked them to put pressure on Tikkurila management. In these letters, we invariably underscored the fact that the vicious practice of repressing trade unionists harmed the reputation in Russia of the Finnish business community, which has traditionally been considered socially responsible.

Aside from Tikkurila, the ITUA has a local only at one other Finnish production facility in Saint Petersburg, Nokian Tires. In addition, there is an independent trade union at Fazer Amico (which operates cafeterias); like the ITUA, this trade union is a member of the Russian Labor Confederation (KTR). It would be wrong to say that the situation with the observance of trade right union rights is trouble-free at either of these companies, but neither the ITUA or anyone else is engaged in protest or informational campaigns against management there. Or could it be that Mr. Laitala and the anonymous commentators who support him view the very fact of a trade union being organized as a declaration of war? If that is so, then in Finland itself, with its strong, massive trade union movement, this “strange war” has already been going on for many decades.

Lie No. 2: The “Fabricated Video”

Mr. Laitala claims that the video showing the horrible working conditions in the No. 2 water-based paints manufacturing shop floor at the Utkin Prospect facility is “for the most part fabricated, [and] the shop floor was shut down half a year ago.” Tikkurila Petersburg’s managing director is lying; moreover, his lie is amateurish. As he accuses the ITUA of fabricating the video, he does not explain to a curious TV audience what exactly was fabricated and what he means by “for the most part.” Perhaps the “unpleasant video” was shot at some other company’s production facility, not at Tikkurila? Perhaps it is not Shop Floor No. 2 we see in the video, but something else? Then why does Mr. Laitala try to justify himself by claiming that the shop floor was closed half a year ago? Or are we dealing here with a clever editing job in which real footage has been mixed with faked footage? We would not advise Mr. Laitala to make such a claim, because the ITUA has the original footage in its possession and we are prepared to hand it over to independent experts for verification. Or, when he says that the shop floor was closed, is Mr. Laitala trying to accuse us of covering up certain facts?

The facts, however, are as follows: a trade union activist shot the video in question on a mobile phone on January 29. At that moment, the ITUA was fighting to have a workplace safety inspection carried out at the plant and conditions there declared hazardous; it had asked the State Labor Inspectorate and other monitoring agencies to inspect the company’s facilities. This, apparently, was the main reason why Shop Floor No. 2 was closed in February 2010. The video was edited in March, when the ITUA had launched a campaign to get fired activists reinstated to their jobs. (This is when subtitles and music were added to the documentary footage.) This is quite easy to verify because the text accompanying the video ends with the following phrase: “Since February 2010, the shop floor has been closed, and the equipment shut down […] but not disassembled. Operations in the shop floor can be resumed at any moment […] and the modern, hi-tech production process at the plant will start up once more.” That is, what Mr. Laitala claims in the given instance was something we never questioned. However, the head of Tikkurila Petersburg is merely trying to pass off one of the ITUA’s victories as evidence of the humaneness of his company, which allegedly improves the conditions of its workers of its own free will. And he tries to use this fact to discredit his opponents. Very clever!

If we had been in the shoes of the Finnish journalists, we would have asked Mr. Laitala tougher questions. For example, is it true that Tikkurila employees work with ethylene glycol, a substance that can cause severe poisoning whose symptoms include loss of consciousness, respiratory problems, and convulsions? And what about the other toxic materials used at the Petersburg facilities, such as dibutyl phthalate (whose fumes damage the mucous membranes in the gastrointestinal tract and the liver), preventol (headache, stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, rapid pulse), Dowanol (headache, dizziness, weakness, palpitations, eye irritation, watery eyes), and Varsol 40 (which, besides causing dizziness, a feeling of intoxication, weakness, eye irritation, coughing, and itchiness, is also potentially explosive)? Do workers at Tikkurila receive the required extra pay for hazardous work? Have work-safety inspections been carried out at the plants? Are workers informed about risk factors?

The most amazing thing is that the Finnish TV journalists could have asked all these questions: ITUA activists presented them with the draft of an occupational safety instruction manual that was compiled in 2008 by V.K. Vasilenko, head of the laboratory at Tikkurila, but which company management did not sign off on. However, for some reason the journalists did not ask these questions. Why didn’t they?

Lie No. 3: “Freedom”

“It would be interesting to know what pressure he’s talking about. At our company, one can freely join a trade union or leave it,” Simo Laitala cynically declares. In this case, why has practically the entire core of ITUA activists at Tikkurila been thrown out on the street, while those who remain employed at the company are being blackmailed by management into quitting the ITUA? Why has trade union committee chair Sergei Kruglov been on forced downtime since February and making only two thirds of his normal wage? Why was Igor Ramko fired as the result of a criminal investigation that began with a “tip-off” from Tikkurila and reinstated to his job (by court order) only four months later? Why is management trying to instigate a similar case (involving an allegedly faked medical certificate) against another union member, Nikolai Chuvilin? Why have five of the six disciplinary actions taken against members of the trade union committee been thrown out by the courts as unfounded? Why was Igor Tyabin forced to quit the trade union after management threatened to hold him liable for damages in the amount of 300,000 rubles? Why was Alexander Kalnyuk, a top-grade specialist and presidential medal winner who has trained more than one generation of young workers, among those who were laid off? We could continue this list of questions ad infinitum.

Of course, Tikkurila dreams up the most varied excuses to rid itself of undesirable employees. However, Mr. Laitala amusingly lets the cat out of the bag when he says, “When [the ITUA Tikkurila local] was founded, all ten members were appointed either chairs or vice chairs. […] In practice, this means they’re all protected by the law, that none of them can be fired.” Actually, if you were to take on faith Laitala’s assertion that trade union members at Tikkurila are in no way threatened, then such precautions would seem utterly superfluous. But then why have all those members except for local chair Sergei Kruglov been fired? The answer is simple: because the precautions taken by the trade union committee were not superfluous but too late. Amendments introduced late last year to the Russian Labor Code have abolished the “immunity” of elected trade union officers. Employers are now required to get approval from senior trade union officials only when they want to fire chairs of local trade union committees.

How things stand with “rights and freedoms” at Tikkurila is vividly demonstrated by an order that Mr. Laitala issued on March 22, a photocopy of which is in our possession. It reads as follows: “I hereby order that: 1.  Operating procedure (no. 2) for employees be followed in cases where requests are made to publicly comment in the mass media on events/news at the company. 2. All employees must promptly (within one working day) report requests made by journalists/media representatives to the communications director of Tikkurila, Ltd., at his work phone/mobile phone, as well as by e-mail. 3. It be considered inadmissible for employees to make public comments on corporate events/news (that have not been approved by the communications director).” Mr. Laitala might also call this document a fabrication, of course. But should we believe people who instigate fabricated criminal cases against trade union activists?

Lie No. 4: “The Trade Union Doesn’t Want Dialogue”

Simo Laitala has on more than occasion stated that he found out about the trade union’s demands from the mass media, that the trade union rejects dialogue with management, etc. Our Pinocchio is lying once again. The ITUA issued its first request for negotiations on March 30. In his reply, dated April 12, Mr. Laitala thanked the trade union and apologized for the delay in replying due to a business trip abroad. He also informed the ITUA that he would “read [our] letter and tender a reply in the near future.” Unfortunately, we never got that reply. On April 16, Boris Kravchenko, president of the All-Russia Confederation of Labor, sent an official letter to Tikkurila management, but this was likewise met with no response. On August 6, after Mr. Laitala stated in an interview with a Finnish business publication that the ITUA showed no desire to deal with company management, we sent him another appeal for negotiations. Our copy of the letter contains a notation that the letter was received at 3:20 p.m. on August 9, and recorded in the registry under No. 78 by a secretary, Ms. Suldina. Are you not ashamed, Mr. LIEtala?

Lie No. 5: “Non-Trade Union Methods”

“Trade union activists have carried out actions against Tikkurila products at retail outlets. This is not normal trade union activity, but something else,” says Mirja Tiri from the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce. Ms. Tiri’s comments might make one think that she is talking about “terrorist strikes” organized by the trade union or deliberate damage inflicted on the company’s products. In reality, the “actions against Tikkurila products” were peaceful, officially permitted pickets outside shopping centers during which activists handed leaflets to shoppers asking them to boycott Tikkurila paint products until the demands of workers were met. In order to express their solidarity with the trade union’s struggle, leftist youth groups drew graffiti and distributed stickers criticizing Tikkurila. Commenting on these actions, the ITUA has invariably stated that it uses only legal methods.

If Ms. Tiri believes that pickets outside retail outlets are “not normal trade union activity, but something else,” then she is either deliberately distorting reality or she does not know what she is talking about. Trade unions all over the world resort to public boycotts against the products of companies that crudely violate the rights of workers. Examples include the boycotts against Coca Cola, Unilever, Nestle, and many other transnational corporations initiated by global trade unions. Nor is it a secret that many trade unions, including in Western Europe, resort to the radical methods of civil disobedience, which often escalate into violent confrontations with the police. It suffices to look at French and Greek trade unionists, whose radicalism the ITUA still has a very long way to go to match. But Ms. Tiri has apparently been transformed into a lowbrow Russian bureaucrat and thus approves only the style of trade union activity exemplified by “yellow,” management-run pseudo trade unions.

Lie No. 6: “Someone Is Behind” the ITUA

Ms. Tiri’s complaints to the effect that the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce does not know “who is behind” the ITUA, what principles it operates on, and who finances it are hypocritical, to say the least. If the leadership of the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce wanted to find out more about the work and principles of the ITUA, then there was nothing preventing them from contacting us: the trade union’s contact information is a matter of public record. However, the Chamber has done everything possible to insure that such contact has not taken place. On September 8, we held a picket outside the Petersburg office of this organization in order to draw the attention of the Finnish business community to the problems at Tikkurila. Before the picket, we sent a letter addressed to the head of this organization, Mr. Tiirikainen, requesting that he meet with the picketers, consider our appeal, and bring his influence to bear on Tikkurila management. Instead of this, however, we were confronted with the Chamber’s pointed unwillingness to engage in any dialogue whatsoever. A day before the picket, the ITUA was informed that the Chamber “cannot intervene in the activities of other commercial entities” and “is not empowered to receive official petitions” (which directly contradicted the information posted on the Chamber’s official web site). By a strange coincidence, the directors of the Petersburg office had gone on holiday the day before the picket, and we arrived to find the doors firmly locked during the height of a working day. Only after lengthy negotiations by telephone with Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputy Vladimir Fyodorov did Mr. Garevsky, the chamber’s legal consultant, come out to meet with the picketers. He took our letter and promised to pass it on to his superiors.

It is telling how Ms. Tiri frames the question: “We do not know who is behind [the trade union].” Apparently, she has no doubt that, aside from its dues-paying members, there is someone else behind the ITUA. In polite society, it is customary to provide proof for such claims. But because there is no proof whatsoever, the libelous accusation is disguised as hypocritical bewilderment.

The anonymous commentators from Finnish companies and the Finnish Foreign Ministry continue the relay race of brazen insinuations. One of them claims that activists from the ITUA and organizations in solidarity with it are paid for their participation in pickets. Another commentator suggests that the ITUA local at Tikkurila “create[s] the problems [itself] and then offer[s] to solve them,” while a third alludes to certain “consulting companies” who, allegedly, were commissioned to organize the “war” against Tikkurila. It is beneath our dignity to refute such insinuations. We will ask our anonymous commentators only one question: what are you afraid of? Is the ITUA really such an ominous organization that you fear for your life or your wallet? Or maybe it is a lot simpler, and you hid your faces so that you could lie with impunity?

Unprofessionalism or Corruption?

So let us summarize. On October 13, MTV3 broadcast a flagrantly biased report based wholly on statements made by Simo Laitala, Tikkurila Petersburg’s managing director; Mirja Tiri, a spokesperson for the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce (which serves the interests of Finnish companies); two anonymous businessmen; and an anonymous bureaucrat from the Finnish Foreign Ministry. What guided the journalist who filed this report, Mirja Sipinen, in her choice of experts? Why didn’t she include the leaders of the ITUA and other independent trade unions, independent analysts, and, finally, rank-and-file workers? What was the decisive factor here? The absence of elementary notions of journalistic ethics? Unprofessionalism? Gullibility? Class prejudices? Or was it something else, say, a direct payoff from Tikkurila?

We are no longer surprised when we see “socially responsible” European employers adopting the worst traits of “wild” Russian capitalism. But when the democratic Finnish mass media begin adopting the mores of the corrupt and subordinated Russian press, it is shocking. However, isn’t information really just a commodity like paint? Doesn’t freedom of speech just boil down to free trade? You paint one person black, the other person, white. Everything is done to please the client – the portly gentleman puffing a cigar and wearing a top hat marked with a dollar sign.

Editor’s Note. The original Russian text of this article was provided to us by the ITUA. We have translated  and published it in solidarity with their campaign.

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Finlandization: Maximum-Security Tikkurila (Saint Petersburg)

“We are good corporate citizens in our communities.”

Source: http://www.tikkurilagroup.com/responsibility

“We care for our employees and their well-being and put a strong emphasis on occupational health and safety issues.”

Source: http://www.tikkurilagroup.com/responsibility/personnel/

Maximum-Security Tikkurila

Tikkurila, which owns two production facilities in Saint Petersburg, is a characteristic example of how a corporate carrot can easily turn into a corporate stick.

Built in the late nineties by Finns using Finnish technology, the company’s water-based paints manufacturing plant in Petersburg (the so-called old Tikkurila plant) was long considered an oasis of humane euro-capitalism in the city. As one worker recalls, “In 1997, our salary was 500 dollars a month, and until 2007 we got annual 20-30% pay raises. Moreover, wages were automatically indexed for inflation. There was also the annual bonus. Even during the [1998 ruble] default, when there were no raw materials and sales fell, Tikkurila didn’t lay off workers, but instead shortened the workday. There were lots of different benefits – for example, company-paid medical insurance, wonderful working conditions, polite management. In short, we were absolutely satisfied and naturally didn’t think about [organizing] a trade union.”

In 2007, when Tikkurila acquired another Petersburg plant, TEKS, everything changed. For workers at the “old” Tikkurila plant, it appeared as if the “gangster-like” TEKS had squashed their peaceful communist oasis. Soon after the merger, management began introducing so-called lean manufacturing methods at the plant. As one senior manager noted with satisfaction, the company saved 35 million rubles as a result of this “breakthrough.”

The new management, which came to the Tikkurila plant from TEKS, immediately began establishing their own rules. They started to squeeze out the old managers and, later, workers, telling them to their face that they had been living high on the hog. They instituted a twelve-hour workday in place of the previous seven-hour workday, and yet wages fell approximately from 27 to 32 thousand rubles a month to 16 to 20 thousand rubles a month. They did away with inflationary indexing and extra pay for work in hazardous conditions, began paying workers by the hour, and introduced a draconian system of fines.

Working conditions at TEKS recall those described by Friedrich Engels in The Condition of the Working Class in England, the only difference being that this is happening now, not in the 1840s. The video secretly shot by workers on one TEKS shop floor makes an unforgettable impression: people and equipment are literally drowning in silicate dust. (For handling such materials as talc and Finntalc, bags of which are clearly visible in the video, workers are supposed to get a four-percent pay bonus – which, of course, is not paid to them.) Instead of the maximum 435 kg that a worker is allowed to move from the floor over the course of an hour [under Russian workplace regulations], Tikkurila workers are obliged to lift around 1100 kg in ten minutes, and completely for free. For the working conditions at Tikkurila are considered neither difficult nor hazardous, and that means that people are not supposed to get extra pay for such work.

Naturally, quality suffers as well. The equipment at the TEKS plant is old, often dating back to Soviet times. Production methods are similarly dated, and after the merger they were also introduced at the “old” Tikkurila plant. According to workers, cheaper substitutes are now used more and more often instead of more expensive, high-quality raw materials. In the production of whitewashes, for example, Scandinavian-made microdol-5 is no longer used. Instead, a cheaper, Turkish-made analogue is used, which makes the paints whiter, but severely reduces their covering capacity. This is “lean manufacturing” in all senses of the word.

Intimidation and Struggle

In July 2008, when management began forcing workers to sign additional clauses to their work contracts that would significantly lower wages and cut benefits, part of the workforce at the “old” Tikkurila formed an oppositional local of the Russian Chemical Workers Union (Roskhimprofsoiuz), an affiliate of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR). However, this attempt to defend their labor rights was vigorously resisted by management. Here is an abridged chronicle of what the trade union local went through during its brief albeit stormy history:

July–December 2008. Membership in the local grows to forty members.

April–May 2009. The union asks the corporate fraud investigation department to audit the company. Union leaders are subjected to baseless disciplinary sanctions and fines.

22 September 2009. As a result of the audit, Tikkurila general director Yevgeny Shupik is dismissed. Finnish manager Simo Laitala is appointed the new general director.

25 September 2009. Management attempts to force workers to provide written explanations as to why they met with union chair Sergei Kruglov and his deputy during a routine break. Workers collectively refuse to submit written statements. “Overseers” from company security are assigned to union activists.

October–November 2009. Union membership grows: 120 TEKS workers join workers from the “old” Tikkurila plant.

28 October 2009. The union begins collecting signatures on a petition in which they express their lack of confidence in company personnel director Tsinchenko and security director Kalinin. The petition is signed by seventy workers.

31 November 2009. The union is informed of the impending layoffs of fifteen workers in connection with a restructuring of production. Among the workers scheduled to be laid off, ten are trade union members.

28 January 2010. After a complaint is filed by union members Vakulenko, Abrosimov, Ramko, and Makeev, the Federal Consumer Protection Service inspects safety conditions at the TEKS plant.

30 January 2010. The electronic passes of Vakulenko, Abrosimov, Ramko, and Makeev are deactivated by company security. In order to work their shifts, the men are forced to trick their way into the plant.

February 2010. Ten of the fifteen workers scheduled for redundancy are laid off: all of them are union local members. The five non-union members are all assigned new jobs by management. By April, the union files twelve cases with the courts asking that the workers be reinstated and that disciplinary measures taken against them be rescinded. The union has already won three of these cases.

11 February 2010. Company security director Kalinin asks the police to investigate whether a criminal case should be opened against union activist Igor Ramko. He is accused of providing a counterfeited medical slip when he applied for a job at the company two and a half years earlier.

25 February 2010. The trade union committee asks the prosecutor’s office to open a criminal case against personnel director Tsinchenko for his attempt to illegally fire Ramko and Makeev retroactively “at their own behest,” although they did not in fact submit written resignations.

January–March 2010. The trade union committee initiates ten inspections by various monitoring agencies. Recertification of positions in a number of shop floors is ordered. The illegal firing of two workers (citizens of Belarus) is rescinded. Company officials are fined.

18 March 2010. The first recertification of positions in ten years is carried out at the “January 9” shop floor. Although activists of the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA) lobbied for this inspection, they are not admitted to the inspection commission, which casts serious doubts on the objectivity of its findings.

Treason and Solidarity

Having realized that it would not be able to deal with the trade union using purely repressive measures, Tikkurila management decided to split the obstreperous union local with help from in-house strikebreakers and Roskhimprofsoiuz bureaucrats. After a stormy trade union conference on March 12, the most militant workers resigned from the FNPR-affiliated local and formed an ITUA-affiliated local at Tikkurila. A new wave of repressions immediately rained down on the “troublemakers.”

On March 24, Tikkurila general director Simo Laitala met with workers to announce the latest increase in production norms. Igor Ramko and Andrei Makeev asked Mr. Laitala how this would affect the health of workers, given that they were already subject to colossal speed-ups, leading to fainting, workplace injuries, and occupational illnesses. Three hours after this meeting, Igor Ramko was visited on the shop floor by Nikolai Cherkasov, an investigator with the Krasnogvardeisky District Economic Crimes Department. In the presence of Ramko’s coworkers, Cherkasov handed him a summons to an interrogation based on allegations that he had forged a medical permission slip. It is worth nothing that Cherkasov arrived at the Tikkurila plant in the personal car of Andrei Kiryanov, an employee of the company’s security department.

Unlike Roskhimprofsoiuz leaders, however, the ITUA does not abandon its comrades when they are in trouble. Literally the day after the new trade union local joined the ITUA, the trade union center unleashed an information campaign designed to force Tikkurila to end its coercion of activists, recognize the union, and enter into negotiations. All violations of worker rights at the company now immediately become a matter of public record. Articles about the conflict have been published in a number of online and print mass media, including the influential Russian daily Kommersant. The video about working conditions at Tikkurila is viewed by hundreds of people daily. The myth of the kind-hearted Finnish company that produces high-quality paints is collapsing like a house of cards, despite the fact that Mr. Laitala signed an order forbidding workers from having any contact with the press.

Dozens of trade union and political organizations in Russia and abroad have voiced their solidarity with Tikkurila workers. ITUA chair Alexei Etmanov and All-Russia Confederation of Labor (VKT) president Boris Kravchenko have sent official protests against management’s anti-union policies. In late April, Petersburg activists will take part in a press conference organized by Finnish trade unions. By refusing to enter into a dialogue with its own workers, Tikkurila risks finding itself in the middle of an international scandal.

However, the trade unions are capable of more than polite scolding when it comes to dialoguing with employers who have gone too far. Thus, Mr. Tsinchenko, Tikkurila’s personnel director, whose attitude to workers is particularly cynical, one evening received hundreds of text messages demanding that he cease intimidating Ramko and Makeev. Meanwhile, Mr. Levin, the company’s head lawyer, who had left a number of spiteful remarks on the trade union’s page on the Vktontatke social website, will no longer risk poking up his head there.

Maximum-Security Tikkurila

On April 9, the ITUA picketed the front gates of the TEKS facility at Utkin Prospekt. Aside from plant workers, the picket was attended by activists from ProfTEK, Socialist Resistance (SocSopr), the Pyotr Alexeev Resistance Movement (DSPA), the Revolutionary Communist Youth League (Bolsheviks), and other trade union and leftist organizations. As numerous agents of management, led by security department director Kalinin, looked on, the picketers unfurled banners that read “Tikkurila, what have you smoked?” [Тиккурила, что ты курила?], “Hands off Ramko and Makeev,” “Tikkurila: All the Colors of Exploitation,” and so forth. To the deafening accompaniment of whistles and improvised tam-tams, the picketers chanted such slogans as “No matter how Tikkurila pressures workers, our strength is in solidarity,” “We are capable of moving mountains: sit down to the negotiating table, TEKS!,” “Hands off the trade union if you want to avoid a scandal!,” “No to abuse by employers! A workers’ trade union for every enterprise!,” and so forth. Simultaneously, activists handed out leaflets at the nearby K-Rauta store asking shoppers not to buy Tikkurila paints.

Except for the unfriendly Mr. Kalinin, none of the other company managers had the guts to come out and talk with the picketers. According to workers inside the plant, they were threatened with fines if they left their shop floors to view the picket. On the other hand, large numbers of police officers and Krasnogvardeisky District officials were on hand from the very beginning to observe this legally permitted picket. They made absurd demands of picket organizer and trade union committee chair Sergei Kruglov and ITUA organizer and Socialist Resistance activist Ivan Ovsyannikov. The upshot of these demands was that the protesters should conduct the picket in silence. Because they knew that the arguments advanced by law enforcement officials that their plastic whistles were “amplification devices” directly contradicted the law, the protesters refused to submit to these threats. After the picket was over, Kruglov and Ovsyannikov were taken to a police precinct, where they were charged with an administrative violation. Three hours later, they were released.

The trade union has no doubts that the provocation at the picket was ordered by Tikkurila management, which enjoys especially cordial relations with law enforcement agencies.  Such actions, however, only discredit the company, and it goes without saying that they frighten no one. The struggle continues.

_____

Show your solidarity with workers at the Tikkurila facilities in Saint Petersburg by signing the petition (addressed to general director Timo Laitala) here (in Russian and English). You will be asked to provide your name [Имя], location [Город, страна] and e-mail address [адрес электронной почты]. When you have filled in this information, please hit the button marked Oтправить [send].

Please also let Tikkurila corporate management know what you think. You can contact them here.

You can also let FinnWatch, a Finnish organization dedicated to monitoring the activities of Finnish companies abroad and ensuring that they comply with the highest international standards of labor rights and other good practices, know how you feel about Tikkurila’s treatment of its Petersburg workers. Contact them here.


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Alexei Etmanov: An Appeal for Solidarity with Russian Auto Workers

The following solidarity appeal by Alexei Etmanov, co-chair of Russia’s Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA), to Jyrki Raina, general secretary of the International Metalworkers’ Federation, was published on the ITUA website yesterday. You can read the original text in Russian here, as well as download the English translation (which we have reproduced below) for redistribution and reposting.  The IMF has previously expressed their solidarity with the ITUA. You can read more about that here.


Jyrki Raina
General Secretary
International Metalworkers’ Federation
Geneva, Switzerland 

Dear Brother,

More than once did Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA) receive brotherly support and solidarity from the IMF and its affiliates. However, worsening situation with basic labour rights in Russia forces us to turn to IMF again.

Recently ITUA shop floor organizations and their members have faced increasing pressure from government authorities, particularly from the local Departments for the Prevention of Extremism created by the Investigative Committee at the Public Prosecutor’s Office, local Prosecutor’s Offices themselves and from the Departments of Internal Affairs. Pressure from employers has also increased. It is our view that this pressure is aimed at suppressing ITUA activities at the national level and destroying shop floor organizations created by workers.

We would like to draw your attention to the following facts.

What raises special concern is the fact that a number of leaflets issued and distributed by the activists of the ITUA union at Tsentrosvarmash plant in Tver, Russia were included in the ‘Federal List of Extremist Materials’, composed by the Ministry of Justice. [Editor’s note: these materials are indeed on the list under nos. 439, 441—444, 446—447.] The materials were deemed ‘extremist’ by Zavolzhsky District Court in Tver on August 28, 2009, but ITUA representatives were not informed of that case. Union members learned about the court ruling only after the ‘List of Extremist Materials’ had been published on the official web page of the Ministry of Justice. To date, union activists still haven’t been able to get hold of the court ruling – that’s why they can’t challenge it in court. As for the leaflets, they solely deal with labour rights protection: creating shop floor organization, demanding fair payment for night work, union’s anti-crisis programme, and fight against precarious employment.

Federal Security Service (FSS), a Russian special service, considered initiating a case against Dmitry Kozhnev, chairman of the Tsentrosvarmash union, under item 1 of article 280 (‘Public call for extremist activity’) of the Russian Criminal Code. This didn’t happen. However, in April and June Kozhnev was summoned by FSS for ‘interviews’. FSS officials didn’t give him the case materials, but asked him to sign post factum about ten official notices on the dismissal of a criminal case.

Instead of protecting the union from rights violations and employer’s repressions, Tver Prosecutor’s Offices themselves put pressure on union activists who create shop floor organizations. Thus, in November 2009 activists of the unions at Tver Wagon Building plant and Tsentrosvarmash V. Kornilov, D. Kozhnev, E. Vinogradov, V. Sergeev and V. Kremko were summoned by Zavolzhsky District Prosecutor’s Office for giving testimony (the summons were given by employers). Activists were asked questions about the procedure of creating shop floor organizations, their activities, number and names of their members, preparing and distributing union materials, union leaders’ travels and meetings.

In October 2009 ITUA co-chairman and the chairman of the union at AvtoVAZ plant in Togliatti, Russia Petr Zolotarev was twice summoned by the Department for the Prevention of Extremism (so‑called Center ‘E’) prior to the mass protests organized by the union. Center ‘E’ officials questioned Zolotarev about the union’s planned activities. They also asked who will take part in those activities, what demands will be made and who will address the protesters. In July 2009 Zolotarev was returning by train from a union meeting in Moscow. When the train approached the station ‘Zhigulevskoe More’, several Center ‘E’ officials joined Zolotarev in his compartment. They questioned him about his trip and meetings in Moscow. Zolotarev feels that he’s been under surveillance all the time.

In February 2009 chairman of ITUA union at GM Auto plant in Saint-Petersburg, Russia Evgeny Ivanov was also summoned by Center ‘E’, where the officers tried to induce him to ‘cooperate’. For them ‘cooperation’ meant informing Center ‘E’ about the work of the plant and the activities of the unions in the city and the surrounding area. The same offer was made to ITUA co-chairman and the chairman of the union at Ford MC plant in Vsevolozhsk, Russia Alexei Etmanov.

In the meantime, union members and activists face ongoing pressure from employers. After the union organized so-called ‘Italian strikes’ (work-by-the-rules) on October 21 and November 11-20 at GM Auto plant in Saint-Petersburg (the demands were: switching premiums for the increases in guaranteed pay, pay increases, more freedom in using holiday time, abolishment of summarized annual recording of the working time and introduction of 40-hour work week), chairman of the union at the plant Evgeny Ivanov and union activist O. Shafikova were fired. Union activists A. Tsaregorodsev and I. Dorosevich face increasing pressure (the administration forced them to combine tasks without additional payment, moved them to unfamiliar work site and took disciplinary action against them). Management representatives propagandize against the union at shop floors.

Prosecutor’s Offices and other authorities don’t take any action regarding employers’ illegal activities. Over a year ago many ITUA leaders and shop floor activists were physically assaulted, but the investigation still hasn’t resulted in anything at all.

All these facts raise serious concern about the fate of ITUA, its shop floor organizations, activists and members. All-Russian Confederation of Labour (ACL) has prepared a detailed report based on the evidence of trade union rights violations, ITUA cases included. A complaint to ILO against Russian Federation is being prepared. However, the situation changes very fast, and in the unfavorable direction. This is why we turn to the IMF, asking to look for an effective response to the attack against its affiliate. We ask IMF to launch a global campaign of solidarity with ITUA.

Help and support from the international labour movement, particularly from our brotherly unions welded together by the IMF can secure the survival of our organization and the personal safety of its members and activists today.

We are ready to answer any questions regarding the facts mentioned above and render to IMF all the additional materials we have on this case.

In Solidarity,

Alexei Etmanov,
Co-Chairman, ITUA

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Russia Today

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Russia Today

A few news items from the past few days that you probably won’t see on the Kremlin’s English-language propaganda channel Russia Today, which has begun affectionately calling itself “RT.”

Raid on Left Front Headquarters in Moscow

On the morning of October 31, police raided the Moscow headquarters of the Left Front. The police allegedly didn’t present a warrant for any of their actions, explaining only that the raid was part of a criminal investigation into the “creation of an extremist association.” During their search of the premises, they confiscated the hard disk from the office’s computer, as well as two laptops, flags, newspapers, and leaflets. They also beat up and arrested the six Left Front members who were present in the office during the raid. The six were taken to Tverskoye police precinct, where they were charged with “disobeying police officers,” which is an administrative offense.

On its website, the Left Front alleged that the raid was meant to intimidate the leftist opposition in the run-up to a demonstration planned for November 7 on Red Square. They also connected it to the growing public activeness of their own organization.

More information (in Russian) here and here.

Happy Birthday, Center “E”!

"57 Extremists Have Arrived"

"57 Extremists Have Arrived"

Later that same day, also in Moscow, anarchists marked the first anniversary of the Interior Ministry’s notorious Center for Extremism Prevention aka Center “E.” This theatricalized action included voluntary “registration” of “extremists,” who were given commemorative IDs for their honesty. Similar actions were held in a number of Russian cities.

The activists made four demands: 1) disband Center “E” as an institution that endangers society; 2) excise the concept of “extremism” from Russian laws; 3) abolish Russian Federation Law No. 114 “On the Prevention of Extremist Activity”; 4) allow Russian citizens to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and a free press.

Although the activists had obtained permission for the event, the police found an excuse to arrest seven of them. They were charged with petty hooliganism, an administrative offense.

More details (in Russian) here

Thanks to anatrrra for the photograph. You can see their full photo reportage of the action here. The website of the campaign to put an end to Center “E” and stop the persecution of “extremists” is here (in Russian). You can read the campaign’s manifesto (in English) here.

A Road Trip to Naberezhnye Chelny

We’ve been there and probably won’t be going back. But if we do decide to revisit that green and pleasant city in Tatarstan, home of the KamAZ truck factory, we wouldn’t like to do it the way that The Other Russia activist Sergei Yezhov did. According to Yezhov, on the evening of October 23 he was approached by three plainclothes police officers outside the Vodyni Stadion metro station in Moscow:

They put my arms behind my back, led me across the road, and put me into a silver-colored Mitsubishi. Two of them sat on either side of me, while [the third] got behind the wheel. They all began persuading me to ‘cooperate’ with law enforcement authorities. They confiscated all my personal belongings, including my telephone, money, keys, passport, etc. They beat me and demanded that I turn in my comrades, supporters of Eduard Limonov. They demanded that I call my comrades right away and arrange to meet them; they would also be arrested at these meetings. I refused. That is when they threatened to take me out of town, where anything whatsoever might happen to me. In some sense they followed up on this threat. They took me to Naberezhnye Chelny, where, I was told, I would be a witness and have to give testimony in some criminal case whose nature wasn’t made clear to me. We were on the road around fourteen hours, and during that whole time they didn’t let me contact my relatives or my wife.

“The People Who Caused the Crisis Should Pay for It” Is an Extremist Slogan

When the Russian authorities aren’t seizing computers, clamping down on anarchists or driving people to Naberezhnye Chelny in silver Mitsubishis as part of their non-stop efforts to root out extremism, they are busy adding items to their official list of “extremist literature.” The Institute for Collective Action reports that the new version of the list features six new items — leaflets issued by the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA) and the leftist organization SotsSopr (Socialist Resistance) that were ruled “extremist” by a court in Tver on August 28, 2009. Among the offending slogans were:

  • The People Who Caused the Crisis Should Pay for It
  • Against Irregular Employment
  • We Should Not Have to Pay for Their Crisis

Don’t Ask Any Stupid Questions and We Won’t Give You a Concussion

Unfortunately, some individuals in Russia aren’t impressed by all these nimble displays of police work. One of those morons is Petersburg civil rights lawyer Grigory Solominsky. As Zaks.Ru reports, Solominsky is now facing criminal charges for “publicly defaming a representative of the authorities during the performance of his duties.” How did he do that, you ask? It’s really quite simple.

When Solominsky, who has been defending traders at Petersburg’s Khasansky Market from attempts by city authorities to shut the place down and auction it off (thus leaving some 400 traders high and dry, and a few thousand people out of work), heard on October 9 that police had arrived there and were carrying out a search of the market’s administrative offices, he rushed to the scene. When he arrived he found a group of plainclothes police had blocked off part of the market with their cars. He asked them why they were preventing the merchants from doing their work; he also asked them to show him IDs. That was the last straw:

In response, they jumped on me, hit me in the face, threw me on the pavement, hit me again hard a few more times, threw me into a VAZ 2109 car without police license plates, and drove me to the 13th Police Precinct.

Solominsky was later taken by ambulance to the Alexandrovsky Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a concussion.

Although he tried to file charges against the arresting officers, the investigating officer refused to open a case. Instead, Solominsky himself has been charged with violating Article 319 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code. All his “victims” and their witnesses have testified that Solominsky offended the policemen by using “extremely foul language.”

If convicted, Solominsky faces a maximum sentence of six months to a year of hard labor.

Just Say No to Racism — And Show Us Your Papers

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"Murdered by Nazis"

On October 31, Petersburg’s anti-racists and antifascists held their annual March against Hatred. This is practically the only opposition “march” that the authorities still allow to actually march anywhere — in this case from the Yubileiny Sports Complex, on the Petrograd Side, to Sakharov Square, outside Saint Petersburg State University. Once they arrive there, the marchers hold a rally to express their outrage at the extremely heavy toll of beatings and murders exacted by neo-Nazis on the city’s anti-racist and antifascist activists, ethnic minorities, and foreign visitors and residents. (To see the body count as of winter 2008, check out the centerfold map in the BASTA! special issue of our newspaper.) 

When they arrived at Sakharov Square yesterday (as always, with a heavy police escort), they found representatives of the Federal Migration Service waiting for them. According to local channel  TV100, the FMS checked the residence permits of several marchers, although they didn’t go so far as to detain anyone. The demonstrators demanded that the FMS spooks either leave the square or join the rally.

On the other hand, what are those marchers making such a fuss about? After all, Petersburg just won a prize from UNESCO for its “constructive efforts to inculcate mutual respect and tolerance in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society and to prevent and eradicate all forms of discrimination.” However, as Alexander Vinnikov, one of the march organizers, has pointed out, “The UNESCO decision came as an even bigger surprise than the news about Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. […] Neither winners have done anything to deserve the prize, which means the awards were given for political reasons, unfortunately.”

Thanks to Sergey Chernov for the photo. You can see his photo reportage of the march here, here, here, and here. Vladimir Volokhonsky’s videos from the march can be accessed here.

Let’s Declare War on the Old-Age Pensioners

Okay, so you’ve taken care of all the “extremists” — the leftists, anarchists, Limonovites, trade unionists, market traders, civil rights lawyers, and anti-racists. Is there any other group of potential or real Russian extremists you’ve forgotten about? Of course, the old-age pensioners! The Moscow Times has all the thrilling details:

Interior Ministry officers tested out their newest techniques for dispersing rallies Thursday, in exercises that news agencies said were focused on dealing with angry pensioners.

According to the ministry’s scenario for the drill, a group of pensioners gathered for an unsanctioned demonstration and blocked an important highway to seek social support, Interfax reported. Within several minutes, the crowd was dispersed with water, tear gas and stun grenades, while some of the elderly demonstrators were arrested.

Demonstrators have blocked several roads this year, most notably in the Leningrad region town of Pikalyovo.

The Interior Ministry later said in a statement that the information about the dispersed pensioners was incorrect and that special equipment was not “used and is not generally used in practice, except for psychological influence.”

The mock demonstration of force came ahead of Russia’s traditional protest season, with opposition movements planning to hold a series of rallies in early November coinciding with National Unity Day and former Soviet holidays.

“The fall is a period of heightened public activities, largely driven by the recent election campaign,” said Mikhail Sukhodolsky, a deputy interior minister, RIA-Novosti reported. The end of the summer holidays and seasonal employment would add to the size of demonstrations, he said.

The ministry also showed off new technology, including the Groza and Shtorm water-canon vehicles. Clips of the drills, held in the Moscow region town of Balashikha, were shown on Vesti-24 state television.

The exercises were part of the Interpolitekh-2009 international fair of law enforcement equipment. Reporters in attendance were also shown a mobile policeman robot, Metallist, Interfax said.

“Most of the samples presented today in the course of the exercises were made in Russia and are or will soon be taken into service,” Interior Ministry Rashid Nurgaliyev said.

 

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Filed under anti-racism, anti-fascism, leftist movements, political repression, protests, Russian society, trade unions

Support TagAZ-ITUA Activists!

04-bigThe Taganrog Automobile Plant (TagAZ), in the southern Rostov Region of Russia, assembles a number of Hyundai vehicles as well as its own line of cars. When you look at their website, you get a rather rosy picture of labor relations at the plant:

TagAZ takes pride in its skilled amicable personnel. At present employed are about 2 600 people including employees in the applied productions. 30 percent of them are engineering-technical staff.

Average age of the plant personnel is 25 years. About 40 percent of the staff are women. Their patience and tidiness are irreplaceable at some stages of the assembling conveyor.

At the starting period of the plant the engineer staff and young specialists were trained at automobile plants in South Korea, Europe and USA. Regular professional trainings at the leading world undertakings are part of the program of improving personnel’s skills. TagAZ collaborates with technical highest schools in employing of perspective specialists.

Socially oriented staff policy and work conditions make TagAZ the one of the most attractive employers in the labour market in the southern region of the Russia.

In fact, things are anything but rosy at TagAZ. Since August 2007, members of the TagAZ local of the Interregional Trade Union of Auto Workers (ITUA) have been struggling against a stacked deck that includes every union-busting trick in the book (including physical reprisals) to have their union recognized by plant management.

On December 10, the ITUA, the All-Russia Labor Confederation, and the Petersburg Committee for Solidarity Actions (KSD) launched a solidarity campaign in support of TagAZ-ITUA. Chtodelat News is pleased to support this campaign. We urge you to read the following interview with two TagAZ-ITUA activists. Following the interview is a translation of the solidarity appeal. It contains lots of information about how you can join the campaign. You can also help by crossposting the interview and the appeal on your blogs and websites.

There is power in the union!

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