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Strikes and their effectiveness in Russia

Examples of the most remarkable recent Russian strikes
Current trends


New wave of strikes in Russia was observed in November, 2007. Automakers, dockers and railroad men in Tuapse and St. Petersburg went on strikes. Workers of different areas demanded advance of wages; they claim that they are paid not enough. Although salaries in these branches are higher than average one in Russia.
If we consider at least last two decades of Russian history, we will see that people of different occupations went on strikes in order to protect their rights. There are railway workers, teachers, miners and even doctors. Still the reasons are always the same, as a rule the goals are decent working conditions and higher salaries. [1]

Examples of the most remarkable recent Russian strikes
In the summer 2007 meetings of many thousands occurred in Surgut, which is considered to be the oil capital of Russia. Workers of the Surgutneftegaz corporation demanded another form of payment: different bonuses amounted to about 80 percent of a salary and could be easily withdrawn by administrative methods. But nevertheless that time one could not speak about a full-scale strike of Surgut oil industry workers; and unionists were persecuted by the management. [2]
More than once workers of a Russian Ford factory situated in Vsevolozhsk, Leningad area went on strikes. Just they opened again the series of strikes in 2007. On the 7th of November the labor union declared the beginning of a ‘warning strike’. Approximately in 24 hours the strike was ceased; the court of the Leningrad area made a judgment against the strikers. In half a year the workers also stopped the production for about 24 hours. [3]
Thus, when workers of Ford went for just another strike, nobody was surprised. The administration doesn’t take the risk to collide head on with the workers: it doesn’t threat with repressions and doesn’t discharge ringleaders, as that of Surgutneftegaz or AvtoVAZ do. But it was not the end.
In the wake of Ford workers, dockers of the Black Sea port Tuapse came out. There the court also took the decision against the strikers and just after this strike a new one, this time in St. Petersburg flared up. The workers demanded 30 percent rate increases. The administration considered the demands groundless and did not want to make concessions. By that day the workers had demanded re-calculation of the wages several times. Nevertheless strike-breakers worked in the port the next day. According to official reports of the port administration it hasn’t engaged any external labor forces; handling was executed by cargo owners themselves, who had to search for another labor forces. According to the strike committee, the turnover of goods in the port has been reduced by 70 percent. The administration of the port declared that it carried out all commitments to clients. [4]
The railroad workers confirmed their intention to organize a strike in the end of November, 2007. According to newspaper Novie Izvestiya about 10 thousand railroad workers all over the Russia were to participate in the strike. The strike was to infringe on interests of common passengers, but railroad men did not want the company to “improve its credit standing, support football clubs and execute charities at their cost”.
A hunger strike started by workers of the Lobinsky biochemical plant in April 2008 when 18 employees of the factory located in Russia’s Sverdlovsk oblast have refused to eat in an attempt to convince management to dole out back pay to over 500 factory workers, according to the Agency of Political News. Of the 18 employees who started the hunger strike, six have been hospitalized, and four were forced to stop when the act exacerbated chronic illnesses they have. The company owed about 19 million roubles in back pay, for work done in the previous year. The Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper wrote that the average monthly income at the plant was 7,000 roubles and that each worker was owed around 28,000 roubles.
The factory, which produces industrial alcohol, has filed for bankruptcy. Management said they were looking for a new owner to take over the operation, and would pay back workers once production resumed. And according to mass media this protest was not the first labor dispute in the Sverdlovsk oblast in recent months. Thus, 107 miners working for Sevuralboksitrud (a part of the mammoth RUSAL aluminum company) went on strike twice in spring 2008 demanding a raise in wages. [5]
Meanwhile officially there are no strikes in Russia. Rosgosstat RF in most cases doesn’t notice the workers’ activity at all. Sometimes the strikes aren’t registered in a proper way and then the employers judicially upset them or entrepreneurs resolve the contradiction before the strike. According to different mass media sources in October 2005 about 2565 strikes occurred and 83.3 thousand people participated in them. But in 2006 there were only eight strikes in which a little more than a thousand people participated (according to Rosgosstat’s information).
Below is statistical data concerning strike activities in Russia provided by Rosgosstat RF.
2006: eight strikes were registered in which 1.2 thousand people participated.
2007: three strikes were registered in which 960 people participated.

Current trends
The reason is that the new Labor Code practically doesn’t let workers of a big enterprise strike. It became much more complicated to solve collective labor disputes, to declare and carry out a strike. Labor unions can not put in claims and declare a strike without an approval of a general meeting or a conference of workers. More than two thirds must take part in it and not less than a half must vote for a strike (in an example of Ford workers, the administration of a plant did not allow to hold a meeting in a conference hall, probably supposing that it will stop workers).
Besides that, strikes are prohibited in organizations providing public vital activity (energy supply, heating, natural gas industry, aircraft, railway and water transport, communication, hospitals) in cases when it can endanger the country defense, life and health of people. Thus, it is still unclear how will strike the railway workers.
Russian citizens don’t give much confidence to active forms of confrontation with employers, although about a half of them approve strikes and other forms of protest. But this is only in theory. According to the poll conducted by VCIOM in 2007, the most commonly used method of labor rights is an address directly to a chief, 17% of interrogated preferred this method. Another wide spread reaction on violation of labor rights is change of the work (7%). 5% use personal relations (help of friends and relatives) to solve a problem; 4% went to the law. 2% just began working less and worse. 1% participated in different actions of protest such as strikes and meetings, 1% asserted their rights using force or menace of force and also 1% had to give presents and money. Only a few addressed to labor unions or labor councils; that is 3%.
Meanwhile, according to VCIOM in 2005 employers violated rights of 44% questioned people; 62% of respondents think that it is possible to strike to defense their rights. The problem is that for a long time the labor union activity was a prerogative of successors of Soviet labor unions and of a Federation of independent labor unions of Russia. Often they are just not able to care for workers’ rights defense. In many cases labor unions just distribute vouchers to sanatoria; but the administration can do it itself, so it is quite unclear for what that labor unions exist.
But at the moment the main trend is an increase of number of strikes, of workers’ and labor unions’ activity. In the opinion of observers, an inflow of workers of a new generation influences on the growth of labor union activity. They did not inherit an idea that an employer was a supporter and that the state would protect. People of elder generations have quite other opinions. According to VCIOM, 57% of working pensioners and workers of a pre-pension age consider that relations between the employers and workers should be controlled by the state.
Experts assume that strikes and other protest actions are initiated by younger people who are eminently qualified, have an experience of team-work with foreign colleagues and have broad outlook. They prize their abilities and don’t want to sell their professional skills for nothing. Moreover, it is obvious that elder people are maximalists to less extent and they are bind steadily decreasing opportunities for employment while their younger colleagues are more emotional, flexible, and active and have a right to choose and require. Moreover, there is a difference of political systems and traditions of bringing-up (here I mean differences between soviet society and a modern one). That is why to my opinion young workers are initiators of strikes and other types of protests.
But at the same time the popularity of labor unions grows relatively slowly. According to a poll conducted by VCIOM in 2007 17% of workers see a unique role of labor unions in the mediation between a worker, an employer and the state. In their opinion the state should secure minimum guarantees, but other questions should be decided jointly by an employer and a labor union. In 2005 13% thought so, that is 4% less; thus, the protest potential increases.
As it can be seen the epoch of strikes is not over. Workers will always fight for their rights, for decent working conditions and higher salaries.
Though recently adjusted Russian Labour Code added particular obstacles for those who want to go on strike in order to protest and strikes are often not even registered, workers and unions take measures in order to protect themselves. In many industries strikes are prohibited at all.
It is considered that younger people are more often become the leading force of such protesting actions, which is connected with their competitive advantage before their older colleagues and differences in cultural viewpoints. Nevertheless, despite all obstacles, the popularity of labor unions increases.
[1] – according to the sources mentioned in the bibliography
[2] – according to an observer Polit.Ru, November 2007
[3], [4] – according to online magazine International Viewpoint, December 2007
[5] – according to an observer The other Russia, May 2008

1. Electronic version of an observer Polit.Ru, November 2007 http://www.polit.ru/event/2007/11/21/strike.html
2. Electronic version of a newspaper Novye Izvestia, December 2007 http://www.newizv.ru/news/2007-12-04/80910/
3. Electronic version of a magazine Russia Today, July 2007 http://www.russiatoday.com/business/news/11541
4. Electronic version of an observer The other Russia, May 2008 http://www.theotherrussia.org/2008/05/14/russian-workers-continue-hunger-strike-over-unpaid-wages/
5. Online magazine International Viewpoint, December 2007 http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article1375
6. http://www.apn.ru/ (site of the Agency of political news)

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