The upward curve of the strike movement in Russia

Wednesday, 14 May 2008
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Although still in its early stages, there is clearly a reawakening of the Russian working class taking place with a growing number of strikes taking place. Once this picks up steam at some later stage it will cut across all the confusion and demoralisation that have been dominant features in the past.

Miners at a bauxite mine in Sverdlov province went on strike in April. It was a bold and militant action from ordinary workers. They fought independently of the official trade union leadership, which first criticized them but then backed the miners in words because of the echo they had got.

The lack of leadership forced the miners to dig even deeper in their struggle. They went on hunger strike in order to get the publicity and solidarity they needed to force management to listen to negotiate with them. Since the dispute at Severouralsk, 22 workers at a bio-chemicals factory in Lobva, also in the Urals, have gone on a hunger strike for the same reason.

This shows the determination of the workers to struggle once they have decided that there is no alternative. If the workers had a leadership that shared their determination to struggle, no force on earth would stand in their way.

Although the strike wave has still not become generalized, and the growth in the strike movement reflects the low base it started from recently, examples of strike activity are no longer isolated cases.

At the end of April train drivers in Moscow and Moscow province went on strike, again independently of the main trade union confederation. As in all strikes in Russia, riot police and the courts were involved to intimidate the workers. Following the strike, activists have been sacked.

Despite the difficult conditions, both the miners and the train drivers are debating taking further action. Now that they have seen a lead from other workers, miners and train drivers who didn't join in the first strike want to strengthen the movement. Follow up strikes threaten to be stronger, more organized and better supported.

Independent class struggle is spreading to new regions and sectors. Now women workers are raising their voices too, as a picket of Nestle workers in Moscow demonstrated. (See the Them and Us column for more details.)

At this picket Shmakov, the leader of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia and a deputy in the Duma from Putin's United Russia party, took part personally. The tops of the trade union bureaucracy are concerned by the growing activity of the working class. The bureaucrats want to make some noise, without doing anything in practice, to create the illusion that they are doing something and strengthen their position. In particular half-hearted statements about making strikes easier to carry out legally have been made. But this won't change anything fundamental, either in the attacks of the state on the workers or the inspirational movement of the class that is building up steam, despite all the obstacles. As the tsarist police discovered, taming the Russian working class is easier said than done.


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