[Marxism] Labor Unrest Stirs in Russia as an Economic Chill Sets In

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Feb 25 13:07:32 MST 2016


NY Times, Feb. 25 2016
Labor Unrest Stirs in Russia as an Economic Chill Sets In
By ANDREW E. KRAMER

NIZHNY TAGIL, Russia — Workers in this city that calls itself the 
“birthplace of the trains” gained fame some years back for helping birth 
something far different: President Vladimir V. Putin’s drive to crush 
and marginalize a budding democracy movement. Recently, after a year 
with little or no work in the city’s giant train factory, they staged a 
protest of their own, aimed straight at Mr. Putin and his wealthy 
cronies in the industrial sector.

“They say they have orders, but they also cut our salaries,” Yevgeny M. 
Shukhin, a burly, mustachioed worker said of the factory’s management, 
stomping his feet against the cold at a labor protest this month on 
Machinists Square.

Day after day, he said, the workers trudge to the factory by the 
thousands, only to sit out their shifts at idle assembly lines.

Putin Support Tepid but Broad in Industrial RussiaFEB. 9, 2012
In 2012, when Mr. Putin was still campaigning for the presidency, a 
shift foreman at the factory here in the northern Ural Mountains 
appeared on a nationally televised call-in show and said that he and his 
“boys” from the factory were ready to come to Moscow and beat up urban 
protesters.

ers are being paid in full. Credit James Hill for The New York Times
“You showed who the Russian people are, who the Russian working man is,” 
Mr. Putin told the foreman, Igor R. Kholmanskikh.

They never did beat up any protesters. But thousands of strapping, 
fur-hat-topped workers from the factory, Uralvagonzavod, were bused to 
rallies supporting Mr. Putin in his campaign. And in his first decree 
after his return to the presidency, Mr. Putin named Mr. Kholmanskikh the 
Kremlin’s representative in the Urals region, the most senior federal 
position in the district.

Now, as far as many workers at Uralvagonzavod are concerned, all that 
might as well have occurred in a different country, or lifetime. “I 
don’t think Uralvagonzavod will vote for Putin again — we saw what that 
led to,” Mr. Shukhin said. “This is the opinion of a lot of workers, but 
a lot of them are afraid to say it. We just don’t understand why they 
are firing people.”

Back then, as oil prices flirted with the $100-a-barrel mark, cash was 
rolling in and work was plentiful. Mr. Putin, his government sitting on 
far larger cash reserves than today, was burnishing his image as the 
savior of factory towns, often arriving at troubled industrial centers 
in a swirl of television reporters to announce miraculous bailouts.

Even with the collapse in oil prices last year, Russia coasted through a 
nasty recession on hard currency reserves, with officials from the 
Kremlin down to company bosses brushing off the economic problems as 
manageable.

But the economic slump is now starting to bite. Real wages, or salaries 
adjusted for inflation, a common gauge of how working people feel the 
economic slump, dropped 6.3 percent in January, compared with the year 
before.

New automobile sales are down a staggering 40 percent, in a country that 
was recently seen as sailing on a trajectory of growth that would 
surpass Germany as Europe’s biggest car market. With fewer goods to 
move, railroads are shunting rolling stock onto sidings and canceling 
new orders.

The economic chill has settled on Nizhny Tagil like a Siberian cold front.

The result, here and scattered throughout Russia, has been stirrings of 
labor unrest, the once widespread scourge of the late Soviet period.

Nizhny Tagil has two pivotal industrial plants: one making steel and the 
other, Uralvagonzavod, turning out train cars and tanks. Both have 
announced layoffs, though Uralvagonzavod has since said any 
“optimization” of its work force of roughly 30,000 will be voluntary.

The fate of the plants reflects another broad economic trend, as Mr. 
Putin’s reluctance to cut military spending despite the recession and 
budget crunch has left that side of the Uralvagonzavod humming. While 
workers on the train-car side of the factory have been put on two-thirds 
pay — about $260 a month — the tank assembly lines are still rolling 
full speed, and workers are paid in full.

Out on the snowy streets not far from the factory gates, at the recent 
protest’s scheduled start time, more police officers than protesters 
appeared on Machinists Square. A surveillance van pulled up.

A crew of street cleaners in orange vests blocked the pedestrian walkway 
to the factory, as if clearing snow, lest workers wandered over after 
their shift.

In the end, a hundred or so people turned out, looking over their 
shoulders at the uniformed and plainclothes police officers mingling in 
the crowd, grinning and ostentatiously filming the scene on video cameras.

Ilya Korovin, a local activist, stretched a red banner reading “For 
Workers’ Rights!” across the pedestal of a statue of Lenin. People 
milled about on the sidewalk beside a berm of sooty snow; whether taking 
in the spectacle or joining the protest, it was hard to tell.

The assembly lines were idled, the workers’ pay was cut, and the prices 
of groceries was sky high, Mr. Korovin said. And the management had no plan.

“For more than a year, people go to work but do nothing,” Mr. Korovin said.

“The factory is just broke. But some still think, ‘Putin loves us; he 
will throw us some money,’ ” he said. “But we have a market economy. You 
cannot force somebody to buy our products. Most people are counting on 
Putin, but my comrades, we cannot remake the communist economy.”

Mikhail G. Scherbakov, a retired shift boss at Uralvagonzavod, said that 
after 43 years on the assembly line he had a pension was 13,600 rubles, 
or about $175, a month. “They either have no conscience, or they have no 
money,” he said.

“They are just hanging spaghetti on our ears!” Nikolai I. Kalugin, from 
a political group called the Party of Pensioners, said of the 
management’s claim to have a pipeline of train car orders, using a 
Russian expression meaning playing people for fools.

In Moscow, Ilya V. Yashin, a leader of the opposition movement that Mr. 
Kholmanskikh had threatened to crush with his “boys” from the factory, 
had a message for the laborers.

“Dear Workers of Uralvagonzavod!” he wrote on Facebook. “In the end, the 
workers who not so long ago threatened to scatter the protesters were 
themselves forced to go to protest against layoffs and violations of 
their labor rights. Time put everything in its place.”




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