Sunday, December 13, 2015

To Strike or Not to Strike?

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) - Two Recent Russian surveys reveal that although a growing number of Russians have become disillusioned with the effectiveness of going on political demonstrations, and reliance on trade-unions to defend their interests, a much more significant number, approximately 28% , believe going on strike is justified but only in extreme circumstances.

              A recent study by the All Russian Centre of Information on Social Opinions , found that most Russians don't think their labour rights are being adequately defended. As few as 6% of Russians would approach trade unions for aid to resolve any serious work problems. The survey also found that in the event of a problem, 14% would go to the boss, and 7% would change their place of work.

              HISTORIAL LEGACY

              That only 6% of workers turn to trade unions comes as no great revelation.

              Shortly after the 1917 revolution, any different political groups, opposition or the expression of independent opinion was suppressed following the Tenth Party Congress in 1921. From then on party officials ruled rather than shop stewards. Although strikes were not officially forbidden,       going on strike could risk the penalty of being arrested on trumped up charges of sabotage, conspiracy and collaboration with foreign agents.

              In a word, strikes were labelled 'counter-revolutionary ' activity comparable to treason. This never meant that Russian workers were rendered passive or docile. On the contrary, they could work less, falsify work records of their output and often make a fool of five-year plans. They used more subtle methods of protest than officially declaring an organised strike by workers. 'They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work', went an old cynical joke. So much protest was often unofficial and assumed a spontaneous character. In fact, Valery Chalide described a 'Russian strike ' in the following terms during Soviet times as follows:

              'For example, a machine tool has broken in a shop, they call a fitter to mend the machine tool. An hour later a foreman comes and asks if the machine-tool is mended. The fitters are sitting down and smoking.

              He asks why the machine-tool is not mended. They answer: 'We went to the tool store, but they are closed and we need a tool to mend the machine-tool.' The foreman goes to the store, gets the tool and gives it to them. He returns an hour later and again they are sitting and smoking and to the question why the machine-tool is not mended they say that a
bolt is required and they went to the turner who could make the bolt but that he is ill'.....(Lionel Kochan and Richard Abraham ,1963)

              In more recent years strikes have tended to assume the form of hunger strikes (workers threaten to starve themselves to death unless particular demands are met. Medical Doctors embarked upon this recently to obtain promised accomodation in Moscow) and 'The Italian Strike'. (Workers strike according to strict rules and within the law and insist all the workers strictly observe those rules. Many of the workers go on working.) A study by the Centre of Social Labour Rights, found evidence of increasing evidence of more, not less, strikes from 2013 to 2014. Accoding to the institute there were as many as 277 acts of protest in 2013 which involved workers blocking roads, hunger strikes, and downing of tools. Most of this action was not organised by trade unions but in spite of them.

              Russia is not a heavily unionised country. Only 25 million workers belong to unions and 20 million of them are members of the corrupt and ineffective Confederation of independent Trade Unions. While 'Teacher's ' membership
totals 6000, the Union of University Teachers has only 500.

              Another survey by the Levada Centre reported that 12% of Russians found that the strike weapon was not an available option, and 30% believed that protests don't achieve anything while 16% claimed that strikes were an acceptable and normal procedure for resolving work problems. However, only 7% went as far to claim that strikes were the only way of obtaining their demands.

              In regard to taking part in political demonstrations, the survey found that only 11% agreed it was reasonable to go on protest demonstrations to attain political and economic demands in contrast to  8%  who would actually take part in
demonstrations. As many 85% of Russians stated they would not go on demonstrations and 77% of Russians believe it is highly unlikely Russians will turn to demonstrations to protest against worsening economic conditions. Aleksei Grazhdankin claims, 'Order in the country is more important than the material level which has worsened over the past few years.'  Many people believe the reason for this attitude is because
the protest demonstrations degenerated into civil war in Ukraine. However, another reason is that 'the opposition', is not a real opposition but simply favours a much more refined form of austerity as in the case of Greece.

               What the two surveys indicate is that workers are more likely to embark on strikes, sit-downs, hunger strikes than attend the political demonstrations where they just see the same 'old faces' with the same old policies which were disastrously applied in a crude experiment in the early 1990's!

               No wonder workers are relying on their own methods of protest rather than turning to opposition parties or official trade-unions. The findings of both surveys indicate not an unambigous passivity but a more mixed and cautious wait and see attitude. We should not be too taken by surprise by the unexpected.

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