Staunton, October 20 – Because they no longer believe that unions of any kind do them much good and thus don’t want to pay union dues at a time of crisis, Russian workers are increasingly leaving official unions but not joining independent ones, according to Velimir Razuvayev of “Nezavisimaya gazeta.”
In part this reflects a hands’ off policy by the authorities who in effect are saying to businessmen “do what you want” in the crisis and thus giving them a free hand to move against workers’ rights. That may win the Kremlin some friends in the short term, but it means that when Russian workers do protest, they are likely to do so in unorganized and violent ways.
In today’s edition of the Moscow paper, Razuvayev says that in Russia’s regions ever more workers “do not see any sense of paying dues to organizations in the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, and their bosses simply do not allow any alternatives” (ng.ru/politics/2015-10-20/1_profsoyuzy.html).
Social psychologist Aleksey Roshchin has been studying worker attitudes in the regions for some years because businesses want to know whether they are likely to face worker activism of one kind or another before investing. Five years ago, he says, “almost 100 percent” of workers were members of official trade unions.
But with the onset of the economic crisis, that has changed, and now in many places, workers have left these unions but not joined independent ones, largely because workers no longer have much confidence that unions can help them and thus are worth the cost or because managers have been able to block the appearance of such unions in the workplace.
He adds that he has the sense that “the government now in a definite sense has stopped controlling large industrial holdings and telling bosses ‘do what you want but we will stay on the sidelines.’ That is, struggle with the economic crisis as you know how. This carte blanche is a kind of compensation for the fact that the government doesn’t give anyone money.”
In the short term, that gives bosses an even freer hand over their workers, Roshchin says; but in the longer term, it sets up a situation like that in Pikalevo where when workers do protest, they will do so as a mass of individuals rather than as an organized group, opening the way for possible violence.
And as “Nezavisimaya gazeta” has pointed out before (ng.ru/politics/2015-08-11/1_protest.html), the likelihood of that is on the rise: the deteriorating economic situation in Russia means that worker protest activity is 45 percent greater this year than last, almost all of it “spontaneous” rather than organized.