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Russia: Workers fight back against COVID austerity

Members of the Socialist Tendency, Russian Federation

July 29, 2020

Report from socialists in the Russian Federation:

In Russia, during the pandemic, there has been a wave of labour protest and riots over nonpayment of wages and working conditions.

First was a strike by drivers of repair service utility vehicles in the Russian district of Ufa: they are unhappy with wage cuts and that management is not keeping its promises. Municipal workers had to work in the midst of the pandemic and during the quarantine. 

On July 6, dayshift workers refused to sweep, scrub, hose down, repair, and treat the streets for the virus, and then nightshift workers supported them. On July 7, officials announced that an investigation had begun into a collective complaint by municipal workers.

Delivery workers at “Delivery Club” also faced unpaid wages, huge unfounded fines and no regulated employment contracts. The couriers responded with a strike, organized by the union “Courier,” supported by the initiative of groups in Saint-Petersburg, in Nizhny Novgorod, and in Novosibirsk. On July 9, around 300 couriers appeared at the central office of the mother company demanding payment of wages, cancellation of fines and real employment contracts.

As a result, all debts were cleared, in the amount of 9 million rubles. Despite this success, the union is continuing its work: not all demands were met and there is no guarantee that wage delays will not recur.

On July 13, in the “Gasprom” factory on the Amur River [note: on the border between the Russian Far East and Northeastern China], 300 workers staged a full-on riot. The office of the contractor “Renaissance Heavy Industries” which had not paid their workers a wage in three months, was ransacked. The riot ended with the arrival of riot police and dispersal of protesters. A criminal case was opened against the rioters for participation in mass disorder.

The online edition of got access to a document called “the company’s appeal to employees” promising to pay them the back wages and raise the hourly rate by 5%.

On the same day in Moscow, in the Levoberezhny microdistrict, janitors from Central Asian countries gathered at the office of “Zhilishchnik,” a local municipal company. The workers say their wages have been cut by a third, which management denies.  

On July 14, in the Moscow microdistrict of Severnoye Chertanovo there was a mass brawl: non-payment of wages was again most likely the reason. Judging by the video, the migrant workers find themselves in an extremely desperate situation and are ready to do anything to stop the lies.

On July 17, hundreds of workers at the Sheremetevo airport gathered to demand overtime payments. 

On that same day, 500 building workers at the Lakhta Centre in Saint-Petersburg [an 87-story skyscraper, the tallest building in Europe] went on strike demanding payment of back wages. Here too, a large number of migrants from Central Asia were active, another indication of their importance in defending labour rights in Russia. Russian mass media reported that the protests by workers in other regions was another important reason for the strike. 

In the previous month, employees of the company “SVLK,” which removes and resells unwanted things from apartments, refused to carry out their work. The company considers its employees to be “volunteers” and had not paid them for a long time. 

Organized self-defence

All these recent events show that the most successful labour protests are organized actions, carried out through trade union organizations, which unite and direct workers in a particular area, defend their rights at the legal level, and negotiate with employers in the interests of their members.

What all these similar events, with the same reasons and almost the same results, show each time is that at the onslaught of a crisis and economic slump, the bourgeoisie tries to stay afloat and not lose profits at the expense of ordinary hired workers, who in turn face complete poverty and despair. They are ready to fight for their labour rights by any means available, from spontaneous walkouts to strikes and riots.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to achieve improvements by a peaceful and “legal” route alone. Only through direct influence on property or profits is it possible to achieve change. It is also impossible for workers to get out of an oppressive situation so long as a small handful of capitalists, and more importantly, the distribution of the products of their labour, have power over them. In order to distribute wealth for the needs of society and progress, it must not remain in the hands of a few and serve to satisfy their own self-interest. 

Economic demands give rise to political demands, ones that will unite workers in all industries and regions of Russia and the world. Some day the target will no longer be a specific employer but the political elite, the state, and the world economic order.

By acting together and showing solidary, we can change not only our own situation, but the world’s.

Socialist Tendency, Russian Federation



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