Trade Union Movement in Leningrad in 2005

By Vladimir Nikiforov
Trade union Zashchita Truda (Defence of Labour)

In 2005 in St. Petersburg and in Leningrad Region has been noticed an increase in the activity of trade union movement. The trade union of the dock workers of several stevedore companies in the seaport carried on a struggle for reaching a new collective agreement, workers of Coca-Cola picketed, the struggle of the Ford Motors’ trade union continued, seamen of the Portoflot were on strike, trade unions were organized at the Petersburg factories of the Dutch brewery Heineken, factories Pepsico, Caterpilar and Skania, the workers of the Pikalevsky aluminium enterprise actively interfered in the struggle with owners and trade union Zashchita Truda (Defence of Labor) was organized at the factory Electrosila. It is necessary to note not only quantitative, but also qualitative growth of the trade union movement. Not only a powerful splash of activity, which demonstrates the spontaneity and arbitrariness on the movement, but also the organized gradual growth must be noted. This growth has specific features:

  1. The conflicts of hired workers and employers have been noted in successful enterprises where the wages are 15,000 rubbles and higher, which is more than the average wage in the region. At the same time, wages in large enterprises in many industries are considerably lower, but this did not lead to organized protest actions.

  2. In the city and the region there is a significant number of enterprises, which are built or acquired by large foreign companies. Mostly, these are companies producing products for domestic consumption within Russia. It is impossible to ensure delivery of finished products from abroad in the situation of an interrupted production process because it is extremely disadvantageous economically. No one will transport to Russia Coca-Cola or beer from Western Europe in large wholesale quantities. It is the same as transport water or air. It is event more profitable to assemble and sell cars in Russia, if local production has been already established, and not to transport them across the boarder. Wages of workers in the similar European automotive factories are twice the wages of workers in St. Petersburg. Therefore, the threats of the Ford Motors’ management to start delivery of automobiles from Germany most likely are bluff.

  3. At the same time there are strong trade unions at the large transnational corporations. These trade unions are vitally interested in having strong trade unions at the newly created plants of their company, wherever these may be located, and in these trade unions being connected with them and exercising the common for all level of requirements, as well as not allowing masters to lower the wages and social benefits. For this reason, some trade union leaders undergo training abroad. Trade unions in the West have the richest experience, a durable material base and experience with lobbying the parliaments. Support from abroad allows the newly created trade unions in Russia to immediately actively advance economic requirements for the administration and to attain their fulfillment. This support also enables them to build their relations with Federation of Independent Unions of Russia (FNPR) on a more independent basis. Trade union Heineken merged with Sotzprof. Trade union Ford Motors left FNPR and attempts to register together with trade unions Skania-Pieter and Caterpillar-Tosno a new interregional trade union of the workers of machine building industry. Trade unions of the enterprises, which have Western capital, including in their ranks young and energetic leaders, not connected with the previous party-economic nomenclature, which continues to rule in today's Russia, they will establish contacts with Western trade unions. The legislature allows them to enter foreign trade unions directly, bypassing the FNPR. Great significance has moral factor. Foreign companies are perceived by Russian workers as richer ones and as those who pay their workers in the developed countries higher wages. Russian workers demand the same.

  4. The trade union of dock workers attained signing of a new collective agreement by means of prolonged organized struggle conducted according to all rules specified by state. In a year it will have to repeat this path. Will it be able to do it again? What if the legislation changes? This is the way of Western trade-unionism with all its pluses and minuses.

  5. Ford Motors’ trade union attained from the administration observance of the previous work schedule and payment of bonuses based on the year end results. Next are negotiations of the wage increase by 30%, not 12%, as the employer offers. Staff conference must solve a question about whether to continue the struggle or to agree with the administration’s proposal.

  6. Seamen of Portoflot of St. Petersburg port were defeated. The owner outwitted them and gave all vessels without the crew for lease to other companies. This shows us that the majority of workers are not prepared yet for the uncompromising struggle with the employers and continue to believe in the nice words of class enemies. And even though they do not kill trade union leaders in Leningrad yet, there already there have been such cases in other cities.

  7. The cases of workers in the cities Pikalevo and Kingisepp deserve special attention. There, production is being wrapped up in the industries, which are the backbone of these cities. Workers are cornered; they have no choice but to go to the streets. However, if the workers are not properly organized, these demonstrations may be easily put down by throwing to the workers miniscule handouts and piles of promises to meet their requirements.

  8. Trade unions – members of FNPR, did not receive any effective support from this federation, which was one of the reasons for the defeat of Portoflot. This means that the attempts of the FNPR leadership (in particular, in St. Petersburg – V. Derbin) to present themselves as the fourth force in the system Employer – Government – Employee – Trade Union, are doomed to failure. They left the Employee, but the Employer did not accept them. This is why their place will be continuously taken by other trade unions. The Interregional Association of Working Trade Unions Zashchita Truda with the co-chairman Oleg Shein, Deputy of the State Duma of Russia, continues to accumulate strength and conduct semi-underground activity. This can be explained by both, the rigid pressure from the administration and by lack of preparedness of the workers to independently, actively and uncompromisingly protect their rights. Zashchita Truda differs from many other trade unions by promoting the creation and the functioning of primary organizations by workers themselves, and by raising not only economic, but also political requirements.

An increase in activity and organization of the trade unions of St. Petersburg is evident. The globalization of the world economy leads to the globalization of the work force market and the establishment of the connections between the trade unions around the world. The time of the unprepared, hysterical demonstrations has passed. Not "measured step of the iron battalions of the proletariat" replaces it, but the organized struggle of the trade unions of workers with the use of all means: turning to law courts, negotiations with employers, strike, and so forth. Only being organized at this level, working class will be able to establish its authority and to destroy exploitation completely.

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