Workers Occupy Privatized Paper Mill in Russia

By ROLAND SHEPPARD

 

The International Solidarity with Workers in Russia (ISWoR) web site recently featured an article from the Oct. 15, 1999, issue of the Boston Globe, titled “Russia police, workers clash over sale of plant to foreign firm.”

The reporter, Brian Whitmore, writes: “In a predawn raid that gave a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘hostile takeover,’ machine-gun toting riot police yesterday stormed a paper mill in the small Russian town of Sovietsky, near the Finnish border, exchanging gunfire with workers.

“The shooting was a stark reminder of the frontier mentality governing Russia’s chaotic market economy, where rule of law often takes second place to might-makes-right. … they [the police] were enforcing a court order to turn the paper mill over to its legal owners, a British-owned company that bought it last year, when workers barricaded inside fired on them. The workers say police fired first.

“The plant, the Vyborg Paper and Cellulose Mill, went bankrupt in 1997 and was bought by foreign investors. But the plant’s 2100 workers, fearing massive layoffs and saying they were owed more than $8 million in back wages, have for 18 months fought to keep the new owners out. They occupied the plant, posted their own armed guards, and blocked a highway running from Helsinki to St. Petersburg to attract attention to their plight.”

This plant is located near the busy border and trade crossing between Russia and Finland, as well as being near the railway line that links Russia with Scandinavia. The workers formed a factory committee to democratically organize their strike and to operate the factory.

According to the ISWoR report on the Vyborg events: “Key areas of strength for the workers were the solidarity they received from other local and regional workers organizations, the massive local sympathy [the mill produces the electricity that supplies people’s homes], and perhaps most importantly of all, their threat to cut off all traffic on the Russia-Scandinavia highway and the railway. The mass blockades of last summer’s ‘rail war’ in support of the miners and other workers showed just how important this tactic is proving to be.”

According to the ISWoR, there have been other significant workers actions throughout Russia as the crisis brought about by the attempt to restore capitalism by the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy.

One such action was the strike of workers in Yasnogorsk who “went on strike in December 1998 against huge wage arrears and the arrest of the two directors of the plant who had been appointed by a general workers’ meeting…..

“Every strike has its end. But this time the bosses were forced to sign a collective agreement drafted by the workers’ committee and to admit all the terms that the workers insisted on. The workers are being paid. They are receiving money for all the months they were on strike. Their wages have been raised.

“The workers’ committee has got the right to control the plant administration and can cancel any decision taken by the bosses in case it is considered unacceptable for the workers. It’s an unprecedented case hardly imaginable not only in Russia but in any developed country of the world…

“At the same time Yasnogorsk workers do realize that their success will be finally destroyed unless they [continue] the struggle for the proletarian revolution. Good work has been done in this direction in order to unite strike and workers committees, other proletarian groups. But there’s urgent need for an organizing center.”

This is why the Boston Globe article, in referring to ‘might-makes-right,” reflects the apprehension that world capitalism is now demonstrating in its goal to reestablish capitalism in Russia. Capitalism from its inception has been based on “might-makes-right,” from the slave trade and the conquest of the underdeveloped world, to the recent wars in Iraq and the Balkans.

When workers occupy factories and realize that the factories can run without bosses but not without workers, they then learn that they have the power to oppose the power of capital.

The current instances of workers’ committees and occupations, in response to the economic downturn, demonstrate the power of the Russian working class. They give us both a reminder of workers’ struggles in Russia’s revolutionary past and a glimpse of a future Russia-democratically run by factory committees and workers councils (soviets).

Vyborg workers are not going to give up and will keep fighting for their mill. Any message of protest sent to the regional administration will be of a great help to them.

The address is: Governor of Leningrad region; Russia 193311; St. Petersburg; Suvorovsky pr. 67. Fax: (7812) 271-56-27 or (7812) 274-85-39.

Copies can be also sent to the Workers Committee fax number: (7812) 115-28-45, or to the Deputy of the State Duma V. Grigoriev (7095) 292-37-44 or to mgo@aha.ru.