Russian Labor Activists Protest New Labor Code

The Russian trade-union action group Zashchita has called a day of action on May 17 to protest the Putin government’s attacks on labor rights and union activists.

Immediately after his election in a no-contest vote in March, Vladimir Putin launched an assault against the remaining formal rights of Russian workers.

Putin is trying to get a new labor code adopted in May that will eliminate collective bargaining in general and replace it with short-term individual contracts between workers and bosses. The apparent model for this is the project of his fellow former ex-KGB man, Vladimir Lukashenko, the ruler of Belarus, who a few years ago ruthlessly crushed the strike of the Minsk subway workers.

Lukashenko has been a hero of neo-Stalinists and left Stalinists, and has built up a machine based mainly on KGB veterans. The convergence between the Byelorussian strongman and Putin is another indication of the reconciliation between the liberal and neo-Stalinist wings of the old Soviet bureaucracy.

Under Putin’s proposed labor code the trade unions will lose their ability to prevent firings and their voice in wage cuts and transfers. Maternity leave will be cut in half. Pregnant women may be forced to work night shifts. The eight-hour workday will be abolished, and replaced by a 12-hour workday and a 56-hour workweek.

Employers will get the right to collect information about their employees, including about their private lives, their political activity and so forth, to set up special files and black lists.

At the same time, Putin has announced on the NTV television station that he is making it legally necessary for foreigners who enter the country to report any “means of information” that they may carrying, i.e, books and audio or video tapes.

An all-Russian committee has been set up to fight the new labor code, including Oleg Shtein, a member of parliament elected on an independent working-class ticket, and representatives of notable working-class struggles in recent years, such as the occupations of the Yasnogorsk machine factory and the Vyborg paper mill.

Shtein is a member of Zashchita and a well-known trade-union activist. His close collaborator, Oleg Maksakov, was murdered with a sawed-off shotgun.

Two Zashchita activists in Kirov, Sergei Salnikov and Maksim Karpikov, are now facing repression for distributing leaflets during the Russian presidential campaign urging workers not to vote for Putin. In April, the cochair of Zashchita in Baskortosan, Aleksei Rybalkov, was brutally beaten by police and thrown from a van.

Protests supporting the protests against the proposed labor code and the attacks on trade unionists can be sent to Putin at the following e-mail address: Priem@duma.gov.ru.

Copies should be sent to Oleg Stein at this e-mail address: shtein72@ mail.ru.

-GERRY FOLEY

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