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Russian armed forces call strike over unpaid wages

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Post 11 Apr 2009, 17:54
Russian armed forces civil personnel call strike over unpaid wages

Civil personnel of the Russian Navy have declared an indefinite strike starting April 10, Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports. According to the Federation of Trade Unions of Armed Forces’ Civil Work Force (FPRiS), defense enterprises have failed to pay wages to the majority of the 800,000 civil personnel.

The strike is to start at enterprises of the Northern Fleet of the Russian Navy. On April 15, the civil work force of the Pacific and, later, Baltic Fleets are to join the action. According to FPRiS, personnel of the Strategic Missile Forces and the Space Forces will keep working.

FPRiS leaders have stated unanimously they are pursuing only financial aims, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports. “It’s difficult to determine whether the protest is political or not under the conditions of uncertainty and deepening crisis,” member of the State Duma Defense Committee, Admiral Vladimir Komoedov said.

However, the leader of the union, Valery Kudryavtsev, said in an interview with the web site on Tuesday that the newspaper report about the strike was not true. He said that the union was planning a protest rally that would take place during the workers’ free time - from 18:00 to 19:00 local time, as Russian law forbids any strikes on the site of defense enterprises.
Post 11 Apr 2009, 22:30
This is not an armed forces strike. It's a strike of workers at defense plants. A lot of our ship-building plants are financially (and physically) in horrible shape. One only needs to recall the scandalous price hikes on the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier being refitted for India. Truth is that the entire ship-building sector needs serious internal reforms, and major investments. Some started in the past couple of years, but with the crisis hitting hard it doesn't seem likely to continue.
Post 18 Apr 2009, 18:47
Defence workers turning militant

By Anna Arutunyan

Trouble is brewing in the factories that supply Russia's defence industry, with previously loyal unions staging protests over months of unpaid wages.

If their demands aren't met, the workers could link their grievances to those at other defence plants across the country and officers protesting defence cuts in the Far East, union leaders say.

After two months without pay, hundreds of workers at a state-owned factory near Murmansk, which repairs nuclear submarines for the Northern Fleet, took to the streets. Mikhail Barinov, the chairman of the factory's union, said he feared the situation would get worse later this year, as work contracts could dry up completely.

"Money for completed contracts should arrive any day now, and we will be able to cover February's salary and part of March," he said, speaking by telephone from his office near Murmansk. "Delays in salary are of course indicative of the tensions, but we are even more worried about the second half of the year.

"These government enterprises, which were created in the interests of the state, in the interests of defence, they are facing enormous difficulties in getting contracts. We might end up without a single kopek."

At some other factories supplying the Navy the wage arrears are worse, as they haven't been paid since August 2008, Barinov said.

About 600 people turned up at a protest rally on April 10 in Murmansk. The rally was initially reported in the Russian media as a "strike", but Barinov said the description was inaccurate, as strikes in the defence industry were "illegal".

The factory employs about 700 people, down from about 6,000 in 1991. That number slowly dwindled throughout the 1990s, and some see the current troubles as heralding a return to those turbulent times.

"Today union leaders are meeting in Moscow with the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, and I hope they decide something," Barinov said on Thursday. "If the situation with contracts for the rest of 2009 is not resolved by May 1, we may have to consider cutting the working week for our employees."

Barinov plans to stage a bigger protest on May Day, he said.

The repair plants are not the only factories in the defence industry that are finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet as funding dries up in wake of the economic crisis.

Molot, a factory making Kalash­nikov rifles in the Kirov region, has resorted to paying employees in emergency food packages - oil, pasta, sugar and canned goods - as unpaid salaries mount.

Over the weekend in Vladivostok, some 300 officers rallied to protest against plans for military budget cuts.

The unions at the Northern Fleet factories are not naturally radical, as their official representatives generally support the authorities.

Valentina Dolgaya, an official in one of the factory's unions, ruled out workers ever holding a strike, stressing that they participate only in authorised protests. Barinov said that the only political party that has demonstrated any support for their plight is the pro-Kremlin United Russia.

"The opposition - they don't have any information, and they work in their own interests," he said. "But United Russia has taken measures, a deputy from the regional Duma personally met with the Defence Minister on our behalf, and has taken our issues under his personal control."

With unemployment and wage arrears rising fast in some strategic sectors, the prospect of large-scale protests - and the danger that they could get out of control - is growing.

Some speculate that one of the political measures the government is taking as it faces the threat head on is giving more clout to the established left-wing opposition in the State Duma - the Communist Party and a Just Russia - in a bid to let off some steam.

Communist leader Gennady Zyu­ganov let off some such steam in his most recent performance at the Duma, where he launched a blistering attack on Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reported to deputies last week.

"In terms of strikes and massive uprisings, we do not feel this is happening yet," says Anatoly Lokot, a Communist Duma deputy. "But social tension is increasing due to closing enterprises, with shorter working weeks and delays in salaries. So far, people are living on their savings. But this tension will grow, and public protests will become bigger."

Lokot, a deputy from Novosibirsk, said his party was working closely with independent unions, particularly in the defence industry. "The regional union committee in the defence industry in Novosibirsk has put in a request to hold a joint [protest] rally on May 1," he said.

Citing a source in the presidential administration, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote that the Just Russia party, a left-leaning party that reportedly enjoys the support of Kremlin officials, had been given carte blanche to criticise the government, as a way of drawing support away from the Communists.

Gennady Gudkov, a Just Russia deputy, rejected the idea that his party was working with the Kremlin to control grassroots protests.

"When the accounting office be­comes the dominating organ in the government, when the influence of Kudrin is as big as the influence of [Stalin-era KGB chief] Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria, what dialogue can there be?" said Gudkov. "We're on course to cooperate with independent unions, because the [Kremlin-backed Federation of Independent Trade Unions] ... is like a Soviet-era continuation of the party."

Last month, the union federation's head, Mikhail Shmakov, met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

But Boris Kravchenko, chairman of the more left-wing All-Russian Con­federation of Labour, which unites unions across the country and is seen as a more grass-roots organization, is sceptical. "It's all words. They support whoever they're allowed to support," he said. "No one from the Communist Party or Just Russia has set foot in my office in many years. And we need help, we could use support from a political wing."

Nevertheless, Just Russia has been notably more daring, experts say. "Suddenly, Just Russia started voting differently from United Russia," said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank, who described the changes as evidence of growing clout of left-leaning or pro-statist factions within the Kremlin who are critical of Kudrin. "The sanction to criticise was given by enemies of Kudrin," he said, adding that it was unclear who those enemies were. Putin, for one, has always defended Kudrin, he said.

"When the left has more arguments in their favour and the government has less oil dollars," parties like Just Russia are encouraged to be more oppositionist, he said. "It might become useful in channelling discontent."

"I think [Just Russia] has every chance to win votes from the left-wing electorate because they are more energetic than the Communists," said Sergei Markov, a senior United Russia deputy.

Yet in the defence plants, the question of formal political allegiance to one party or another may be irrelevant if wage arrears aren't paid, as the workers are feeling increasingly militant.

If the Northern Fleet factories' wages are not paid by May 1, the workers "will make our demands on a federal level," said Barinov. "We'll unite with factories across Russia, in the Baltics and in the Far East, and we'll take collective action."
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