Workers threaten strike at Russian automaker

Strikes and industrial actions are on the rise in Russia. Workers at Russia’s largest automaker AvtoVAZ are preparing to strike over wage demands. Starting August 1, several workshops at the company’s Togliatti plant will come to a halt, unless workers re

Triple the salaries to $US 1,000 a month, or watch thousands of workers walk out on August 1: that is the ultimatum union leaders at the GM-AvtoVAZ plant in Tolyatti have presented to the management.

‘Yedinstvo’, an independent trade union behind the planned strike, was a driving force of similar wage disputes at AvtoVAZ in 1994 and 2000. It also organised a strike in sympathy with Ford employees early this year.

But while ‘Edinstvo’ may be the most high-profile union, the workers’ movement is on the rise in Russia as a whole, ironically thanks to improved economic conditions, says Andrey Mrost, a Russian representative of the International Trade Union Confederation.

As soon as the economic relations grow further in the ‘capitalist’ direction, trade unions will either die or have to become strong. We are talking about the industries which are rich and growing.

Andrey Mrost, a Russian representative of the International Trade Union Confederation
Indeed, the sectors where trade unions are the strongest are those where multinational giants have a strong presence in Russia, says Elena Gerasimova, an expert on labour law from the Social and Labour Rights Centre.

“I would say that these are particularly car manufacturing, food and beverages,” Elena Gerasimova specified.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and during the Soviet era, the bulk of the workforce had union membership, but the unions themselves were part of the system, becoming closely linked to the Communist Party.

The transition to a market economy forced them to look for a new, more independent identity. But Soviet-era inertia still dogs the movement.

“I would say that one in four is prepared to go on strike,” Andrey Mrost believes.

Russian laws make it nearly impossible for workers to organise legal strikes:

“Our legislature is really very complicated as concerns the right to strike. In practice, it is almost impossible for unions to go through all the necessary procedures without violations. The law is written that way in order not to let workers organise a legal strike,” Elena Gerasimova explained.

While the laws may be on the employers’ side, the growing union presence may force businesses to agree to higher wages, better severance packages, and improved working