In July, the Center for Economic and Political Reform, a think tank that monitors and studies social and economic issues in Russia, released a report on labor conflict in the second quarter of 2016. In this period, TsEPR identified 263 incidents in 65 regions in Russia, 34 more than the first quarter. Fifty-six were specifically labor protests (hunger strikes, strikes, pickets, etc).
The overwhelming majority of these incidents, 171, concerned unpaid wages. The most recent examples of workers’ efforts to fight for unpaid wages are the ongoing hunger strike of 175 miners in Rostov province under the slogan “We are not slaves” and AvtoVAZagregata autoworkers, who haven’t been paid for almost a year, blocking a federal highway. This action was in response Samara’s governor Nikolai Merkushkin cutting down a worker’s question about her back pay with, “Well, I want to say that if you speak in that tone, [it will be] never! Never!”
As this TsEPR map of labor conflict throughout Russia shows these workers fighting for their rights are hardly alone.
Protests connected with labor conflicts (strikes, pickets, etc)
Today, the State Duma adopted a law raising the minimum wage from 6200 to 7500 rubles. This is definitely a good move. In fact, it’s not so small for workers who earn pennies. In 2011, 2.3 million people earned less than a subsistence wage in the formal sector of the economy alone.
But there’s cause to compare this with other countries. 7500 rubles equals $116 at the current exchange rate. At a standard 40 hour work week totaling a 167 hour working month, this comes to 70 cents an hour. The Russian Federal State Statistics Bureau traditionally considers the ruble undervalued by about 40%, as is easily found on its website. If we assume that the ruble is not undervalued by 40%, but by 70%, then the hourly rate minimum wage would be $2.
Compare this with the minimum wage purchasing power parity of other countries. Honduras $2, Laos $2.10, Iraq $ 2.40, Thailand $2.86, Paraguay $3.57, and Turkey $5.89.
Who would have thought that 25 years ago Soviet citizens compared the incomes in the USSR with Norway and Sweden? And the reason is simple: to receive a decent wage under capitalism, you have to fight for it, form trade unions, go to protests, and go on strike. There is no other way.