Since November 15, truckers have been staging protests in no less than twenty-four regions across Russia against a new freight tax. The law institutes a 1.52 rubles tax ($0.02) which will be raised in February 2016 to 3.73 rubles ($0.06) tax per kilometer on 12-ton trucks. It is estimated that the tax will increase the transportation costs of Russia’s mostly independently operated big rigs by 15 to 20 percent. Russia’s truckers have been hit hard since the economic crisis of 2008. As two truckers, Oleg Krutskikh and Alexei Zhatko, explained in an interview with Rosbalt:
Oleg: In the no-holds-barred nineties and noughties, you got paid in cash in dollars. A round trip within the city cost $100, to Moscow, $850–950. Then we were forced to legalize, which was the right thing to do. We started paying taxes. We became self-employed entrepreneurs or turned our operations into limited liability companies. Until 2008, we did more or less all right. We made enough to pay for fuel and pay our drivers. The oil flowed abroad, and the government had enough money both for itself and for people, to throw them some bones. Then the dollar rose, the price of spare parts soared, and there was less work. Depreciation amounts to a lot of money in Russia, and you are left with peanuts. Basically, we cannot afford to replace our vehicle fleets.
Alexei: From 2002 to 2008, when the tax system was semi-gray and payments were made in cash, I bought trucks. I had eight of them. Subsequently, every year I would cut one truck to be able to repair the rest. Now I have one heavy transport truck left. I used to have these issues. I would drive to the service center and they would replace all the bad parts. You won’t believe me, but now I know which city and which demo yard has the cheapest spare parts. What is a demo yard? A place that sells used parts. That means we are not running 100% safe on the road anymore. Even if a part has 20% wear and tear, your safety is lower.
Oleg: The point is that incomes have fallen almost to zero. Basically, [the authorities] want to take the shirt off our backs, but we are refusing to budge. We are not earning anything nowadays. We have ground to a halt and are idling.
To make matters worse, the tax, which the government says is needed to fill state coffers, will be collected by RT-Invest, a company half owned by Igor Rotenberg, son of Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s former judo partner and 57th richest Russian according to Forbes Russia. RT-Invest will receive one out of four rubles for their collection services.
On November 20, the outcry from truckers pressured the government to cancel fines for drivers who failed to pay the tax. The truckers weren’t appeased and their protest continues, despite efforts by Russian authorities to arrest organizers and stifle further protests. This week truckers plan to converge on Moscow and attempt to close the Ring Road highway.
Russian leftists have declared their solidarity with Russia’s truckers. On November 29, thirteen left activists were arrested in Moscow for staging an unsanctioned solidarity protest.
Below is a translation of a joint declaration from the Russian Socialist Movement and the left-wing web portal, Open Left explaining why leftists should support the truckers’ struggle.
Why the Long Distant Truckers’ Strike Needs Support
The Editors / 24 November 2015
Joint Declaration of the Russian Socialist Movement and Open Left
Russian Socialist Movement and Open Left declare support for the truckers protesting against the new highway toll and the Plato System. We join in the demand the end to the information blackout of the protesters. The new toll law must be reevaluated in the interests of all citizens it could impact.
Facts about the Plato system (“Pay per tonnage”):
- Long distance trucking is the most important component of the transportation infrastructure in a country as large as Russia.
- Freight transport is already taxed by the annual vehicle tax and the excise duty on diesel fuel. The new tax will therefore be a third tax on semi-trucks.
- The highway toll is levied as compensation for the damage caused by private semis to federal highways. But trucks travelling on the highways should already meet the performance standards of federal highways and regulations for the shipment of freight.
- For many individual carriers (up to a third according to some estimates), this law will be a cause for doing away with this kind of work. Therefore, Plato would be yet another blow to small business and another source of enrichment for the super-rich and those with close ties to state monopolies.
- The new toll doesn’t just hit truckers’ pocketbooks. It is another indirect tax on the entire population. It will inevitably lead to an increase in prices of goods, and primarily in the foodstuffs, fruits and vegetables trucks ship across Russia. These results will be particularly acute in the context of the economic crisis and the general increase in prices.
- Though we are essentially talking about federal taxes, their collection is not being done by the state but by a private company, half of which is owned by the son of Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s friend and one of the country’s richest men. By some estimates, the company RT-Invest will receive one-fourth of the collected rubles, totaling about 10 billion rubles a year.
- There is no oversight to ensure that the funds from the new tax, collected by a private firm, will actually end up in the budget. The Plato System is hidden from public scrutiny.
- The tracking of freight will be concentrated into a single database in the hands of a private company. A breakdown in the unified bureaucratic system of control over freight traffic could lead to the collapse of the transportation infrastructure across the country. Truckers are already suffering losses: Many of those who did not go on strike have been forced to cancel their routes because of setbacks in Plato’s unproven track record.
- PLATO is yet another effort to address budget problems at the expense of the population and at the same time directly enrich a small group of pro-government businesses.
We will not pay for the crisis!