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)|
|Reduction of work hours|
|Withholding pay (various pay)|
|Reduction of pay|
|Protests unconnected to labor conflicts|
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The hunger strikers say they have been scrupulous about sticking to the law. They kept working and checked the Criminal Code to make sure they were doing nothing illegal. There have been no other outward signs of protest.
Negrebetskikh, a rolling mill operator, said he felt something had to be done. He lives with his wife and two children in a 44-square-meter apartment near the factory, where chimneys pump brown and gray smoke into the mountain air. In September, he was making up to 18,000 rubles per month before tax. Now, he is earning 5,900.
“The 5,000 rubles my wife makes working in a shop means the kids don’t go hungry,” he said.
After tax, their joint income is about 8,000 rubles. After 2,000 rubles in fixed utility bills and a 3,000 ruble monthly payment on a $1,000 fridge, they have 3,000 rubles left.
Treats like trips to the movie theater or candy for his children are unaffordable. “Sausage is now a luxury,” Negrebetskikh said. “It doesn’t matter to me if I go on hunger strike, I’m hungry anyway.”
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