By Paul Goble
Two days ago, a St. Petersburg court agreed to requests from prosecutors and banned the Inter-Regional Trade Union, the Worker Association, which unites employees in 16 automobile factories and their subsidiaries in 40 regions. The ostensible reason given was that the Union has been found to be “’a foreign agent.’”
This represents, Irkutsk journalist Valentina Serova says, the beginning “again” of a Moscow effort to “prohibit trade unions.” Indeed, she suggests, labor unions elsewhere most of which are smaller and only at the first stages of organizing are “hanging by a hair” and may soon be closed as well (babr24.com/?IDE=169467).
It is true that the union gathered signatures to change certain Russian laws, and it is also true, Serova says, that it protested the mistreatment of workers including the failure of firms to pay wages on a timely basis or abide by workplace rules. But it is not the case that it ever hid its links to the international labor movement.
There are currently more than 28,000 unions in Russia of varying size and importance, but all are at risk of being charged with crimes that will allow the authorities to close them down at will, Serova says.
Many say, she points out, that “we are returning to the pre-war years with searches for ‘enemies of the people,’ opposing ‘the treacherous plans of the West,’ and all-people vigilance to identify its agents.” All these things are true, Serova continues; but in fact, the situation is even worse: Russia under Putin is returning to the pre-Soviet past as well.
Banning trade unions as the tsars did is one sign of this, but there are many others, she says.argues. “It is hardly surprising that this is the case especially after we found out about the creation of an all-powerful and all-embracing de facto personal guard of ‘the first person of the country” and “the whitewashing” of dictators like Ivan the Terrible.
The only thing that may surprise, Serova concludes, is that this didn’t happen in 2011-2012 when Putin made his turn to real authoritarianism. But that is the way things apparently are fated to work in Russia today.