|Moscow Times -
May. 25, 2001
The Continuing Class Struggle
By Boris Kagarlitsky
It often happens that the most important questions receive the least
attention. The proposed changes to the Labor Code, I think, are a perfect
example of this.
The present Labor Code, adopted in Soviet times, is hopelessly outdated.
From the perspective of employers, it simply gives too many rights
workers while labor advocates think that it gives too little or that
high-sounding promises are simply unenforceable. Everyone, then, agrees
that a new code is needed: The only question is what it will contain.
For more than a year, the government has been trying to get a draft
code through the State Duma that really deserves to be consigned to
trash-heap of history. This draft not only sharply restricts the rights
trade unions and encourages employers to spy on their employees and
track of their political views and personal habits - it also opens
to the widespread use of child labor and the gradual transition from
8-hour to a 12-hour workday.
Of course, the government won't force employers to do these things.
simply allowing them to institute "flexible" working arrangements to
introduce - with the "agreement" of workers - 12-hour workdays and
labor. History shows that workers, threatened with dismissal or pay
will "voluntarily" agree to anything, especially if their rights to
unionize have been restricted.
Sweatshops exist in many countries and it must be acknowledged that
is far from the worst place on earth for workers. However, we may be
way to becoming the first country in the world to legally defend sweatshops
by rolling back modern norms of labor relations.
And how about our unions? How are they resisting this government
initiative? The Federation of Independent Labor Unions, the largest
organization in Russia, responded by introducing its own draft, which
bills as a compromise between the Soviet code and the government proposal.
For nearly a year, the federation has pushed this proposal while many
unions - adopting a more radical position - have threatened strikes
forward their own versions. The result is that the state draft, which
expected to be made law more than a year ago, remains a bill.
Then, suddenly, the federation reversed itself and rejected its own
Now it is calling for a joint commission to "correct" the Kremlin's
proposal. What is going on?
The answer is banal. As the heir to Soviet labor unions, the federation
received control over considerable property, which has been being slowly
privatized by its leadership although it continues to support an enormous
bureaucracy. The federation, after all, lives primarily off the revenues
generates rather than from the paltry dues of union members. Real estate
speculation is more profitable than the class struggle.
The time when labor could have stood on principles is past. Soon a "second
wave" of shock therapy will begin, and it will sharply change the rules
the game. Igor Klochkov, the former head of the federation, lost his
for resisting the Kremlin and the current leadership has internalized
The proposed joint commission was supposed to buy time. If the federation
could put off the code until after its fall congress, its leaders would
have saved their jobs. But the Kremlin is insisting on pushing it through
in June, and the federation is caving in. But not its member organizations.
Many have already announced their willingness to hold an independent
congress. Even with the federation in its pocket, the Kremlin faces
opposition with this bill.
Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist.