The indefinite strike at the Ford factory in Vsevolozhsk suburb of St. Petersburg has been going on for more than two weeks. It is a very important event in the recent history of Russia, as it is the first serious strike in Russia for the last 12 years.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a catastrophic fall in production. This also affected the labour movement which has been facing big difficulties and a depressed mood gripped the workers. Now we have an upturn in the Russian economy, and with it comes the class struggle, as this strike at Ford clearly demonstrates.
Hundreds of workers are taking part in the strike, mainly young workers. For the first week the factory was completely paralysed. Then Ford management was able to resume one of three shifts, using non-union employees, scabs. Every day these scabs produce 50-60 cars against the 300 that is normal production, so the strike is still very effective and the company is losing millions of dollars in production.
Because of financial difficulties some workers are working a few days, then going back to strike, then working a few days, and then going back to strike, in agreement with the strike committee. This is why the strike has been able to last so long. The actual number of workers on strike at any given time is between 600-750. There has also been solidarity action by workers in Germany, from where management had hoped to ship extra cars into Russia to make up for the fall in supply here.
Alexei Etmanov, aleader of the workers explained that the main demand of the workers is for a wage increase of 35%. Now wages stand at 15,000-22,000 RR or US$ 600-800. The bosses have offered only 11%, which is less than inflation for the year. There are also other demands concerning workers’ conditions, pensions, etc. Workers also want their night shifts reduced to six and a half hours, from seven and a half hours. In addition the union is asking for overtime pay of three times base pay and indexing wages to the cost of living.
The response of management has been brutal. They have announced that in line with the Russian Labour Code, the company would not pay wages during the walkout because the unions had not given management the legally required 10-days’ advance notice of the strike. And in a clear attempt to divide the workers they added that those workers who had voted against the strike would receive two thirds of their wages.
This militant and determined strike is the result of the obstinacy of management. In early November, the workers held a 19-hour warning strike after the bosses had repeatedly refused to make concessions on the workers’ wage demands.
This situation had been building up for some time. Already earlier this year in March 2007 there had been a one-day stoppage
Every day 300-1500 workers take part in the picket line. Last week one worker was hit by a police car and injured. The autoworkers’ Trade Union is without any doubt a most militant trade union in Russia. A victory or a defeat would have a great influence on the workers’ movement in the country. Now all trade unionists and young industrial workers have a big interest in this struggle.
We have taken part in solidarity action, on the picket line, etc., in these days. Now that the financial reserves of the trade union have been exhausted, International Solidarity is very important.
The activists of the autoworkers’ trade unions in the USA and other countries can play an important role in approaching both the Trade Union leaders and the rank and file in their countries about support for the strike. Comrades should approach autoworkers in their countries, and especially where there are Ford plants and explain the situation. The leadership of the trade unions in the auto industry should be approached to take solidarity actions, as has happened in Germany.
The workers are facing serious financial difficulties and need help to continue the strike. To make a financial contribution to the strike fund you can go to the Labour Start web site where scrolling down the right hand column you will find a box through which you can make an online contribution.