SOVIET TRADE UNIONS OH THE ROAD TO A SHAMEFUL FALL
"Trades unions practically don't exist".
economic advisor to the Russian government,
in "Moscow News", April 20, 1992.
The words of Sergei Vasiliev were not a chance remark; he was stating a fact. In his interview in "Moscow News" he says the goal of the Yeltsin-Gaidar government is to transform 100.000 bureaucrats into a class of entrepreneurs. The remaining 150 million should be, as Vasiliev mostly gracefully expressed, "non-owners". It is clear that these 100.000 bureaucrats will divide up that government property which has been constructed by the entire population working together. The rest will be plundered. But the overwhelming majority of those who are earmarked for the plunder are in the trade unions. It's logical that the trade unions shouldn't allow the general plunder of their members. But Vasiliev knows that they will. It's with precisely this in mind that he says "trade unions don't exist". For now only in this meaning but later the very possibility of a mass opposition to the plundering of the people will disappear.
It is obvious that the government looks upon the trade unions as enemies. The anti-trade union campaign that was played out in the pro-government press, the promises of the vice-minister of labour, "social democrat" Pavel Kudiukin to nationalize the holdings of the trade unions all shows the goal of the government all too clearly: to destroy the trade unions. The leaders of our trade unions were warned of the inevitability of such developments of events long ago. For example, as far back as September 1990 in the paper "Panorama", one of the leaders of the Stalinist United Front of Toilers (OFT), Igor Malyarov, predicted that the next to be crushed (after the CPSU) would be the trade unions. The defeat of the trade unions, he warned, will be concurrent with the establishment of a "fierce presidential regime with a right-wing dictatorship". Remember, all this was said more than two years before the eighth Congress of Peoples Deputes where Yeltsin once again put forward the question about his private power. By the way, in that interview Malyarov was like a natural prophet; he predicted the choice of Yeltsin as president, the fall of the Communist government, the crushing of the CPSU and the dissolution of the all-Union Congress. If only our trade union leaders had listened to his predictions concerning the trade unions.
But of course they didn't do this and couldn't have. Why do you ask? Because the leadership of the Soviet trade unions (and they are precisely Soviet and no other) are carrying out a politics of betrayal in relation to the interests of the ranks of trade union members.
Our trade union honchos were the flesh and blood of the upper stratum of Soviet bureaucracy. And just like they honestly served the interests of the ruling strata of bureaucrats in the Soviet times, they serve them today. They have common social origins and interests. Who occupied the head positions of the trade unions? Budding Komsomol workers or demoted party functionaries. They still occupy these positions. And their friends from their former places of employment now sit in government cabinets, directors' offices of both government enterprises and private commercial firms. It's all the same stratum. It's all the same gang.
That the leadership of FNPR under Igor Klotchkov is fulfilling a government directive is obvious. How else could one explain the FNPR's shameful role in the Trilateral Commission of which the trade union leadership occupied one side? (The second side was the government, the third - entrepreneurs.) Considering the entrepreneurs to represent the employers (like in the West), the trade unions - the employees, but the government was the arbiter reconciling the interests of the first two sides. Is there any such entrepreneur in Russia with 50.000 workers? Or 20.000? Or even 10.000? Tell me his name! There are none. The main entrepreneur, owner, employer and even exploiter is the same as before - the state. The state is represented in the Trilateral Commission by the government. Who do the entrepreneurs represent? Commercial banks, which are completely controlled by the Central Bank of Russia? The Trilateral Commission is a rigged game where the government and entrepreneurs play the role of the cheat representing the interests of ONE boss - the emerging exploiter class of a corrupted bureaucratic bourgeoisie. The leadership of the FNPR, participating in this game understands this very well. The only reason it continues to play is only because it's the third dishonest player. And the game is being played not with the money of one of the players, but with the money of common people, the rank-and-file union members.
Can you explain the behaviour of the leaders of our Soviet trade unions as anything but betrayal when they try to convince the rank-and-file of its members to take into consideration the hard financial situation and other difficulties which the government is facing? Whose interests do they represent? The exploiter-state or the exploited worker, who almost likely is working for the same state? If it is for the first they should be kicked out of the unions, and if it is for the second, then let them explain why they play the role of advocate for the class and political enemy.
The trade union movement in Russia is affected by opportunism. The name of this opportunism is Klotchkovism. Because he is leading the regime of the bureau-bourgeoise and plays the role of leader of the FNPR which is counting on destroying the trade unions as a mass political power with his help.
Klotchkovism is a cancerous tumor, infecting the local and branch trade unions. The routing of the "spring" as well as the "autumn offensive" of the Russian trade unions initiated by Klotchkov and his buffoons proves it. Lacking experience in class struggle, not having learned the history of the workers' struggle for their rights, lacking enough information about the actions of the administration and the government, not having any strong ties with any other trade union organizations, disinformed by the government's mass media, left without consultation from the trade union leaders and without fundamental preparation in the methods of struggle and demand proposal, the strikers were left alone on the spot. This is direct betrayal.
Having organized a strike in the state financed industries, the leaders of the FNPR should have worked out a single packet of demands and should have coordinated the activities of the strikers. This would have been the minimum necessary action, obviously. What the leadership of the FNPR had done was the same as if the Supreme Head Command had gathered the commanders of the line and informed them: we'll start the general offensive on this date. There's no plan so act as you will. Unfortunately there are also no reserves, there was no reconnaissance work carried out, you won't have air support and we advise you not to waste artillery. Onward for your country! It's clear that such a general offensive plan in the military would lead to the arrest and shooting of the authors of such a plan. Klotchkov and his comrades apparently are hoping that nobody will shoot them. I doubt it.
Particularly telling is the history of the health care workers' strike which took place in spring 1992. If other state financed industries could have exerted real economic pressure on the government the health care workers obviously couldn't.
The representatives of the trade union of medical workers, who were almost entirely changed over in recent years, were made an example of. The government was counting on the fact that the medical strike would hit the population hard, would cause mass dissatisfaction and hatred of health care workers from those in other trade union groups. The reptilian mass media would exaggerate the incidents caused by the strike from the onset. The strikers would be split by separate negotiations (like the EMTs in Moscow). The strike would fail. The example made of the "rebellious" health workers would serve as a lesson to the others - first and foremost to the teachers. (The teachers were also planning to strike. - ed.)
It's a wonder that this didn't happen. The hostility of the people towards the regime (albeit a passive one) turned out to be so great that the populace by far sympathised with the health care workers in their struggle with the government.
The position of the leaders of the FNPR towards this strike can only be explained by the fact that they were using the same logic as the government. If the leadership of the FNPR had wanted the victory and not the defeat of the workers it would have conducted the matter a different way. They would have explained to the representatives of the union that a mass propaganda campaign should preceed every strike in the medical field, explaining its goals (as the western experience of the 70s and 80s showed us), that they won't have all their demands fulfilled through the strike because it won't be general and complete (which would lead to the killing of patients) and also because it wouldn't directly effect those who are personally responsible for the current situation in medicine. And that there are other methods of struggle. For example, it is altogether possible to compile a list of the bureaucrats both in the central as well as outer regions who are personally responsible for the present crisis in medicine; there would be no problem in making a medical boycott of these bureaucrats and their families. They all go somewhere to be cured, they are all registered with some hospital. You could make a decision to refuse these bureaucrats (and even members of their families as well) any medication or medical assistance. You could adopt a resolution to require all health care workers and pharmacists to observe such a boycott and those who decide to break this resolution should be boycotted themselves, ostracized and kicked out of the profession. You could hold a "moral tribunal". Cruel? Yes. But to leave millions of people in this country to die because of a lack of medication and necessary medical equipment is even more cruel. A refusal of medical assistance is a criminal act? Yes. But the strike is about a refusal to provide medical assistance and this refusal should be treated as a crime. It's a crime, and not simply a crime but mass murder, genocide, a crime against humanity. And those who inspire such a crime (the Yeltsin-Gaidar government) and those who implement it (the local bureaucrats) should be, by law, taken to court as the organizers of a mass murder. Thus to refuse them medical care in Russia is a very humane measure. In the end, if need be, let them fly abroad and get help there. Only on their own, and not on government money.
The direct task of the leadership of the FNPR would be to initiate a trial against these people on the grounds of mass murder.
Nothing of the sort was done. So you ask why the hell then do the trade union leaders spend trade union money on various consultants, lawyers and even whole trade union research centers and institutes? Why are they wasting millions on such stupid trade union holidays, on organizing stupid rallies and parades?
Any well read political analyst would say that to now hold anti-governmental rallies is stupid. Such a rally could have frightened Gorbachev and his gang who were brought up with the belief that an anti-governmental rally was something horrific, unthinkable - almost the end of the world. But today's leaders themselves organized anti-governmental rallies a few years ago. They're not afraid of them. If need be they can organize a counter-protest. It would be better to spend the money wasted on these rallies on the organization of a highly professional expert commission to develop new union policies and new strategies of trade union struggle. The government is big on spending money for experts, even pays hard currency for western experts because it knows that today what counts is intellect, not numbers. But our trade union leaders don't give a damn about trade union matters. They pretend that the example of the war in the Persian Gulf, when the USA routed Iraq precisely because of intellectual superiority is not for them. The thing is not that they have lost the ability to learn, they just take the side of the government, which possesses intellectual superiority.
The Moscow Federation of Trade Unions (MFP), as far as I know, has printed a great number of leaflets and posters for the "trade union" holiday, May 1st. But where were they? Why has nobody seen them on the city streets? What were they - pornographic leaflets? Why were the leaflets of the Stalinist "Labour Russia" posted all over Moscow? A lot of money were spent on these leaflets. If this is not betrayal or sabotage, what is it?
With this money they should've gathered together an expert group of specialist professionals (possibly even foreigners) in order to work out a strategy of counter-propaganda in response to the anti-trade union campaign started up in the government papers.
It's a shame to admit that the biggest mass organization in the country in fact doesn't have its own press. Can you tell from the paper "Trud" ("Labour") that it's a trade union paper? With great difficulty. You can't even guess from this that the government and the trade unions have different interests.
Today, reading an anti-trade union article in the papers we ask ourselves: aren't the printers trade union members? And if they are members, they shouldn't print such articles. And what about free speech you ask. Let the trade unions' opponents establish their own print-shops, without trade union members and there they can print their anti-trade union stuff. Nobody will stop them.
For the last 30 years in the West a whole science of struggle against the trade unions has been established. The methods of struggle have been tried in practice in different countries and has brought quite a few successes to the enemies of the trade union movement. Practically everywhere in the western countries the trade unions have seen the decrease of their influence on the workers, have lost their previous positions. But the trade unions there have a long history of struggle and they have already worked out a system of counter-measures, and they have their own representatives in the political arena in different parties. We have nothing of the sort here. And those western consultants who carry the anti-trade union line of the Yeltsin-Gaidar government know this very well and are sure that they can lead the Soviet trade unions to their demise. And as far as the trade unions are lead by Klotchkovs, the demise will be a shameful one.
But our trade union honchos have made one mistake. They think that their old friends from the government cabinets will play fairly with them. But it's not so. The government is using the union leaders to implement their anti-trade union plans, but they use them with loathing, as if they had to interact with lepers. Our trade union honchos really think that they too are included in that number of the 100 thousand "chosen". But it's not so. All the places there have long been occupied.
But the harder the workers' situation will become, the clearer for them will be the redundancy of unions such as today's and such "leaders" as Klotchkov. And they'll tell these unions and these "leaders" to go to hell. Only one shouldn't think that the workers will forget who destroyed the trade unions and left them alone with the exploiters. The destruction of the trade unions has already begun. The report, published in "Trud" about the disbanding of the 400 member trade union in Khabarovsk because of its complete inactivity is just the beginning. That's how the collapse of the Komsomol started.
From behind the thick walls of their comfortable offices our trade union honchos neither hear nor see that a civil war has started in the country. They naively think that the civil war won't touch them. If they were really the workers' leaders they could count on the workers to defend them personally as their leadership, as people possessing the talent and experience of organizers.
But having destroyed the trade unions, our union leaders themselves will have fallen to the ranks of the unprotected citizens. And all the horrors of a civil war will befall them as well. It won't be to their advantage to be distinguished from the everyday citizen as well-known people. They will be hated especially by the bureau-bourgeoisie as potential competition and witnesses to their dirty games and by the workers as renegades. People with such a reputation don't live through civil wars. This 1 can testify to as a specialist, an historian.
And so the shortsightedness of our union leaders leads me into a stupor. But, OK, they will kill the unions. But they are killing themselves and their families as well. Klotchkov maybe will be saved by his friends in the government. But the others, that is the lower ranks - nobody will save them.
May 24 –June 10, 1992