A coalition of independent trade unions organised a nation-wide protest on June 19 against a government proposal for a new labour code, which massively weakens the position of workers.
The code would nullify collective bargaining, force workers to work a 12-hour day and force them to accept wage payment in kind, job insecurity, legal blacklisting, enforced night work for pregnant women and child labour.
The leaders of the FNPR, the largest trade union confederation in Russia, who initially declared their opposition to the code, have now joined forces with the government in a "conciliatory commission" which has approved the legislation.
Co-chair of the militant union Zaschita, Duma deputy, and one of the founders of the protest campaign Oleg Shein, however, has proposed an alternative draft, popularly known as the "Shein Code", which calls for a major extension, rather than a contraction, of existing labour rights. This has received mass grassroots support.
Over 100,000 workers across the country were involved in the day of action. Dockers at all Russian ports staged a short symbolic strike, while seamen in some harbours simultaneously sounded their horn in solidarity. Strikes, including hunger strikes, by aviation workers took place in Archangelsk, Kotlas, Petrozavodsk, Tyumen, Omsk, Saratov, Khanty-Mansiysk, and Yakutia.
In Omsk, Siberia, two members of the Siberian Confederation of Labor on hunger strike were threatened with prosecution.
On the "October" and "Moscow" railway lines, workers sounded the hooters to mark the event. At Sverdlovsk, in the Urals, there was a particularly good turnout with up to 10,000 people participating in actions which included a blockade of the main highway and of the local headquarters of the FNPR.
In Astrakhan, participants included not only members of the militant union Zaschita but also teachers and retail workers from the local branches of the FNPR in defiance of their national leadership. Involvement of FNPR workers occurred in other towns too.
In Moscow, several dozen people, including representatives of Zaschita, the pilots' union, air despatchers' and railway workers' unions gathered outside the Duma in spite of a ban by the authorities.
A further protest took place later outside the Ministry of Transport, and in the afternoon 150 workers of the large industrial plant GPZ demonstrated outside their factory.
Miners from the NPG (Independent Union of Miners) came from across the country to demonstrate on the Gorbaty Bridge, the same bridge where Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov had sent in his tanks to clear a picket during the famous "rail wars" of 1998.
Luzhkov banned the protest at the bridge, which faces the building of the government of the Russian Federation, declaring that the union could not give him the necessary guarantees of "social order". Nevertheless the miners held another rally later.
The government of President Vladimir Putin pressed on with the first reading of its "coordinated" draft code on 5 July. However, as Shein has pointed out, this still allows the campaigners several months to build wider and stronger support across Russia before the crucial final reading is due in October.
[Reprinted from International Solidarity with Workers in Russia, ISWoR, .]