Workers in Russia protest to defend wages, conditions

By Brian Williams
August 22, 2022

According to government officials in Russia, there are practically no labor disputes or strikes there because amicable relations exist between workers, bosses and the government. But a closer look tells a very different story. 

There were almost 400 labor protests in Russia last year despite repressive conditions imposed by the regime of President Vladimir Putin, writes Pyotr Bizyukov for Monitoring of Worker Protests, a website compiling records of labor struggles for the past 15 years. 

Laws making it almost impossible to go on strike were adopted shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1993. Official statistics show no more than five “legal” strikes a year for the past decade and a half. But workers in Russia have organized different types of actions, including pickets, rallies, hunger strikes, roadblocks and work-to-rule, known as an Italian strike. 

Even though normally barred, strikes are permitted when workers are owed back wages. Between 1.7 million and 2 million people were not paid on time at least once every year, according to Bizyukov. And this situation has gotten worse since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and the imposition of sanctions against Russia by Washington and other imperialist powers. 

After Putin’s invasion and the government’s crackdown on protests, strikes plummeted. But since then, the number has grown each month. In early June workers went on strike at the Ural Compressor Plant in Yekaterinburg because of nonpayment of wages for April and May. More than 300 workers are owed some $364,000. 

In response, plant director Denis Tasakov blasted workers for their failure to “understand” what Putin calls Moscow’s “special military operation” in Ukraine. Tasakov demanded strikers “come to their senses.” 

“No one cared about wages during the Great Patriotic War,” he added, trying to compare the victorious defense of the Soviet Union from the invasion by Nazi Germany in World War II, with the Putin regime’s current attempt to crush Ukraine’s hard-fought independence. 

Many labor protests are by taxi drivers and construction and health workers. Some workers who file complaints with state authorities or express anti-government views on the internet also face harassment by authorities and criminal prosecution.  

State forces raided the home and arrested Kirill Ukraintsev, president of the Russian Couriers Union, April 25. Charged with organizing unsanctioned protests, he was detained for two months and now faces a trial that could put him in prison for five years.  

The raid occurred on the fourth day of a strike called by workers at Yandex Food. “Food delivery couriers had their wages cut recently, so we had to protest against this,” the union said in a statement. 

In September 2021 Ukraintsev was also detained for 10 days for demanding the release of Azat Miftakhov, an anarchist convicted and sentenced to six years in a penal colony for his involvement in an alleged attack on offices of Putin’s United Russia party. Miftakhov denied the charges.  

In 2019 Putin approved thought-control laws that allow courts to fine and incarcerate people for showing “disrespect” toward authorities, and to censor media for publishing what the government claims is “fake news.”

The government also raised the retirement age from 60 to 65 for men, and from 55 to 63 for women in 2019. In response, thousands of working people took to the streets in several cities to protest these attacks on workers’ rights.