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Four participants from Russia joined the exchange. All of them were working in the metal sector and members of the Interregional Federation of Independent Unions of Automobile Industry Workers (MPRA). They worked for Nokian Tyres, Volkswagen in Kaluga and Ford in Saint Petersburg.
Historical context of trade unionism in Russia
The system of the Russian trade unions was formed at the dawn of the Soviet Union. According to Lenin, in the socialist system there is no conflict of interest between workers and factory owners, which are state enterprises. Therefore, the independent trade union, which defended the interests of workers, was not necessary. Lenin formulated the task of unions as to stimulate production, to ensure the implementation of the plan, as well as to regulate the social aspects such as health care, pension, vacation schedules, housing, cultural activities, etc. Trade unions were in fact a “buffer” between the workers and the Communist Party.
Russian trade unions were part of the structure of companies and received special tasks, such as to monitor compliance with the safety of workers at the workplace. Trade union contributions were made directly to the company and used for the maintenance of trade union premises, the organization of various cultural events, or trips. From the part of the union, no conflict or provocation against the administration was expected.
Changes in trade union structures took place with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Communist Party was dissolved and her property was confiscated, but the Soviet trade unions were disbanded and did not lose any property. As a result, the former Soviet federation of trade unions (FNPR) still exists and owns a lot of property.
Developments in expanding sectors of the Russian economy are often not accompanied by the improvement of working conditions on the work floor or an increase of the employees’ salary. The trade unions that belong to the FNPR are organised in an hierarchical way. Every trade union action on the work floor must first be approved by the middle management and the top of the trade union. The old power structures and decision-making processes are still very strong. Because of this, these trade unions do not have the flexibility to react to rapid changes in production methods and working conditions. The FNPR trade unions aim mainly at providing services instead of at strengthening of the organisation of the employees. They organise cheap holidays and social security provisions for their members but they do not address the existing (and unequal) power relations within the companies.
Recently, a considerable number of new independent trade unions were founded, of which however only a small part has been able to maintain itself. They form a small but actual opposition power towards the rich and powerful factory owners. The MPRA is the umbrella organization that brings together newly created unions in mainly multinational car companies. Many of the employees of these companies and members of these unions are young.
Youth and trade unions
Unfortunately, the information disseminated by the media, doesn’t include any information on the trade union movement, workers’ organizations, or the struggle for the rights of workers. This can be explained by a simple opposition of the exploiting class to the fact workers got organized, educated, that they are conscious of their rights and able to defend the workers. Any information on independent trade unions, either isn’t published, or is published distorted incorrect. Thus, knowledge of young people about trade unions, to put it mildly, is very little and often incorrect.
In this situation, information about the unions comes to young people by the ‘spread of the word’. Typically, sources of this information are senior colleagues, who worked in Soviet enterprises. Media picture unions, who are fighting for the rights of workers, as extremist organizations.
As young workers are under pressure at work, their rights are violated, they have low wages in enterprises and a low level of social protection. Young workers are forced to fight for their rights and defend their interests themselves. Due to misinformation spread by the media regarding the trade unions, young workers have a wrong idea of the work of trade unions, of their goals and objectives. That is the main cause for suspicion, and sometimes a negative attitude towards trade unions.
Youth – is primarily active people, full of strength and energy. These qualities manifest themselves actively in trade union struggles. Young workers are often more prepared to take part in strikes, demonstrations and other actions undertaken by labor unions.
In addition to being active and energetic, there are a number of reasons which convince us of the need to actively involve young workers in union struggles: Youth are more adapted to work with modern technical means used for information exchange, training and documentation, etc. Younger workers are more flexible in learning and are able to look at a problem from different angles and less susceptible to biases and prejudices.