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The Courchevel Serfs

By Alexei Melnikov

Gazeta.ru
April 19, 2010

The oligarchs' formula for modernization: the citizens should work more, get less payment, and not complain when they are dismissed without compensation.

People usually name the confrontation between the civil society and a corrupt state be the key political conflict in modern Russia. The latest statement by [tycoon] Mikhail Prokhorov, who voiced the position of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RUIE) on labour legislation, showed the people that there is one more serious conflict. It is called open social confrontation. Between business and hired labour. The statement by RIUE sis very importnat.

Maybe for the first time for the past years the society has been openly shown that large business has its own interests; separate from both the "state" and the "public" interests. During the heady "noughties", the large business dressed up in the clothes of bureaucratic patriotism and its face demonstrated a grin of "social responsibility" when in public.

Now the mask has been dropped. The economy is marking time. However, they really do not want to cut their consumption. And who should pay for it? Certainly, the workers. It is quite clear what the large business wants. A beautifully decorated box with inscription "human capital as a means of economic modernisation" has plain contents. They want to sack people easier, quicker, and with reduced compensations. The large business would also like Russias citizens to work more and receive less benefits.

It is not only the large business that has been picking citizens' pockets. A more influential corporation of bureacrats linked with the so-called state-owned companies can compete with the large business in fishing our peoples money; for example, by means of raising tariffs for housing and utilities services. However, bureaucrats today at least pretend trying to restrain the growth of tariffs and remove any extremes. However, in case of the modernisers of human capital everything is quite different. Here the same recklessness of gangster capitalism can be seen from under the Courchevel gloss,

One have to be completely brainless politically to come up with a declaration of tightening the labour legislation during a period of growing social tension. It is unlikely that such declarations will be easily translated into law. At least, if the ruling group has some sense of self-preservation. If labour laws are toughened any way, then the only possible means of extinguishing social conflicts will be manual control. When the law exists and you can dismiss people, just try. In any case, the instability of the system will increase.

If we translate this from the primitive language of understandable private interests into the language of social needs, then here we can step on the same rake. They are called economic modernisation at the expense of reduction people's living standards. And this was already experienced in 1990s. Was there any significant result achieved? Then why is it impossible to take another path, without touching painful labour issues and attempting to achieve an overall economic liberalisation? After all, there are big reserves here, and consistent policies towards the increase of competition can do much more for modernisation of the economy than dangerous attempts to turn citizens into speaking tools of labour.

Maybe it is the class instinct encouraging business to take advantage of the authoritarian form of government to tear as much as possible away from the yet weak trade union movement? To push through the fictitious parliament and smiling President speaking of modernisation something that will bring in billions over years? By the way, all this without guaranteeing any serious economic revival. The latter is probably closer to the truth.

The thoughts of our large business resemble the short thoughts of Pinocchio, and in general the large business is always ready to take risks, especially when there is confidence that it can rely on the government. The open attack on the labour legislation once again demonstrates the vacuum in Russias society in the absence of an influential trade union movement, as well as a strong political party based on trade unions and defending a social democratic political programme. Is contemporary modernisation possible without such forces? It is probably impossible if we are talking about creating a society similar to modern Western democracies.

Because the goal of the reform is not only an economy capable of producing a quickly changing and rapidly growing set of goods and services. This implies achieving of a quite high social living standards for the citizens, who actually act as the consumers of these goods and services and who have an incentive to produce them. A certain balance is needed. But it may emerge only when citizens are protected by strong policies and defenders of the common interest trade unions and civil parties. If there are no influential trade unions and social democratic parties, then things turn out as they are here today, when people with diamond studs and golden shoes expertly decide how ordinary people should live and work, for the sake of great goals and other people's pockets.

See also:

Human Rights

 

 




April 19, 2010