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NTV Channel, "Freedom of Speech" programme, April 30, 2004

Does Russia still need May Day
With participation of Grigory Yavlinsky, Vladimir Lukin and Sergei Mitrokhin

Based on BBC Monitoring
Anchor: Savvik Shuster

In the "Freedom of Speech" programme on 30 April the speakers and audience debated live whether May Day had lost its meaning in Russia, whether the trade unions were still useful and talked about veterans' benefits. A table indicated that 60 per cent of the population thought that May Day had lost its meaning; 37 per cent thought it was important and should still be celebrated today; 4 per cent were unable to reply. These figures were further broken down into age groups. Those polled believe that no-one defends the working people today. The following is a report by the Russian external TV service NTV Mir on 30 April.

The presenter, Shuster, explained that in the audience the speakers are divided into those born before 1967 [33.6 per cent] and those born after, those who are no longer embraced by the pension reform [66.4], whose future pension rights are uncertain.

Mikhail Shmakov, chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, spoke about the origins of May Day and stressed that 37 per cent of Russians still celebrate May Day. He said that his trade union had 48 branches, which have their own specialized sectors defending their members.

Aleksandr Sergeyev a member of the Independent Trade Union of Russian Miners in the audience stated that the old trade unions were no longer trade unions and the new ones were not proper trade unions yet. He added that workers were not protected because there were no proper trade unions so far and blamed Shmakov and Isayev, because the Labour Code is inadequate to defend the working people, an accusation which Shmakov rejected.

Alexander Pochinok, aide to the chairman of the Council of Ministers, on a video-link screen to the studio commented, "Naturally, 1st May has lost its meaning as a public holiday, as there is no-one to protect the workers in Russia... The 1 May is now an opportunity to take a really nice rest for four days somewhere out in the countryside. The issue of protection is a very complicated issue... At present the Labour Code is functioning and is functioning sufficiently effectively. Now the rights of millions of citizens are protected every year. What is the difference between the two trade union leaders who spoke. One keeps calling for strikes, while the other opts for talks, complicated, boring, horrible, talks. There is nothing worse than talks between the government and employers... But then the problems do get resolved. Remember that five years ago there were 17,000 strikes a year in the country. Last year there were (?61) (Shuster interrupts, blurring figure).

Encouraged by the presenter, who said that some miners have real problems, Vladimir Shakhtin, the head of administration of the municipality of the city of Inta, Republic of Komi, stated, "There has just been a report in the news about the Yeniseyskaya mine. This is a private mine, and these problems are the result of the restructuring of the mining sector, which took place in 10 years in our country, but lasted 30-40 years in other countries.

"The town of Inta was built during WW2 to supply St Petersburg with coal during the blockade. This year we were to celebrate our 50th anniversary, but we shall mark that holiday with tears in our eyes. For three years now our town has been troubled. We have a state company, Intaugol. Two years ago [former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail] Kasyanov signed a document on the sale of the federal controlling block of shares..." He commented that the mines would be closed, meaning the end of the town. "Fifty thousand people live in this town, have brought up their children there. Their parents are buried there. People love this town. Today people are faced with the fact that from 12 May the miners will face mass-scale redundancies. They are not promising them anything, except scanty social benefits, which will last for two to three months. There is no question of resettlement, Mr Pochinok. We have appealed to all the authorities this year... I want to say to Mr Pochinok as the aide to the government, that Vladimir Petrovich Lukin was the only person to respond. Local governments are forced to appeal to the authorized representative for human rights, because our views are being ignored by the government."

Shuster retorted that it was a good thing they appealed to a human rights activist, because they understand their rights, but it was a bad thing that they did not ask organizations defending workers' rights to help them, nobody is bothering about the people.

Pochinok responded: "Unfortunately, the management of state-owned mines in the coal sector cannot be retained any longer. Experience shows that in those places where real owners appeared in the 1990s, the mines made progress. The results achieved by [Kemerovo Region governor Aman] Tuleyev in the Kuzbass [Kuznetsk coal basin] are really not bad at all, although it was very difficult to achieve them. Everywhere, where the state is still the owner, both in Inta and in the neighbouring mines, and what we observed in Novoshakhtinsk in Rostov Region, the state-owned ventures are not doing well anywhere, alas."

A human rights representative from Komi asked how 550,000 people can be discarded. He said that jobs have only been found for 30,000 of them, while the remainder just find themselves on the streets. He said that he did not appeal to the trade unions, because they insisted on various documents being signed, before they would help the workers. He pointed out that the state owed 40bn (presumably roubles) for the closed enterprise, while it would cost R15bn to resettle 30,000 families. In Inta 25,000 people have been referred to as "excess" population.

Vladimir Semago, the president of Energoprom, commented that the trade unions are an anachronism in Russia, because it is senseless for people to oppose the authorities.

Deputy Svetlana Savitskaya of the Communist Party complained, "With all this talk of May Day I think we are concentrating too much on these purportedly independent trade unions. You understand, in my view, everyone in the country understands that Mr Shmakov's and Mr Isayev's trade unions are trade unions that collaborate with and serve the government." Savitskaya said this can be seen from the way they vote in parliament. She accused Shmakov of "defending the rights of the employers, and this can clearly be seen in the Labour Code, which you adopted and speak so proudly about."

Shmakov responded on the Labour Code, "This was a complicated document where political interests were intertwined. I understand that the political interests of the CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation] do not coincide with the political interests of the stable development of society and our economy... Your interests and those of the working people do not coincide, as the CPRF lobbies in the State Duma [lower house of the Russian parliament] first and foremost to pass laws on workforces. Why? To replace the present trade unions. In general, it is not up to you to decide whether they are good or bad. This is up to the people who are members of these trade unions, who get something out of these trade unions." He stressed that his trade union was urging Russian trade unions to unite so that they are stronger.

Andrey Isayev, State Duma deputy for United Russia, asserted that the little that had been achieved in the social sphere had been achieved by the Russian trade unions. He waxed lyrically about trade union achievements, adding that over a million people would demonstrate throughout Russia on May

Day, thereby demonstrating their belief in the trade unions.

Anatoliy Lisitsyn, Yaroslavl governor, accused the trade unions of becoming "infantile public organizations, which have been resolving issues where they do not need to be resolved" over the past three or four years. Further arguments followed over the Labour Code and the law on demonstrators. Lisitsyn said he would gladly invite people to gather at his administration building, "But unfortunately, not all of them are like that. For example, there is a governor, a member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Mr Mashkutsev. On the basis of his own rules, he banned the trade unions from arranging demonstrations on 1 May. Why? Because in the absence of a federal law, each governor interprets things the way he wants to. Anatoliy Ivanovich Lisitsyn invites people to go and see him, while Mr Mashkutsev tells people to leave him alone."

A mayor of a town on the island of Sakhalin is accused of banning May Day rallies outside his administration building, when the law on demonstrations has not even been passed yet.

Sergei Mitrokhin, a member of the Yabloko party, complained that the government had been receiving tons of money from oil, but had failed to meet commitments to the population, and the trade unions were doing nothing about it. "Neither you nor I, nor all Russians need a government like this. Either it should change its approach, or there will evidently be a change of government."

Pochinok complained that the Ministry of Labour had never received documents relating to resettlement, asking for help from the mayor, and accused the trade union of not behaving honestly.

The Russian Liberal politician Grigory Yavlinsky now joined the discussion: "I was simply astonished by the idea that the main protection [of rights] occurs at cabinet meetings. That is very efficient... Something has happened in our country that means that citizens no longer have anything to defend on 1st May. That's it. Everything is splendid." Yavlinsky congratulated all the neighbouring countries which have got their countries up to standard in 15 years and joined the European Union. He complained that the government tells people to go and enjoy a few days off because everything is hunky-dory, "if people themselves do not think it is necessary to defend their rights to education, health care, security, their own way of life, so that we can prove that we can live well too, then what is the problem".

Addressing Vladimir Lukin, Shuster said, "You, the authorized representative for human rights in the Russian Federation, wrote and signed a letter on Inta, specifically on Inta. In the letter you warned the prime minister that a social explosion might occur in Inta. These were your words. Is this only the case in Inta or in other places too?"

Lukin replied, "Why should it only be Inta. I should say that in my post I largely react to the complaints and statements that I receive. And my function is not a political one. Therefore, when people appeal to me regarding an issue like the one my friends in Inta appealed to me with, I spoke about Inta. This does not mean that I am not dealing with other matters. I am doing my duty. In general, the issue that they touched upon, is affecting many people at the moment. This is a very simple issue. The President [Vladimir Putin] is, quite rightly in my view, saying that our main task is modernization. This is not naturally a national idea, but this is a national programme. I think this is the right national programme - modernization." Lukin explained that European countries had modernized after the war and Turkey was following suit today.

Mikhail Delyagin, Institute of Globalization Problems, spoke about the inefficient, labour-intensive working practices in the former Soviet Union and asserted that "comprador trade unions" like that run by Shmakov would be forced to leave the political arena.

After a five-minute break for commercials and previews, the discussion continued on the subject of whether the trade unions are strong, whether people believe in the trade unions and whether there is a trade union leader prepared to sacrifice his own interests for those of the people.

Vladimir Semago from Energoprom, complained that as there was no morality in Russia now, people did not defend human rights.

Lukin countered that he was acting in line with the law, but wanted issues to be resolved differently. He said that he had written to Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov calling for hearings in parliament, attended by high-ranking officials, employers and potential victims of any badly worded law.

Yaroslav governor Lisitsyn complained that over the past four years the government had taken less and less interest in the regions and that over the past three years the government had not joined forces with the governors.

The discussion continued, dealing with local social issues, national issues like wage arrears, veterans losing benefits and pensions. Lisitsyn asserted that the government’s proposals were up to date, but too early for Russian society. He pledged that his region would honour pensioners' benefits, but other regions would probably find it hard to do.

Vladimir Shakhtin, the mayor of Inta responded to criticism by local trade union leader Karpov, saying that "a government of technocrats is ruling in our country. They have created corporations which include big business, members of the government like Mr Pochinok, and trade unions like the one run by Mr Karpov. And Article 7 of the constitution is being ignored - that the Russian Federation is a socialist state, whose policy is aimed at creating a worthy way of life and the free development of the individual".

Addressing Pochinok, Grigory Yavlinsky stated that "it is better to do nothing than to do what you have done over the past five or six years. You are simply doing damage to the country that cannot be corrected, no matter how much effort goes into it. When it comes to what I have done, unlike you, I have at least spoken the truth, and I am going to tell you the truth now. You are 'a very dangerous comrade. [repeats] You are a very dangerous comrade. If we look at what you have done with military conscription, what you have done with medicines, what you have done with wages. You are a very dangerous comrade. And, when I have my final word, I will explain why."

After another break for commercials, members of the audience were invited to comment on the subjects discussed in the programme.

In his concluding words, Yavlinsky remarked that business and the authorities had become entwined. He said that the decrease in social benefits was based on a belief that this would boost the standard of living, lower taxes and enable business to flourish. He warned that this strategy was doomed to fail: "Small businesses do not flourish here, not because of high taxes, but because of the racketeering, because there isn't an independent court, there isn't any monitoring of the special services and the law and enforcement agencies, as they have to keep paying either for registration, or licences, or certification. It is completely strangled."

Yavlinsky stated on veterans benefits that benefits like free travel on the transport were more worthwhile than monetary compensation, as they do not go up unlike fares.

Shmakov concluded that the tsars have gone, but the trade unions are still here.

In conclusion, Yavlinsky told Pochinok that it was time for him to go, that he had spent 15 years holding on to power, assuring him that his deputies could do what he had not managed to do in 15 years.

Lukin congratulated the veterans on the Victory Day holiday and told the participants that they should renounce wage rises in favour of exempting war veterans from paying taxes.

Savitskaya stated that the trade unions would eventually go, but the people would remain.

Shuster reminded viewers that there would not be any programme next Friday because of Victory Day and the programme would return on 14th May.


See also:

Freedom of Assembly

NTV Channel, "Freedom of Speech" programme, April 30, 2004

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