NewsWhy authorities are not happy with independent trade unions?17.05.2012
On May 10, a session of the Minsk Regional Executive Committee discussed the issue of counteracting the independent trade unions. Why are the authorities so afraid of the independent trade union movement? Is it really so dangerous for the ruling regime? Can the authorities strangle the independent trade unions?
The debaters of Radio Liberty: Alexander Yaroshuk, Chairman of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP), and Vladimir Goncharik, the former Chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB).
Valery Karbalevich: "Indeed, the Minsk Regional Executive Committee discussed a strange topic: What to do with the independent trade union in Soligorsk. Why? Don't they have more important problems in the Minsk Region?"
Alexander Yaroshuk: "It is quite logical. After all, today workers are the greatest threat to the regime, especially those united in independent trade unions; while the regime is in transition from authoritarianism to totalitarianism. The attention was drawn by the Free Trade Union of Miners (SPG), because it is actively helping to establish an independent trade union organization at the "Granit" enterprise in Mikashevichi. This enterprise is constantly within the field of view of local authorities and special services. The independent trade union created there is a hard nut to crack for the authorities."
Vladimir Goncharik: "First of all, I'm sure that the consideration of the topic was not the initiative of the Minsk Regional Executive Committee as such. They did what they were told from above. Although our constitution declares the principles, on which the trade union movement is built (justice, solidarity, freedom of association), but they are not respected. On the contrary, independent unions work right on these principles; therefore Soligorsk miners help to create an independent trade union at the "Granit". Hence, such sort of reaction follows. Some time ago, the same pressure was imposed on the FPB, when the federation was trying to work on these principles. The very fact that people at the "Granit" demand not higher wages but freedom frightens the authorities."
Are free trade unions really dangerous for the regime?
Karbalevich: "The independent trade unions are not numerous; there exist at a small number of enterprises. It seems that they are not dangerous for the regime. Is this true? Or does the fear have big eyes?"
Yaroshuk: "The history shows that dictatorships can't coexist with independent trade unions. When Hitler came to power, first of all, he took the trade union movement into his hands. Today, the political opposition in Belarus is weakened and discredited and, therefore, poses no threat to the regime. The only threat is in workers' protests. And there's good soil for them. Today, by the level of wages, Belarus is in the last place in Europe. In Russia, wages are three times higher. I predict that this difference will increase. We now see huge labour migration from Belarus to Russia; and it has become a political problem for the authorities. Although the crisis has passed, and now the situation is more or less stable, people intuitively feel that the government has failed to respond to the last year's challenges. Therefore, the existence of any independent workers' organization is an a priori threat for the power. At the sitting of the Minsk Regional Executive Committee they announced the figure Ц the membership of the Free Trade Union of Miners. Thanks to them for advertising our trade union!"
Goncharik: "The very idea of independence of any organization is contrary to the nature of our regime. It seeks to establish full control over any activities. We can't say that independent trade unions in the country are strong. But they show a bad example Ц from the standpoint of the authorities. And it may happen that one action will trigger some process, especially at the background of the alarming socio-economic situation in the country. After all, in fact, fear has big eyes."
Can the authorities liquidate the independent trade unions?
Karbalevich: "Until now, the authorities acted as follows against their political opponents: they drove them (the opposition, the independent trade unions) into a sort of a 'ghetto', cordoned it with a high fence, and wouldn't let anybody out. Formally, these structures supposedly exist, but in reality they are not allowed to function properly. You, Mr Yaroshuk, talk about the evolution of the regime from authoritarian to a totalitarian. Could it happen that the authorities decide to liquidate the independent trade unions as legal structures whatsoever, and drive them into underground?"
Yaroshuk: "It may happen. We see it from the pressure on the Free Trade Union of Miners (SPG) in Soligorsk. There, under the pressure of the administration, some union members from among the engineering and technical staff quitted the SPG. This has never happened before. We are ready for any developments; and we can stand up for ourselves. The authorities understand this; therefore, the trade union ghetto, in contrast to the opposition's one, is rather conditional. In 2007, the EU cancelled trade preferences for Belarus because of trade union rights violations. And now, the negative continuation may be the same. We have strong support in the form of solidarity of the international trade union movement. But that's secondary."
"What is primary Ц it is the fact that further progress of the independent trade union movement in Belarus is only possible along with the democratic changes in this country. And we are ready to take responsibility for the fate of this country. If the regime wants to try to cleanse us, we are ready to respond to this challenge. And who knows what the outcome for the authorities may be. Given the case of the 'Granit', we see that we have a real political and moral support from the workers. An attempt to liquidate the independent trade unions may trigger the release of our country from this regime."
Goncharik: "I hope that the authorities have enough reason not to take such steps. After all, it will result in new international economic sanctions. My concern is of another sort: the independent trade unions may convert into some amorphous organizations that will have no impact on the country's social processes. I'm also worried about the fact that there are different trends, but no unity, within the independent trade unions. They need to go beyond the narrow branch issues, in order to push the government to economic and political reforms."