According to various publications, between a few tens of thousands (as reported by Vremya Novostei) and up to a million Russians (as Vedomosti newspaper learned from Mikhail Shmakov, leader of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, FITU) have taken part in a nationwide action of protest. A wave of protest rose after the government passed a decision in favor of so-called monetary repayment of social benefits, plus demands of repaying the wage arrears, “preserving affordability of healthcare and education,” averting ungrounded growth of rates and raising the wage to budget recipients by 50%.
“Spontaneous civil protests which swept across the country ultimately made leaders of Russian trade unions to speak out, although they are commonly so loyal to power that the power doesn’t consider it necessary to discuss its plans with the trade unions,” noted Vremya Novostei. Mikhail Shmakov even ventured on some belligerent statements that if the people’s voice is not heard the trade unions would turn to warning strikes by the fall.
It is hard to tell how feasible this threat is. According to findings of the VTsIOM obtained on the eve of a nationwide action of protest (the material by Kommersant), only 8% of workers believe that trade unions can protect their rights (only 6% of respondents believe that in St. Petersburg and Moscow).
Besides, 37% of respondents replied that their enterprises have no trade unions; 48% have the trade unions but they don’t have impact on the situation.
At the same time, the trade unions have the field for activities: 16% of respondents said their employers delayed wage payment by over a month; 41% of respondents noted violations of their labor laws (as reported by Kommersant, 55% of them perceived infringement on their rights as a matter of fact).
The most widespread approach: “The situation is very unpleasant, but we’ll have to endure becase I cannot alter the situation.”
Those who cannot stand anymore are trying to find a way out via personal contacts with their superiors (32%) or by means of changing the job (10%).
However, FITU says that “VTsIOM’s poll was done by order,” and the persecution of the trade unions launched in the Yeltsin era continues up to now. “The trade union movement is favorable to neither the government, nor entrepreneurs. So far the workers haven’t realized that trade unions are alone capable of defending their rights and they should appeal to trade unions whenever they have problems, FITU’s press secretary Igor Rozanov said.
FITU leaders have claims to the laborers who don’t recognize the trade unions as their protectors, and to the authorities. As noted by Vremya Novostei, Mikhail Shmakov considered it necessary to protest in front of the White House demanding respect for the organization he is heading.
The thing is, explains the newspaper that under the federal law “On Trade Unions” before submitting any social bills to the Duma they must be discussed by a three-lateral commission, consisting of state representatives, entrepreneurs and trade unions. However, the trade unions are keeping low profile and, in opinion of Vremya Novostei, the authorities concluded that any adjustments with them is a formality.
Mr. Shmakov was angered with that and, to remind of himself, he managed to obtain a reception of Putin at the end of May. Preliminary, he set the date of a nationwide action of protest.
But the president recognized the claims of trade unions legal enough and explained that the pause in activities of a three-lateral commission was linked to readjustments inside the government.
Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov was without delay appointed coordinator of the renewed commission; he was in no hurry to set the date of its new meeting.
Besides, says Vremya Novostei, over that period the government managed to submit into the government a package of social bills, which shocked the trade union leaders. Following the scandals related to hunger strikes of miners from Khakassia, who demand payment of wages, the government decided to withdraw the article of state guarantee for payment of wage above the subsistence minimum from the Labor Code. FITU said that similar intentions of the executives contradicted Article 37 of the Constitution. After that the trade union leaders tried to “mount that wave of protest,” says the newspaper.
In addition to trade unions, communists and local branches of the Motherland party joined the meetings in the regions and started defaming both the federal (remote and inaccessible) authorities, and local heads and oligarchs.
No matter how hard the trade unions tried to reach isolation from the defiant escapades of the left forces, they didn’t quite succeed. Kommersant even gives a picture of a poster which the communists were carrying at an action of protest in Omsk: “Dear Ilyichs, leave your coffins! We are lost in Russia without the Soviet power.”
As reported by Vremya Novostei, the action of protest initiated by the trade unions has been a success: before the meeting ended at Gorbaty Bridge Alexander Zhukov promised to discuss all social bills at the session of the three-lateral commission. The date was set for June 25.
Boris Gryzlov, leader of the parliamentary majority equalized the prime minister’s demonstrative compliance by saying that on the one hand United Russia shared the trade union’s concern for the situation and, on the other hand, “upholds the general concept of the governmental bill.”
However, the government has no doubts, says Vedomosti referring to “a source in a ministry in charge of preparing the bills on monetary repayment of benefits,” that the protests “are more likely to be the viewpoint of, rather than a wave of people’s anger.” Therefore, the authorities are not ready to go beyond “courteous gestures.”
Vladimir Vyunitsky, adviser to Mikhail Zurabov, CEO of the Pension Fund, told Vedomosti that “a serious talk” was held in the government due to an action initiated by the FITU, “since nobody needs conflicts.” Vyunitsky is sure that the meeting participants didn’t make out what they were protesting against, and trade unions’ slogans are “political” and “populist.”
Georgy Boos, deputy Duma speaker of United Russia, told Vedomosti that “trade union leaders artificially heated the public opinion.” Indeed, agrees Boos, one can understand the people’s fears: the benefits will be withdrawn and nothing be given in return; however, the trade union leaders must account for the fact that “cash money is much better than unsecured or formal benefits.”
It is true that many benefits now have been declared rather than actually existed, Vladislav Inozemtsev, director of the Center for Post-Industrial Society Studies rejects to Boos in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “However, by saying that the system of benefits was inefficient the government admits the inefficiency of its own work.” As is now evident, it is not “trying to make it efficient” – on the contrary, “using demagogy as a cover it is trying to avoid execution of the functions which could hardly be regarded as redundant or unfeasible.”
The decision of monetary repayment of benefits was passed when the oil prices are high, the budget is in surplus, the Central Bank’s gold and hard currency reserves are growing, and the reserve fund has been replenished successfully, notes Inozemtsev. The author of an article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta calculated that 164 billion rubles envisaged as indemnification of benefits make below 1010% of the black ink of Russia’s foreign trade turnover.
It should be noted, stresses Inozemtsev, that the oil cost is maintained at extremely high level “through pains of comrade Bush, Russia’s faithful ally.” Admitting that results of the presidential election coming up in the US on November 2 are uncertain, it becomes clear that this fall the oil prices may decline, as well as the revenues of the Russian budget. No question arises which items of expenditures will be cut then.
Moreover, in opinion of the author with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, what in Russia is called the system of benefits is actually part of the social welfare system, which those who use are given benefits have earned long ago. In fact, says Vladislav Inozemtsev, functionaries should be regarded as real people enjoying the benefits in Russia: “Their salaries have been raised manifold lately, but no issue of cutting their privileges is being discussed.”
This category of employees starts getting the benefits in advance, as soon as they start fulfilling their duties, independently on results of their work.
According to official findings of the Finance Ministry, last year’s spending to finance the state authorities and administrative bodies (exclusive the spending on the prosecutor’s office and the law enforcement agencies) totaled 183.5 billion, which is much more than envisaged for indemnification of social benefits in the future. Inozemtsev’s calculations show that the expenditures on maintenance of the authorities make 4.5% of the budget spending, which is much higher that in the Western states (0.88% of total spending in the United States).
Kommersant-Vlast magazine gives curious figures on the same subject: according to the Finance Ministry’s reports, over January-April 2004 the state spending on “functioning” of the president totaled 1,550,636,000 rubles.
Thus, each day in office for the president costs the treasury 12.8 million rubles ($441,000), of which Putin’s salary makes up around 4,900 rubles (given his monthly salary of 146,800 rubles).
“That is,” says Kommersant-Vlast, “the budget spending used to finance presidential activities would suffice to employ 2,615 Russian presidents.”
These figures don’t make any exception: as compared to 2003, the item of expenditures on the president has been slightly altered. According to meticulous Kommersant-Vlast, last year’s entire spending on this item totaled 4,772,738,000 rubles or 0.2% of the federal budget – an average of 13.1 million rubles daily.
Reverting to calculations of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, it is necessary to note: in opinion of Inozemtsev, the government is now spending almost the same amount to pay benefits to various categories as the amount determined to pay the compensations – up to 164 billion rubles (not 2.8 trillion rubles as has been declared – this figure exceeds the entire amount of federal budget revenues).
At the same time, the power’s intention to avoid raising the expenditures is evident.
“The power which is despising its nation has been bargaining with it, apparently reckoning this is the core of the market. Is it worth of being engaged in this bargaining?”
Novye Izvestia offers its own answer to this question, reminding the content of Article 145 of the Crime Code to the Russians who suffer from untimely wage payments.
This article envisages quite severe punishment for those guilty of wage arrears above two month in duration: “either deprivation of the right to occupy some posts or deal in definite activities within up to five years, or imprisonment of 2 years to 5 years.”
The same act but with heavy consequences (for instance, death of a participants of a hunger strike at which the people were demanding repayment of debts) raises the term of potential imprisonment from 3 years to 7 years, whereas the ban to occupy some posts or take up entrepreneurship could be indefinite in similar cases.
Novye Izvestia has calculated that the nationwide “lump” of wage arrears has reached an astronomic amount of 24 billion rubles.
It is not ruled out that this situation has strengthened the people’s awareness concerning the slogan “Money in exchange for benefits.” If no money earned is paid, will they be paying what they are promising?
Moreover, noted Literaturnaya Gazeta, we shouldn’t ignore the inflation, which is quickly cutting any fixed payments.
Russia’s experience of the state’s relations with the people proposes most gloomy forecasts, says Literaturnaya Gazeta.
The newspaper is certain that, as for the powers-that-be, “they are not afraid of indignation of people; they are not concerned for the public opinion.” Moreover, no efficient mechanisms of control over the power exist now; “the supreme lawmaking body has been under the thumb of extremely rich people; many seats at the Duma and the Federation Council are paid for, because many deputies often behave as puppets.”
In the meantime, Vedomosti cites Alexei Makarkin of Political Techniques Center, who asserts that “the process of people’s anger is impartial,” and permitting actions of protest the Kremlin intends to have this process under control “to disable privatization of this initiative by the communists and ultra-leftists.”
Indeed, there’s a cause for concern: Alexander Kuvayev’s, the leader of Moscow communists, has recently forwarded a proposal of “stirring up actions of protest in the streets” and CPRF top officials backed him, says Russkii Kurier.
Gennady Zyuganov, who is often rebuked for compromising with both teammates and opponents has provided for a traditional statement: “I think all kinds of struggle must be allied and, first of all, we need to go to labor teams to vindicate the interests of common citizens.”
Nevertheless, it is evident that the communist party, which lost the right for decisive opinion at the Duma in the 2003 election, intends to follow the example of the trade unions and regain its influence.
At a recent conference of the Moscow City Committee of the CPRF Zyuganov said: “We urged the country to participate in the nationwide action of protest on June 2” against the government’s plans.
The thing concerns not the laws on civil guarantees, explains Russkii Kurier, but also the law on housing, as well as the notorious laws on referendums, public gatherings and demonstrations.
In general, Andrei Ryabov says in Gazeta, Russia proved to have many people willing to take advantage of public indignation for the course of the reforms.
In particular, the Motherland bloc, which earlier positioned itself as a pronounced national-populist alliance, is trying its transformation into a leftist political organization: “Even Dmitry Rogozin, who has gained the fame of a professional protector of interests of his compatriots is now mastering the romantic leftist image of “commandante Rogo.”
However, in opinion of Ryabov, it makes no sense for the authorities to form a fundamentally new leftist opposition: it would be much more efficient to “try reach a new agreement with the CPRF leaders, something like: “Let’s forget the recent offenses, revert to the rules which existed under the “Red” Duma.” You’re free to criticize, make noise, demonstrations, but don’t allow the protest moods to exceed the reasonable framework.”
The story of social laws has once again displayed to the authorities the danger of the political sterility and of complete absence of any efficient opposition in the country.
It becomes obvious, says the observer with Gazeta, that “even that powerful political resource as huge popularity of the head of state on which the Duma, the government and the FITU has counted, is likely not to suffice to avoid social protests.”
According to the Public Opinion Foundation (refer to an article in Vedomosti), the president’s popularity rating has fallen over past several months. Since March, when he was reelected president, Putin’s rating has fallen from 40% to 30% (the poll was done in early June).
According to Levada Center, the number of people who “fully trust” Putin has reduced from 19% to 14%.
However, as analysts of the Levada center told Vedomosti, traditional post-election fatigue may account for the fall of the rating: before the voting, expectations of citizens were exaggerated and couldn’t be implemented.
Besides, sociologists explain, unpopular social and economic measures threaten to undermine the popularity rating of the parliament, followed by the rating of the government and, less of all, to the presidential popularity.
Still, stresses Ryabov, the population’s negative response to initiatives of the government proved to be so strong that “some of the top echelon of power realized then that carrying out heavy social reforms quickly and under the accompaniment of soothing assurances that this would be beneficial for citizens, is unlikely to be a success.”
Ryabov thinks that after the problem was realized, a proposal was born at the top “that the trade unions recalled their main task and react to public moods.”
Most likely, this action of protest has been conjectured as a preventive measure: “Let them have gathering, throw out negative emotions, then calm down and go home.”
However, this doesn’t solve the problem: complicated social reforms are indispensable for further development of our country, says Gazeta. The main question is how they could be made economically efficient, complying with the stability, which has settled in society, and, besides – promoting further social development of our society.
This requires a system, which would “enable to account for interests of various social groups when making decisions of nationwide significance.” This needs real social institutions – civil initiatives, parties, real trade unions, which could be able to seriously take care of interests of citizenry, unlike the FITU is doing now.
“There are cautious grounds to think that a part of the ruling elite is realizing that the messianic method of implementing the reforms when the power says – we know what to do and you need to wait and believe that everything ends well – may bring to results different from what is expected,” Andrei Ryabov emphasizes. Although, it is impossible to ignore that the Russian authorities have been practicing this method at least from 1917.
Novoye Vremya magazine notes: apparently, the authoritarian modernization of the second term in office, Putin has planned, may fail because the modernize-natured projects start skidding in the absence of opposition.
To the great discontent of the authorities: the modernization is supposed to become the motto of Vladimir Putin’s “second rule.”
“Guiding the people the proper way without explaining why” – this idea, born in ancient China, seems to be close to how the president and his teammates are shaping their own policy “for themselves,” says Novoye Vremya.
It should be noted that during his first term in office the Kremlin had to adjust its actions with the commitments given to the previous regime.
It was necessary to reckon the inherited political conditions, the “political, regional, and oligarchic pluralism, which used to exist then and the necessity of wasting money for populist purposes, meeting the shortsighted desires of people halfway.”
However, successful cessation of the 2003 parliamentary election and the mandate for second presidency obtained in 2004, are likely to provide an opportunity to move forward, “without no more looking back onto old impediments and working on history alone.”
The economic life and the entire social structure are to be modernized “without consent being asked, without intervening in weary public argues and not explaining (hardly explaining) why. Anyhow, not delving into details.”
As for various kinds of pluralism, civic consciousness, freedom of thinking and freedom of speech, ironically notes Novoye Vremya, “let them be. Under the stipulation that they don’t create difficulties and hamper the work.” To all appearances, this is the backbone of the general program of actions. It is close to what is called the “authoritarian modernization.” This system of government is practiced in many “poor and medium countries,” not successfully everywhere.
Adapting this system to Russian conditions “is undoubtedly a very interesting historic experiment , which we have to observe from the inside – so to speak from a retort, inside which this all is happening,” says the magazine.
This is the source of that painful reaction to the seemingly sound government’s idea of replacing the social benefits with monetary payments.
Yulia Latynina, an observer with Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal gives intriguing considerations on this account.
As is widely known, in Russia a benefit is a sign of a definite status: “This is like a title of nobility, recognition of services of a veteran or a hero by society.”
However, the core of the problem seems to be lying deeper: the idea is strong in the national thinking that “life is unjust,” it has disasters, which cannot be indemnified by money.
In the opinion of Latynina, the Russian people, known for their paternalistic attitudes, tend to recognize the benefits as something like “the state compensation for senility, death and disaster.”
As participants in public gatherings write on their signs, “benefits are permanent, money is temporary.” What an objection could be found here, especially against the backdrop of the financial cataclysms of the past years?
Not to mention the fact, notes Latynina, that in the public eye the benefits “make the last thing we have preserved from socialism,” i.e. society, “where almost nothing had been paid, but had been given – most likely been promised to give.”
In general, one can only agree to Mikhail Khodorkovsky – more precisely, his renowned statement that President Putin is more liberal than at least 70% of the Russian voters.
The trouble is that, as another Russian ruler (also known as the “favorite leader,” “wise teacher,” “the father of nations,” and so on) whom at least 70% of his compatriots adored used to say: “I have no other people for you.”