The trade union needs serious changes in order to adequately and timely react to new challenges and to the rapidly changing situation in the country.
“How did you take your election as the new chairman of the REP Trade Union?”
“I had no ambitions to seek the post of the chairman. But my years of work as the executive director of the REP Trade Union have shown that the union needs reforms, but evolutionary, not revolutionary ones. I explain: we should use our rich experience, accumulated for over three decades, and rely on our proven, ‘annealed’ activists to move forward. We must react adequately and promptly to new challenges and to the rapidly changing situation in the country. In my opinion, due to some reasons, including organizational ones, our union is sometimes lagging behind. The ruling regime did a lot to ruin the union and the independent trade unionism as a whole – however, it has failed. But our organizational structure has ceased to meet the demands of the time: the acting head of the union (Zinaida Mikhnyuk) was physically in Brest, while most events are still taking place in Minsk; the coronavirus pandemic has not always allowed our governing bodies to come together on demand. This already required changes.
Recently, young, ambitious people have come to the union with new ideas – we can only welcome the rejuvenation of our ranks. In such a situation, it is necessary to find common ground and combine the experience of our old members with the potentials of the new wave of them. Therefore, at the congress I didn’t withdraw myself. There is no joy, but there is a sense of great responsibility, no matter how trite it may sound, I see a tremendous amount of work to be done. But a trade union is a people’s unification; so we need to change all together, act as one team, and in this teamwork is the basis for optimism.”
“What are you planning to start with?”
“Today, I’d like to indentify five main activity areas, which are interconnected.
Firstly, the union’s major asset is people, our human potential; it must be developed, supported and cherished. This is what distinguishes us from the state-owned trade unions: people come to us not for a chocolate bar for the New Year, but with their ideas, with a desire to change something in their labour collective, at the factory and even in the state as a whole. We should work with such people and unite them – it is much easier for everyone to achieve our goals. It’s also very important to support and strengthen the existing primary organizations, as well as to create new ones.
Secondly, the union should be financially stable and transparent. Sometimes one hears that unionists pay their membership fees, and union bosses fatten on them. This, of course, is not about independent trade unions, and certainly not about the REP Trade Union. By paying their fees, our members show their responsibility for the union, and on the other hand, by showing that membership fees are spent on clear, important and necessary goals, we’ll create the atmosphere of trust within the trade union. Thanks to the fees, we maintain a certain staff – in the REP Trade Union it is minimal with minimal salaries; most of our employees work on a volunteer basis. We need to discipline the collection of fees to ensure that the union is more efficient; and our members need to get a transparent picture of how these funds are spent. It’s a matter of trust and efficiency.
Thirdly, the legal aid is an important component of the union’s activities, although it is difficult to talk about legal aid amid the legal default and lawlessness in the country. No matter how loud it may sound, our lawyers and our unionists are able to help in putting an end to this lawlessness as soon as possible, while our highly qualified legal aid should be rendered to as many people as possible. We have lawyers who are ready to provide legal aid on a volunteer basis, but if we talk about the stable work of our legal service, then we need to materially develop and support it.
The fourth direction is the information work. We have a lot to do in order to amend our information policy: now, we mainly follow the events, but we need to go at least in parallel, or even better – to act proactively, ahead of them, by promptly responding to new challenges and shaping the agenda. This also applies to our website and work in social networks, which is now at an extremely low level, while the situation demands our prompt responses.
The fifth point is collegiality. By definition, a trade union is a collegial body; people unite to protect their rights and interests. Our supreme governing body is the Board, while its Presidium is the highest administrative and executive body. The Board includes delegates of all our branches and organizations – regional, territorial and industrial; in the Board, they can defend the needs of their structures and give feedback from their regions and collectives. It’s very important to support and activate the work of primary union structures, which we will more actively urge to talk about their life by publishing their stories in our website and in our printed edition – the “Rabochaya Salidarnasts” (Workers’ Solidarity) bulletin. The list of the above five directions is not final of course.”
“One leader cannot cope with all the directions personally. What is your image of your efficient team leading the REP Trade Union?”
“In the nearest future, we must form our working bodies: the Board, which will elect its Presidium, and deputy chairpersons. From my professional and life experience I know that it is unrealistic for one person to cover the entire range of responsibilities; therefore, a clear distribution of duties among the chairman and his deputies is needed, and the members of the Presidium will probably also be in charge of certain areas.”
“The congress has shown that there is a conflict of ‘fathers vs. children’ in the trade union. How are we going to deal with it?”
“I wouldn’t treat the current situation as a conflict. There were signs of a sort of ‘watershed’ among young and the ambitious members, on the one hand, and the experienced ‘old guard’, on the other. I see my mission in uniting the efforts and energy of the youth with the experience and wisdom of the older generation. Even on the eve of the election, I talked with my contender, Mikhail Gromov, and said that no matter how the election ended, I was committed to cooperate. After the election, we met again and again expressed our readiness to cooperate.
In general, a leader and a manager are different concepts; the leader is not appointed or elected – he becomes such by himself. Both at pre-congress debates, and at the congress itself, opinions were expressed that former leaders are already behind the times, unable to work in new conditions; they need to be replaced. But we must admit that all the same the REP Trade Union (I will not assess whether this is good or bad) is associated with the person of Gennady Fedynich; we have other honoured veterans who also stood at the cradle of the REP Trade Union and gave years of work and life to mature it, those who have also been and are being repressed (Komlik, Mikhnyuk, Kozlov and many others). Life itself suggests that it is necessary to use their experience, their wisdom and their knowledge, at the same time by actively involving young people in improving the trade union. And leaders should be brought up, thoroughly and carefully.”