The “boiler lid” at state-owned enterprises can blow off at any moment
These days, Belarusians all over the world show their solidarity and ability to organize and fight for change. Solidarity actions were held in Paris, Warsaw, San Francisco, Chicago, Bremen, Boston, New York, Tbilisi, Kiev and other cities of the planet. In Belarus itself, every day people express their solidarity with their current heroes.
The website Charter97.org has talked about the new situation in our country with Gennady Fedynich, the leader of the independent REP Trade Union.
“What has impressed you most in the recent developments?”
“What has struck me most was the extraordinary solidarity of Belarus’ citizens. Speaking of Minsk, I can give examples of free water delivery or inspirational car signals with Victor Tsoi’s song ‘Change!’ The recent major achievement and discovery are our people, whom no one had organized and who demonstrated simply fantastic potentials for solidarity. These people were not afraid to take to the streets – they did it more than once at the right moments; they were bold enough to go out and fight for their rights.
I know in reality what international solidarity means. At one time, it greatly supported our REP union. It’s nice to see that now it makes miracles with the mentality of Belarusians – both in the country and abroad. The fact that Belarusians and their colleagues around the world have risen to defend those who are illegally arrested and placed in jail, as well as in support of democracy in Belarus, is worth a lot.
This has never happened before: these endless solidarity actions have become a single living wave that rises around the world. To be honest, it’s just breathtaking. But the main point in solidarity is that it shouldn’t be a one-time action, it should escalate. Then, as they say, ‘walls will collapse,’ and there’ll be our success.”
“The other day, one of BelAZ workers spoke about the mood in his team: ‘Sasha, if you go on kidding us men will come out with spanners.’ How dangerous is it now for authorities to anger workers?”
“Lukashenko’s ‘vertical’ did everything they could to turn workers into their most formidable opponents. The contract system; the hunt for ‘parasites’, the pension ‘reform’ traps – all this has become ‘priceless gifts’ to workers. Well, the workers will not stay in debt. Our labour republic remembers this and will respond at the earliest opportunity.
The today’s issue is not even that for USD 300-400 a worker needs to work hard all the time. People understand that today employers can’t earn money themselves, and give workers what they want. The situation at enterprises is an absolute loss for Lukashenko, because almost every employee understands: the time has come to change the whole system. People today know that their well-being is not on the employer, but on a complete change in the upper echelon of power. Any government (and Lukashenko’s regime is no exception) is most afraid of the organized workers’ actions. And this fear is now materializing: qualitative changes have occurred among the workforce. If not today, then tomorrow people who have absolutely nothing to lose can take to the streets. And this authorities ‘nightmare’ is already beginning to come true.
People have finally realized that it would only get worse; that the only salvation for them would be to change the situation right now. Reassuring words no longer affect people; for the authorities, the fateful moment is inexorably approaching.”
“They probably won’t just sit there and wait for crowds of workers in the streets …”
“But what can they do? Yes, the authorities are bustling. Today fake ‘meetings of labour collectives’ are held, at which flows of verbiage is pouring out. The official Federation of Trade Unions (FPB) has been sent to do the ‘field job’ … Late to catch up! Workers just hate in the first place these doing-nothing functionaries, the ‘cheapest’ of them getting 3-4 times more than working people.”
“Can workers of large enterprises and concerns – such as MTZ, MAZ, and Belaruskali – become a locomotive of protests in Belarus? What do you know about the moods at major state-owned enterprises?”
“Everything today is on informal leaders that are in every labour collective, including those enterprises that you mentioned. At our REP Trade Union, we receive calls, including from workers of the MAZ and MZKT, in which they openly state that they are tired of everything – and first of all this power, headed by the one whom they no longer want to see. This is a natural response to the fact that Lukashenko wouldn’t humans in workers for a long time; he initially needed just slaves in at their workplaces. Recently, a big mess has been set up at large state-owned enterprises: no one is responsible for labour relations; no one wants to cancel the contract system. Workers of state concerns can be fired at any time; today they have no protection. And who did this? Oppositional parties? No, Lukashenko’s done it.
And the ‘boiler lid’ at state-owned enterprises can be torn off at any moment. The strength of their labour collectives is that they really can become the locomotive of the global strike. Just imagine what will happen if these giants stop at one moment!
But any protest, including a strike, should be duly prepared. Of course, it can begin spontaneously, and this has already happened more than once, but only a properly prepared action can give the desired result. A strike, like any action, needs coordination: communication among those enterprises where workers’ discontent is ripening today; a clear knowledge of their opinion; and an objective evaluation of people’s readiness. Political leaders should clearly articulate 1-2 demands – no more.
I hope that people’s leaders will manage to do all this, and I think that this will be another factor for the mass exit of people to the street and the expression of their dissatisfaction at the right time.”
“What demands are now most suited to the needs of ordinary people? What should be changed in the country first of all after the change of power?”
“After the change of power, first of all, the rule of law should be enforced; not the rule of ordinances and decrees – they all must be cancelled. Any law concerning workers must first be discussed in labour collectives and adopted only with the account of their comments. This should be taken for granted.
Besides, people should be free to quit official trade unions and create their own ones to protect their labour rights. Moreover, I would repeal Lukashenko’s ordinance on the contract system and all his ‘pension reforms’. All the periods excluded from the working record – like university studies, army service, rearing children and caring people with disabilities – should be reinstated.
Then, the notorious ‘parasite’ ordinance must be immediately abolished. It’s also necessary to revise the minimum consumer budget and set the minimum wage as equal thereto.
I would cancel all the pension benefits awarded to former MPs, military servicemen, policemen and special agents. Pension should be based on the general work record, not on ‘special’ achievements or merits. Ordinary pensions should be increased right away. After all, it’s just a shame – to receive BYN 370-400 a month after having worked for 40-45 years for the national economy. Pensioners are not living – they’re surviving.
It is necessary to raise the status of teachers, because today, under Lukashenko’s, it’s very low. I would immediately stop the forced distribution of graduates with two years of mandatory work. People themselves should look for workplaces, and not go somewhere at the instruction. This will allow them to work more openly and more honestly at any enterprises, regardless of their form of ownership.
Most importantly, we need to transform our state-owned enterprises and get away from the crazy share of 99.9% of state ownership. It’s necessary to give chances to investors with a guarantee that no one dares to seize their property and expropriate their investments. Our country has an excellent workforce. We have able-bodied people who are willing to work and earn money. Let’s do everything for change to come and create opportunities for them.”