What is the current situation at large enterprises in Belarus, and what is happening there.
Protests in Belarus have been going on for over 70 days. Immediately after August 9, large enterprises of the country were actively involved in them: they put forward demands including Lukashenka's resignation, holding new fair elections, and ending violence against peaceful protesters. Some even managed to go on strike. Tut.by talked to the factory workers and found out what the situation is at large enterprises, and what is happening there.
Minsk Automobile Plant, Minsk Wheeled Tractor Plant: They try to apply new forms of pressure on the people along with dismissals and non-renewal of labor contracts
Immediately after the elections, the workers of the Minsk Automobile Plant were very actively involved in the protest movement. They gathered for protest actions both on the territory of the enterprise - more than a thousand people came out - and outside the territory at the entrance. The leadership threatened to put absence at the workplace in their working records. Some began to write vacation applications at their own expense so that they could go to rallies.
The factory workers created a striking committee, and wanted to go on strike. They put forward demands, the main of which was the resignation of Lukashenka and the holding of new fair elections. The plant's administration began negotiations with the workers, and the CEO promised to answer all questions at an open meeting. By the beginning of the meeting, several thousand people came, and the CEO did not show up on time.
There were no more attempts to negotiate, as workers say, on the part of the management, only threats and dismissals. A dozen workers were fired immediately, some others were stripped of bonuses and reprimanded. The bulk of the workers quieted down. A group of activists remained, and they continued to move towards the set goals, and created the primary organization of an independent trade union.
Workers say they continue to intimidate them in all sorts of ways, but they are not going to give up.
- Now they are trying to apply new forms of pressure on the people along with dismissals and non-renewal of labor contracts. Workers get bonuses, and this is 40 percent of their wages, they promise problems, without specifying, but the workers know about enlightening conversations with the security forces, - says Siarhei Hultsou, press secretary of the primary organization of the independent trade union REP at the Minsk Automobile Plant. - Officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, through the factory bosses, constantly call workers who are considered unreliable to talk. I think that soon we will have to provide them with separate offices in the plant administration. Conversations are also conducted by the heads of shops, for example. They say different things - from sympathetic “you’ll ruin your life” to aggressive “do you understand what will happen to you, do you even see the situation?”. Therefore, there was no open strike all these weeks.
But there was the Italian strike, and it continues, says Siarhei Hultsou. The administration, he said, is trying to fight it in order to fulfill the plan, takes people out to work on Saturdays, promises additional payments and threatens to take away the bonuses if people do not come out.
“In addition, those who do not work at the plants put pressure on the plant workers. They join the plant chats, write: “I am not a worker myself, but how can you not go on strike? I'm ashamed for you! You are cowards!” This is a fairly widespread phenomenon. People do not understand that there is an increased attention to plants, unlike other organizations. Lukashenka visited the plants, he spoke about the plants. It's hard when you are under pressure from all sides. But the workers still do not give up,” emphasizes the spokesman for the independent trade union.
Siarhei Hultsou says that protest moods are quite strong at the plant. And fighting them too.
- Some foremen and heads of shops are trying to ideologically indoctrinate the workers, talking about the fact that the protesters are corrupt. If you walk with a white-red-white flag - you are stupid, you were deceived, - he says. - It gets ridiculous. When the processions of the workers' columns began, many used the Minsk Automobile Plant flag - a red logo on a white background. These are the official colors of the enterprise. Then the administration issued an order for workers - they were forbidden to use the plant's symbols at mass events without written permission.
The workers of the plant note that the trade union in which they were members “does not protect the interests of the plant workers at all.” This spurred many to leave the state trade union, and some joined the independent trade union REP.
- People leave the state trade union in large numbers. The leadership is actively trying to interfere with this: by hiding the applications in the table, the accounting department says that in order to refuse membership fees, the worker must sign an application with the trade union committee. This is, of course, completely illegal. People also join independent trade unions. Someone is happy, someone is worried about the consequences, - continues the interlocutor. - I have not heard about the consequences of joining an independent trade union. While active people are joining the REP - some went to marches, some went on strike, so there are those among the members of the independent trade union who are under pressure for these reasons.
It is not only the independent trade union that helps workers to unite, but several other initiatives as well.
- For example, there is a bot “Plant” from the “Honest People” initiative. There you can answer questions about your enterprise, get information about helping the strikers, and so on. I don't have exact statistics, but we are talking about thousands of workers who gave their data, and the Minsk Automobile Plant is one of the three enterprises where employees used the bot. There is “Trade Union Online”. This platform works as an information center, helping people find their own independent trade union and join it,” says Siarhei Hultsou. - It is noticeable how the workers begin to come to life and rejoice. It is very important to know that you are not alone.
Employees of the Minsk Wheeled Tractor Plant also say that they are actively intimidated to suppress protest sentiments. The Minsk Wheeled Tractor Plant is one of the first enterprises to announce that workers want to go on strike, and they came out to protest, and took action. Several times the security forces dispersed the factory workers from other enterprises and those who were simply not indifferent, who came to support the workers of the Minsk Wheeled Tractor Plant at the entrance of the plant.
Large-scale resistance at the enterprise was suppressed, as well as at the Minsk Automobile Plant. However, from time to time, some workers continue to remind that they are against what is happening in the country. For example, they recently recorded a video message to the authorities and security forces, where they spoke out against violence.
- There are people with protest moods at the plant now. There is a group of activists who are trying to unite such people. But it turned out to be not so easy. Many people are indignant, but they are not active. Some who used to rush into battle have also quieted down today, as if they had already cooled down. But there are those who continue to defend their demands, - says one of the workers of the plant. - The management conducts conversations with active employees, someone is deprived of bonuses, someone’s contract gets terminated, someone is subjected to total control. Also, representatives of the law-enforcement agencies come to the plant, conduct individual conversations, make people study the laws on extremism, by signature. By the way, many refuse to sign. All this makes people angry and in most cases gives even more strength and desire to continue the struggle.
At the Minsk Wheeled Tractor Plant, employees began to leave the state trade union. But so far they are in no hurry to join the independent ones.
“People do not believe in the trade union, they have already forgotten that it is needed not only for organizing free trips, receiving some kind of material assistance and gifts for the New Year, but above all for protecting the rights of workers,” the workers of the enterprise say. “They cannot be convinced that an independent union can defend their rights. Many employees condemn the position of the pro-government trade union for its inaction in relation to the protection of our citizens, many speak out that this is a useless organization for workers, but not all of these employees are in a hurry to leave the trade union committee.
There are no exact numbers at the plant yet, but about two dozen people have joined the independent trade union today.
Minsk Tractor Plant, Minsk Motor Plant, Minsk Electrotechnical Plant: “Plant management does not officially recognize the independent trade union”
Recently, some workers at the Minsk Tractor Plant recorded a video urging workers from other enterprises to join independent trade unions.
- After that we had a preventive conversation, we were explained that such things cannot be done. That it is impossible to shoot at the factory, say the workers. - And the leadership is trying to influence especially active people not only by talking. Some workers began to be paid for work at a lower rate or were transferred to lower-paying jobs. That is, there are officially no penalties, they are not deprived of salaries, bonuses, but they are not allowed to earn normally. For some, earnings fell by 30-40%. But on paper, they get 100% paid for the work they've done. Some are considering quitting because of this. But their colleagues discourage them, because active people are needed at the plant.
According to the plant workers, layoffs also continue. Another worker was fired the other day.
At the Minsk Tractor Plant, as at other enterprises, workers began to leave state trade unions and join independent ones. “I would not say that this is a massive phenomenon, but things are moving forward,” the plant workers say. As one of the members of the independent trade union at the Minsk Tractor Plant said, more than 100 people have already joined the REP.
- The situation with Siarhei Dyleuski really spurred people to quit the state trade union, - the Minsk Tractor Plant workers say. - The management of the plant has not officially recognized the independent trade union. About three weeks ago, a letter was sent to the bosses, where we wrote that the primary trade union organization of the REP trade union was created. It should have already been answered, but so far there has been silence. People are slightly in limbo because of this. But it seems that the management gave the command not to touch those who will go to the independent trade union.
Not as actively as at the Minsk Tractor Plant, but at the Minsk Motor Plant the ranks of the independent trade union are also growing.
- The trade union movement is actively developing at our plant. The Trade Union Online platform helps us a lot in this. More recently, two more applications for membership were received, - says one of the employees of the Motor Plant. - We now have about 30 people in the independent trade union. But a few weeks ago, we didn't have an independent union at all. People are quitting the pro-government trade union. This was also discussed at its last meeting. They are very concerned about this. There is an outflow, and we have an inflow slowly.
- We had and still have an unofficial strike committee. It continues his work. If necessary, we will transfer it to an official status, employees say.
According to the workers, there is no active repression at the plant now, and has been none. But some are denied some or all of their bonuses.
- When the plant workers came out in support of BT and the Tractor Plant, we formed a column. An unofficial list of about 160 people was made,to deprive them of bonuses. Although before that, the same ideology official said that no sanctions would be applied to these people for coming out. The decision with the bonuses was left to the discretion of the shop managers. Some did not take money from their employees.
- In our workshop, some of them were still deprived of their bonuses - some partially, some completely. Some were deprived of payments for the Day of the Machine Builder - they were given 50 rubles each, - said one of the workers. - It didn't come to layoffs. But, for example, they do not want to renew the contract for our factory activist. That is, formally, this is not a dismissal, they simply do not renew the labor contract.
As before, there are no open strikes and protests at the enterprise now. However, as the workers say, they “don't give up”.
- Some of the factory workers are on the Italian strike. But this is a format of protest that is difficult to track. People say in a personal conversation that they are trying to do less, only within the framework of the plan, according to instructions, employees continue. - And we recently organized a campaign in support of students. They also somehow carried out an action in support of the factory workers. We thanked them, took pictures with posters and flags in solidarity. They say that next week, either on Monday, or on Tuesday, Aliaksandr Lukashenka is going to visit us. Now we have an emergency, everyone is scrubbing, sweeping the leaves.
The Minsk Electrotechnical Plant named after Kozlov also recently recorded a video message to the state trade union, at the end of which they said that “they are parting with it in good faith”.
“After our video, they began to press us,” employees of the enterprise tell. - In different ways. One person’s labor contract was not renewed. Some were stripped of their bonuses. But this is not so much money, our bonuses are modest. We have created our own fund, and support those who have been deprived of payments on our own. Those employees who want to put some money there, and the same bonuses come out in total.
- We're not giving up. Some of the workers have already joined the independent trade union - about 30 people. Too few? Yes. But the process is gradually moving. There are no protests, as in the early days. We direct all our attention to the transition to the Free Trade Union of Metalworkers. The transition is not yet massive, but after the video, many began to think, and some have already filed applications, - concluded one of the workers.
Enterprises in the regions: “We will struggle to the end, there is no way back anyway”
The journalists asked what is happening at large factories in the regions. Employees of the Belarusian Metallurgical Plant in Zhlobin, who stopped all three steel-making furnaces one day in August, say that “now the mood at our enterprise is ambiguous”.
“After an unsuccessful attempt to organize a strike, people went down, the management “harbored a grudge,” says one of the employees of the enterprise. After the events of August 14 and 17, a list appeared at our enterprise, which included the names of about 80 factory workers who expressed their civic position aloud. The management gave their word that they would not hurt anyone, they would not fire, it’s just work. But later, facts about the non-renewal of contracts of these “irresponsible” employees began to surface.
According to the workers, on September 29, Vital Savelyeu, a mechanic-repairman, who was on the black list, received an official notification of the non-renewal of the contract. And he worked at the company for about 20 years and “had no significant penalties”. Prior to that, on September 23, the Zhlobin district court considered an administrative case against Vital. He was accused of violating the rules for holding mass events and was given 12 days of arrest.
- Savelyeu is not a member of the Belprofmash trade union, and he was denied protection of his interests before the employer in the factory trade union, which is contrary to our collective agreement of 2018-2021. Vital was informed about the non-renewal of the contract in the media, which caused indignation of many workers, - say the factory workers. - A group of not indifferent and members of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union decided to support Vital and petition the employer to extend the contract with him. We wrote a letter addressed to the general director of the enterprise with a request to listen to the opinion of the team and renew the contract with Savelyeu. This appeal was signed by about 900 employees of the enterprise.
- For 2 weeks of collecting signatures, it turned out that many at the plant were outraged by the situation in the country and unhappy with the inaction of the trade union to protect the workers. After all, any of us can be in Vital's place. As a result, the outflow of workers from Belprofmash began, some of whom joined the ranks of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union.
On October 6, employees of Naftan published a video message in support of Belarusians. “We want to live in a peaceful, free, independent, prosperous country,” the plant workers say. After that, the workers from the video received summons with an invitation to appear at the prosecutor's office. They were told to try to keep all their actions within the law. They promised to try. Then all the workers were released.
There is still a strike committee at Belaruskali, despite the regular detention of its participants and the constant administrative arrests they are serving. There are now a little more than 20 people in the strike committee. Some of them were fired from the enterprise.
In September - early October, several more workers joined the strike, at least three of them are miners - Yury Korzun, Aleh Kudzelka, Aliaksandr Kurban. All of them refused to rise to the surface after work shifts until their demands were met. On October 19, Yury Korzun was given another 15 days of administrative arrest for participating in an unauthorized event.
At the same time, other employees of the enterprise, who in the second half of August gathered in the central square of Salihorsk and discussed a possible strike, now do not openly demonstrate support for the strike, but, for example, help some of the participants, including with food packages.
As the miners say, white-red-white flags appear in unexpected places at their enterprise in different mines.
- Flags are installed in all mines and delfs. Almost every day. Not so long ago, the flag was hoisted on the roof of the granulation department of the 4th mining administration. Then at the drying department of SOF at the 1st mine. The bosses are very annoyed by all this. They are trying to find the culprit, some workers are forced to write explanatory notes, they pressure people to tell who is doing this, - the workers continue. - We're going to fight to the end. There is no turning back anyway.