22 May 2024, Wednesday, 17:09
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Blue-Collar Union Members

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Blue-Collar Union Members
Iryna Khalip

How Lenya and Maya were hired at the factory.

The history of the Belarusian protests would not exist without people like activists Lyavon and Maya. They always took to the streets: together with hundreds of thousands in August, together against riot police, together with a handful of concerned people, and in solitary pickets. They carried flags, stood in hitches, were beaten up, and spent in jail on Okrestina under administrative cases more than many under criminal ones. They lost property because of fines; they lost their jobs and their health, but they still took part in the protests.

When fines cost them a car, which Lenya used to work as a cab driver, he tried for a long time to find a job. He is a factory worker with experience, a highly skilled adjuster. However, ideologists did not hire him. The personnel department honestly said: we would hire you with pleasure, but if you have had any incidents in 2020, then there is no chance. Ideologist will not allow it. It is forbidden to hire without it. And they didn't. However, one didn't hire him before 2020 either. He even tried to get a job as a ticket inspector on public transportation, having heard the announcement "bus depot invites". The personnel department head explained then: we do not hire those who are administratively liable. A pioneer is an example for all boys, and a supervisor must be crystal clear. I remember we wondered then where anyone could be hired with an administrative record. It turned out - to the police. However, with the proviso: no more than four convictions.

Recently, Lenya started drawing up papers for his pension. He went to the Thermoplast plant to get a certificate confirming that he had worked there. They gave him the certificate. Then they gave him a pension - 345 rubles. While Lenya and Maya were sitting around wondering how to properly dispose of such a fortune, the personnel department of Thermoplast called. The personnel manager asked if Lyavon wanted to work at the formerly native plant. As it turned out, there really was no one to work there: one 75-year-old adjuster, obsolete equipment, and half of them were out of order. The head of the press shop welcomed Lenya and Maya: he was appointed as adjuster, she as press operator.

They weren't asked any questions about 2020 for half a day. In the second half of the shift, the ideologist invited them. The ideologist, of course, asked exactly this question. Lenya answered: yes, there were administrative cases, but only because I was waving my arms and using foul language. The ideologist asked Maya whether Lyavon often behaved like that. Then she waved her hand and said: OK, damn it, do your job. There's just one condition: you must join an official trade union. The plant is state-owned, and everyone must be a union member. Lenya answered that he was already a member of the REP union. He was retired to change the trade union banner. The ideologue started telling how nice it was to be a member of the state trade union - holiday gifts and payments. It was much more profitable than the disgraced REP, whose leadership was in jail. Maya objected: we don't need any presents or bonuses, it's better to just pay out our wages, and we'll work hard. The factory ideologist said, "In that case, I ask you to leave the territory of our plant immediately". So Lenya and Maya worked half a day at the plant for free.

- Lenya, maybe we should have joined? I asked. - The union is not "White Russia" of any kind. You would have attended the union meetings for fun and demanded the workers' rights.

"I couldn't," he answered. - I just imagined for a moment Henadz Fyadynich in jail.

And I imagined that plant. Crumbling, with obsolete equipment and the only elderly adjuster. If the personnel manager calls a pensioner, who resigned from the plant long time ago, and insistently invites him to work, it means that things are very bad. All the people who could have filled the vacancies, repaired the machines, upgraded production, are either in prison or have left. And instead of seizing on anyone who happens to wander into the plant, dusting them off and saying "just work, friend, and we'll take care of the rest," they stick to the meaningless trade union crap and other ideological distortions. It's not even the KGB ordering them to do this. It is the personal stupidity of small production officials, who think that one will praise them for their zeal and give them a letter of commendation. But they won't, because when the last 75-year-old adjuster retires, Lukashenka will come to the plant and threaten to handcuff everybody. And maybe not only threaten. The reports about the loyalty of the ranks and 100% trade unionism won't help anyone.

Anyway, let the state keep destroying itself - production, education, medicine, science. And when there will be no workers, no doctors, no engineers, no scientists left in the country at all, but only bureaucrats and propagandists - they will devour each other at the speed of langoliers. Don't let us down, guys, start now. We believe in you.

Iryna Khalip, specially for Charter97.org

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