Reportage. A local court in St. Petersburg said the trade union was engaging in political activities as a foreign agent. The unprecedented decision, however, is part of a years-long campaign to weaken workers’ rights.

Russia dissolves major auto union, claiming it’s a ‘foreign agent’

Wednesday evening, in a decision unprecedented in the history of modern Russia, the City Court of St. Petersburg ruled to forcibly disband the Inter-Regional Trade Union “Workers’ Association” (MPRA), the auto workers’ union that was part of the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR).

The court justified the decision by arguing that the union was involved in political activities, was collecting signatures to change the existing labor laws in Russia and was being funded from abroad. In the opinion of the court, this was not a local union at all, but rather a “foreign agent” of the IndustriALL Global Union, which counts 140 industrial unions around the world as affiliates, with 50 million members. Italy’s FIOM, FIM and UILM belong to it, as well as Germany’s powerful IG Metall.

The leader of the KTR, Boris Kravchenko, immediately announced that the union will appeal this decision at every level: “In Russia, the fundamental rights of workers will not be curtailed,” he said.

“The same measures that are being applied to NGOs in Russia have been applied to the trade union,” Kravchenko said, referring to the fact that NGOs are not allowed to have international links. “Our union regularly pays its dues to the IndustriALL Global Union, and receives benefits and solidarity in turn, as with any other union,” he pointed out.

Of allegations of “political activities” by the Worker’s Association, a member of the union’s legal staff said, “The court is claiming that fighting against the curtailing of protections in case of illness, or showing solidarity with other strikes, is political activity.”

Starting from midnight on Jan. 11, the union’s website was no longer accessible.

It is patently obvious that the reasons given for outlawing the auto workers’ union are infringing on fundamental democratic constitutional rights in Russia. According to the union, the real reason for the measure can be found in “the activities of the MPRA ever since 2006.” In 11 years of activity, the Worker’s Association has become one of the most combative of the Russian trade unions, feared just as much as those of the port and airport workers.

Founded at the initiative of the workers at the Ford plant in the Leningrad province and at the AvtoVAZ plant in Tolyatti, the Worker’s Association has grown to the point that it is organizing workers in 30 Russian provinces. The union’s most extensive strikes took place at the Ford plant in 2011 and 2016, and in 2017 they also led mobilizations for better working conditions at the Tolyatti plant, in which many workers took part.

Unfortunately, anti-union measures are multiplying in Russia. On Dec. 1 of last year, the teamsters’ union, involved for nine months in a struggle against a tax on the circulation of heavy vehicles, was placed on the list of foreign organizations by the Russian Ministry of Justice, thus de facto preventing its leader, Andrey Bazutin, from running for president. Now, the risk is that this union might be outlawed as well.

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