Staunton, April 7 – The strike by long-haul truckers is not only spreading from its origins in border regions of the country where it has blocked imports from Azerbaijan and China but also prompting other groups in the Russian population to consider whether they have the capacity to follow the truckers’ lead to promote their own interests.
That is just one of the conclusions Russian experts have offered to Anton Chablin of Kavkazskaya politika who himself points out that the truckers now believe that if they can block enough products from getting to Russian markets to force price increases, the regime will have to talk to them (kavpolit.com/articles/kuda_privodjat_protesty-32919/).
Sergey Vodopetov, an official of the Russian Association for Links with Society, argues that “in the example of protests by drivers of heavy vehicles against the Plato System [which imposes high tariffs on them], we can observe the formation of a new class – the workers -- capable of defending its interests.”
It is the drivers themselves and not transportation companies who “are talking about strikes.” Their first reaction to the Plato system was to ask whether it was just or unjust, but “now after a year and a half of work, [they are focusing on numerous] issues connected with its functioning and the redistribution of the money obtained.”
If the truckers can form an organization led by competent managers, it is possible that “we will see an example of a trade union that really works. Not a formal one which assembles once a year at a resort but a real force capable of becoming a center for taking decisions about complex inter-agency issues and demands,” Vodopetov says.
“That is a constructive path,” he continues, “but there is also a destructive one connected with efforts at converting such an economic protest into a social-political one.” That won’t help the workers but because of their “lack of experience,” it is entirely possible that they could be swayed in that direction.
But whether the truckers go in that direction or not, Vodopetov says, “the number of such actions will grow because citizens will actively resist” given the spread of such “theses” as “’people are our new oil.’” Being told they are important in this way, he suggests, is emboldening even those who showed no activism in the past.
The authorities need to deal with such economic protests in a serious way because if they don’t, workers will respond by shifting their demands rapidly from specific economic complaints to broader political ones that will pose a far greater threat to the authorities given that political demands will allow the workers of various sectors to link together.
But Mikhail Vinogradov, the head of the Petersburg Politics Foundation, does not believe that the truckers’ example will spread. Not only do the truckers enjoy a number of specific advantages that other workers don’t – they often own their own trucks – but there is no strong tradition in Russia of labor union activism.