“Like a powder keg”

The situation at enterprises where employees joined solidarity movements

29 August 2020, 00:23 | Anna Rybchinskaya / Alexandra Kvitkevich / Dmitry Bobkov, FINANCE.TUT.BY
Minsk Tractor Works workers protest
MTZ employees at a rally on 14 August.
Photo: Olga Shukaylo, TUT.BY

Employees of large enterprises have been actively involved in solidarity actions. For example, MTZ employees took to the streets of Minsk city centre on 14 August. A few days later, they did it again with colleagues from MAZ and MZKT. Among others, employees of Belaruskali, Grodno Azot and BELAZ came out on solidarity actions. At MZKT,  they actively expressed their dissatisfaction with what was happening in the country – not only to the leadership, but also to Aleksander Lukashenko. His resignation was the main demand of the frustrated workers of Naftan, Belaruskali, Grodno Azot and Grodnozhilstroy. However, afterwards, things calmed down. FINANCE.TUT.BY made inquiries about what is happening at the enterprises. 

“There are people who sacrificed their high-paying jobs for your freedom”: The current situation for large enterprises

Currently, the authorities and enterprise management are trying to lessen the discontent of factory workers with threats of layoffs, wage cuts, compensation of debts incurred owing to lost economic benefits and the detention of members of strike committees (some of whom had to leave the country, and some of whom, like Sergei Dylevsky of MTZ and Alexander Lavrinovich of MZKT, were detained). Nevertheless, in some enterprises, strike committees are still quite active. Among them is Belaruskali. Its participants are considering the possibility of creating a united strike of Soligorsk, which will include other enterprises of the city, as well as entrepreneurs. The strike committee regularly meets in the town’s central square and asks its residents to support the miners.

“We know that you are as tired as we are mentally and physically. There are people who sacrificed their high-paying jobs for your freedom. Maybe there are not as many of them as we would like, but nevertheless they exist,” the strike committee notes.

It may be noted that, in the country on the whole, factory workers are not as active in taking part in solidarity actions. However, this does not mean that their dissatisfaction with the situation in the country has disappeared.
They continue chatting and discussing the problems that have accumulated in the country. From election results and demands for new elections to the violence committed by the security forces. They are leaving official trade unions and in some factories continue to discuss the option of a strike while collecting signatures to support the initiative. From time to time, some of the factory workers go out on short-term solidarity actions, as did employees of Grodno Azot and BELAZ this week. In addition, workers of one of the larger factories are now discussing the idea of ​​coming to work in a protest column from next week: “If they are detained, there will be no one to work.”

Meanwhile, more than $1.8 million has been raised for the victims of the layoffs in Belarus. A number of MAZ workers who lost their jobs have already received this assistance.

What’s happening at other enterprises

The Belarusian Metallurgical Plant, where strikes were planned from 20 August, is now continuing to work. Employees say that the pressure on the workers continues: “Threats, persuasions and brainwashing conversations with the authorities.” The company is also investigating the stopping of the furnaces on 17 August (when the workers preventively stopped all three furnaces for several hours) and allowing civilians onto the plant’s premises.

BMZ also made changes to internal regulations. Thus, you can enter or leave the premises of the enterprise only with the help of an individual work pass, which must be presented to the security officer upon request.

You can come to the territory of BMZ no earlier than an hour before the start of working hours, and leave no later than an hour after its end. In other cases, it is possible to enter the territory of the plant outside of working hours only with the permission of the head of the structural unit.

“People continue to leave the union, but there is no strong flow yet. The pro-government trade union has ‘stirred’ and is preparing to redraw the collective agreement again this Friday. There are rumors that they want to issue some payments (bonuses, seniority benefits, holidays) for membership in a trade union,” say the workers.

At MTZ, people began to quit the state trade union. The employees of the enterprise themselves tell about this.

“Everyone understands that we cannot legally declare a strike, even though a clear majority is in favor of it. Management is doing an amazing job of dividing and intimidating people, but we are not going to give up,” says one of the employees. “Today, the leadership of the strike committee sees further struggle in leaving the state trade union and moving to an independent one. If more than 50% of us go there, we will have to conclude a collective agreement with an independent trade union. Some workers have already left the union. Some are taking their time. There are reasons for this: nowadays, the order to dismiss an employee is signed by the employer and the trade union committee. If you leave the trade union committee, you can simply be fired by your employer.”

In addition, the employees of the enterprise are going to hold a general meeting at which they will discuss a further plan of action.

“At the moment, we have already formed a team that more or less knows each other and also conducts explanatory work on the ground,” the workers say.

Regarding a business trip to the Orsha Tool Factory for a month, to which, according to the workers, “[the management] wanted to send about 20 activists, while the conversations have subsided. It seems like the guys managed to fight them off,” said the workers of the enterprise.

The situation at the MZKT, whose general director had previously said that “Lukashenko did not win the elections,” and after a while the workers shouted to Lukashenko himself “Go away!” and went out to actions of solidarity, now, as it seems from the outside, is relatively calm.

“It only seems quiet at the first glance. Recently, a leading electronic engineer Aleksander Lavrinovich, the chairman of the strike committee of the MZKT, who was collecting signatures for a strike at the enterprise, was detained by people in civilian clothes. Moreover, he was arrested right at the workplace. Anyone at the enterprise who at least somehow tries to take the initiative into their own hands, receives threatening conversations and intimidation,” says one of the workers. “But despite all this, the anger of the civilian workers does not subside; people have taken the path of the ‘Italian strike’. Solidarity is prominent in the people, although they try not to expose themselves. In general, MZKT is like a powder keg: just a spark is enough. And the plant’s management is doing everything to extinguish any such sparks.”

“The workers are outraged, but are scared for their families and future. They say if everyone goes, they’ll go too [to the solidarity actions]. And the older generation doesn’t care about what others say – they only wish to see retirement and have a little something extra on holidays,” says another worker of the MZKT.  

The MAZ workers say that now at the enterprise there are signatures being collected to withdraw the mandate of one of the deputies [Members of Parliament]; there are also applications being filled out to leave the official trade union. “It’s not that people are leaving massively, but enough applications have been filled out,” said one of the workers. According to him, the situation at the plant now is difficult.

“Talks about a strike died down, many people who went or wanted to go on strike were intimidated and have been either threatened or fired,” the man says. He conveyed that due to the dismissal of some mechanical assembly locksmiths, workers from other departments were being transferred to the assembly line. “There may be issues with labor productivity,” the worker states.

The information regarding Belaruskali is contradictory. As of 19 August, the plant itself announced that all of its seven mines were operating as planned, as well as three out of four of its concentrating mills, while the plant of the first mine administration will continue to operate after scheduled maintenance. At the same time, there’s information that part of the miners are still on strike. In the evening, some workers “while on a walk,” and those who are not indifferent, gather in the central square of the city, according to the strike committee.

Article: How Soligorsk miners excited the authorities and global markets

Naftan employees had previously stated that they would go on strike from 29 August, should Alexander Lukashenko not resign by that time. The enterprise managed to collect signatures under an open appeal to the people of Belarus. However, since the factory workers’ appeal votes to the people on 20 August were counted, there has been no talk of a strike at Naftan. According to the communications among the workers, their dissatisfaction with the situation in the country has not gone anywhere. Now, a number of the workers are discussing, among other things, leaving the official trade unions and collecting signatures for the recall of deputies. 

Source: Vestnik Naftana

The employees of Hrodnazhylstroi intended to go on strike from 21 August. They held a secret ballot on the strike. According to the builders, the majority voted for this action: 1950 for, 638 people were against it. The builders officially informed the management of the results. They also reiterated that security, fire, boiler room and technical personnel covering workers’ hostels and other public places would carry on as normal.

In the end, many workers went on shift on 21 August. The workers said they had been actively on strike for the previous 6 days, having stopped working at the facilities, but then many of them had faced pressure and decided not to continue the active strike, despite unresolved dissatisfaction.

It is reported that “on 24 August, a notice was received of the termination of the strike in connection with the refusal of the workers to participate in it.”

Meanwhile, the employees of Grodno Azot had an emotional meeting with the governor of the Grodno region Vladimir Karanik the day before. The questions asked at the meeting shed light on what truly worries the plant’s employees now.

Among other things, they asked about the election results, the people killed, the awards presentation to the OMON security forces, the information war, the violence committed by the government security forces, and Lukashenko brandishing an assault rifle in Minsk city centre. We would like to remind you that on Tuesday, a number of Grodno Azot employees taking a walk toward the city centre were arrested.

Belshina continues firing activists of its failed strike.

BELAZ employees went out to a solidarity march after their shift on 26 August.