Published: 14/06/2011

Consolidation of the independent trade union movement in Russia has taken a large step forward with the extraordinary congress of the Confederation of Labour of Russia (KTR), which took place in Moscow on May 27, 2011. Divisions amongst the unions that emerged after 1989 made them ill-equipped to face state repression and continuous attempts by the government to intervene in union affairs. KTR, formerly one union confederation among many, has now become the foundation of a new alliance representing some 600,000 workers. The new Confederation will pursue its independence from the state, employers and political parties to build an industrial relations system based on workers’ collective power and capacity to maintain direct action.

The KTR’s affiliates are working in extremely difficult circumstances. Unions have been robbed of the right to strike; the notification requirement for new organizations has become for many a prohibiting procedure: and union leaders suffer physical threats and attacks and criminal indictments for their union activity. Valentin Urusov, president of the union at the ALROSA diamond mining company, has been imprisoned for the past three years on trumped-up charges.

The impulse to unification proceeds from a strong understanding that unions can resist and develop through joint action. “Strengthening our Confederation is not an end in itself. It’s a way to unite working people and protect their rights in the face of power and capital”, states the Program Declaration adopted by 72 congress delegates from 23 unions. Among those united now under the KTR umbrella are the IUF-affiliated Union of Food, Tobacco, Services and Allied Workers “Solidarnost” created in 2009, air traffic controllers, maritime workers, sailors and marine pilots, railway employees, teachers, service workers and autoworkers.

The Program Declaration of the KTR declares the organization’s intention to fight neoliberalism, public sector privatization and Russia’s WTO accession. KTR supports the proposed ban on agency labour and strives to protect direct, permanent employment.

The congress was attended by representatives of Polish Solidarnosc, the Belarus Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, CGT France, AFL-CIO, ITF and IUF.

Congress delegates joined a picket of the Air Traffic Controllers’ Union at the building of Rosaeronavigatsia, the State Corporation for air traffic control with whom the organization is seeking nation-wide bargaining.