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The New Trade Union at Renault, Moscow: a Cry of Despair, the Will to Fight

Translated Sunday 13 May 2007, by Carol Gullidge

Following two strikes at the Ford plant in Vsevolzhsk, a newly formed trade union at Renault’s Avtoframos factory in Moscow is demanding a 30% pay rise for its 2,500 workers, and threatens strike action if its demands are not met.

Interview with Ivan Kisilyov, trade-union leader at the Renault plant in Moscow.

HUMA: What made you decide to organize a trade union?

IVAN KISILYOV: The idea of a trade union emerged as the only means of getting heard by the management, and for the workers to have their say. And then the Ford example made our minds up for us. They proved that, by putting up a fight, the workers could force their demands to be met. It was above all the attitude of the management and bosses towards the workers that finally provoked us. They keep us in the dark, never tell us anything, and break all the rules. For example, on a Friday, we’re ordered to come into work on the Saturday, without being consulted. The foreman does what he wants. The second problem is the pay. It’s so low, and the working conditions are so bad, that most workers leave the factory after working for one or two months. It’s hard when you don’t have a stable group to work with. In fact, the trade union is less of an attempt to put up a fight than an expression of despair, a cry from the heart.

HUMA: How much can a worker earn at Moscow’s Renault plant?

IVAN KISILYOV: A production-line worker’s pay is 10,000 roubles more or less (less than 300 euros), on top of which there’s the bonus of up to around 3,800 roubles (a little over 100 euros). It’s a pay packet that’s far too low for Moscow [where the average pay is twice as high (Editorial note)]. We don’t earn enough to rent an apartment, which means that the great majority of workers - who come from out of town - live in the outer suburbs, and waste a lot of time commuting. In fact, it’s rather at the discretion of other members of staff, there’s nothing fixed, no pay scale, no set standard of qualification, nor any wage indexation. It’s worse with the bonus: we’ve absolutely no idea who decides whether or not to give it to us, and on what criteria. Not long ago, the foreman in the welding workshop announced that anyone who’d been off sick that month would have their bonus withheld! The least you can say is that this is not very humane.

HUMA: Is that the main problem, or are there others?

IVAN KISILYOV: Conditions at work are difficult, and getting worse. The toilets are in a deplorable state. The canteen is very poorly equipped. No provision has been made for rest breaks. The lunch break is thirty minutes. We’re only allowed a maximum of two, five-minute (at most) breaks during the day. There’s also a shortage of labour. They lay blokes off or push them to leave, and we’re left with insufficient manpower to carry out the same workload. It’s pure exploitation of cheap labour.

HUMA: And what about relations with the bosses?

IVAN KISILYOV: The worst are those who throw their weight around, they really go too far! They yell at you and insult you. And they couldn’t care less about safety regulations. They’re for ever ordering you to do things that are not in your remit, like washing the floor, or other things. The other day, my boss asked me to clean the smokers’ room, threatening to take away my bonus if I didn’t do it. As for the management, we hardly ever see them, and don’t have any contact with them.

HUMA: What are your main demands?

IVAN KISILYOV: First of all, a rise in salary. I reckon that a wage of 20,000 roubles is the least you can live on. We’ve been promised a rise several times, but we’re still waiting. It really seems as if they couldn’t give a damn about us! Then, there are the questions of the canteen, respect for security regulations, and of job accreditation. Finally, we’re also asking for more staff to be taken on.


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