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(en) Russia, Vyborg Defeat - A Tale of a struggle.

From worker-a-infos@lists.tao.ca
Date Tue, 22 Feb 2000 15:39:07 -0500


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After  more than two years the militant occupation, conducted by the workers 
of Vyborg paper mill, has ended in scab treachery and defeat. 

Background to the Struggle

Vyborg Paper and Pulp Mill, with its highly advanced machinery, is situated 
in Sovietsky town, strategically located between St Petersburg and the 
Finnish border. Unpaid and threatened with wholesale sacking in a planned 
re-structuring by Alcem UK, the mill workers first took control over their 
plant about two years ago, resuming the production themselves, forcing out 
the company’s manager, and electing their own. They used the profits from  
the paper they produced to feed themselves and their families - the first 
time they had been paid regularly in a long, long time.

During the long occupation the unarmed Vyborg workers managed to face down 
the repeated ferocious raids conducted by militarised special police units 
backed by the regional Government, determined to seize control of the mill by 
force. A number of workers 
received serious injuries during these raids; one lost an eye, and two were 
shot. Nevertheless they fought on, refusing to give up control. One of the 
reasons for their success in keeping the firm, backed by the regional 
government, at bay for so long was the close solidarity between the workers, 
who managed to mobilise hundreds at short notice when the mill was attacked. 
Another, extremely important factor was the authorities’ fear they would 
stage further mass blockades of the "Scandinavia Highway",  a major road and 
railway link connecting  Russia with western  Europe. 

Late in November last year a conference took place in Vyborg to which 
militant workers from all over Russia were invited. In the course of this 
conference, which had heavy involvement by the Communist Party (KPRF) and the 
Russian Communist Workers Party (RKRP), Vitaly Kiriakov was named as leader 
of Vyborg workers. Reports differ as to how much influence the mill workers 
themselves actually had on these proceedings. Whatever the case, it is clear 
that Kiriakov, a municipal councillor who stood in the last Duma elections on 
the list of the RKRP, was a bosses’ man in disguise. Weeks ago the workers, 
comprehending that Kiriakov was moving to tie up a deal with the firm Alcem 
UK, declared he was not their representative and elected mill worker 
Alexandra Zaikina instead.

Defeat

But the harsh boycott conducted by the authorities on behalf of Alcem UK 
against the militant workers was beginning to take its toll. The trucks 
carrying paper were barred from the roads; once again the workers were unpaid 
and hungry. A mill worker describes the situation:

"In the week leading up to the events of the 16th of Jan, the families of the 
workers at Vyborg simply starved. Pay has not been issued for 5 months. In 
December cold was added to hunger. The factory had not received funds from 
the local council to pay for heating in a long time. The municipal and 
federal organs were closely organised against us with Alcem and Vyborg 
Cellulose….

"The local authorities instituted an economic blockade against us. They 
withheld shipments of cheese and butter. These actions had the political aim 
of the destruction of our factory through the destruction of us, the self 
organised workers of the Vyborg mill and the thousands of other such 
collectives across Russia. .."  (worker’s name withheld by request)

Under these desperate circumstances, it is not surprising that some workers 
agreed to sign petitions circulated by Kiriakov  for payments respectively of 
500 and 1000 roubles (approximately $17 and  $35 dollars)  per signature. 
These petitions declared no confidence in the workers’ committee, and called 
for the firm to be re-named Vyborg Cellulose (a trading name of Alcem.)

Two weeks ago, on 16 January, just a few days before the Arbitration Court 
was supposed to investigate the shadowy  events  surrounding the purchase of 
the mill by Alcem, Kiriakov, with the aid of company thugs, burst into the 
mill and seized control. Below is an eyewitness account of what happened:

[At  8:20 PM he looked out the window and ten  cars had come through the 
gate. ] "From the cars came many people who ran towards the doors of the mill 
and who were also 'neutralising' the workers’ guards of the factory. Soon a 
voice was heard in the Administrative building. We closed ourselves off on 
the fourth floor, (five of us, all members of the workers’ committee) The 
gates of the factory were then blocked with fire-trucks. The shop floor was 
taken over by unauthorised persons. At 10:22 we got a call.

I answered and it was Kiriakov. He said, "So what are you  going to do?" I 
said "We are going to wait." And I hung up the phone. Twenty minutes later we 
heard the sound of metal breaking. Ten to twenty  people broke through the 
door from the 3rd to 4th floor and were trying to ascend to the 4th on the 
balcony. They told us that they were the new security at the factory and that 
we must vacate the premises…"

The firm Alcem, via its scab intermediaries such as Kiriakov and Pavel 
Privalov, promised to pay off all wage arrears within two weeks, preserve all 
2,550 jobs, provide a minimum wage of nearly $90 per month (not low by 
Russian standards), expand production and provide social benefits.

These are fantastic claims for Alcem, which not long ago promised to sack the 
vast majority of the workers in a "downsizing" operation. It is very unlikely 
these promises will be kept. We know that the Vyborg workers, who have become 
known not just in Russia but now worldwide for their courage and endurance, 
will not allow the bosses to ride over their backs. But now it is up to us, 
workers of the international labour movement, to come to their aid when they 
call us - with political support, money for strikers, solidarity actions and 
whatever else is necessary, whatever they may request from us to ensure that 
this time the bosses cannot starve, freeze, trick, beat or shoot them into 
submission.

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