BELARUS « The outcome of the struggle against the dictatorship depends on the working class » — Interview with a member of the strike committee of the Remontajstroy plant in the city of Soligorsk

Our correspondents sent us this interview published on October 18 in the Polymïa (“The Flame”) newsletter, which states: “The eyes of the demonstrators are focused on the companies. Few dispute that the outcome of the struggle against the dictatorship depends on the working class. All hopes are focused on Soligorsk, the ‘miners capital’ (of the potassium mines operated by the Belaruskali company – editor’s note).” 

A workers’ general assembly by the Belaruskali company

How was your strike committee formed? 

Our steel structure maintenance factory works as a subcontractor for Belaruskali. The strike committee was born from the coordination of the independent trade union and initiatives of workers who had read on the Internet how to constitute a strike committee. The committee was formed long after the beginning of the strike, because the strike had been spontaneous.

Does your strike committee represent the majority of workers? 

Yes: the majority of those who, after the presidential election of August 9 and the protests that followed, expressed their rejection of police repression (against the demonstrators who challenged the re-election of President Lukashenko with more than 80% of the votes – editor’s note). Some co-workers acknowledged having voted for Lukashenko, but were outraged by the police terror. As time went by and in the face of state propaganda repeated in continuous loops on television, it became necessary to refute the lies spread by the official media claiming that the strike committee was in favour of nationalist demands, etc. 

What are the workers’ demands? Do they trust the opposition leaders propelled by the media (Tikhanovskaya, Kolesnikova, Latushko, etc.)?

The demands of the strike committee are the democratic demands put forward by the entire liberal opposition. When the workers’ demands were proposed, some said that this was not on the agenda. The workers have various opinions on the leaders of the liberal opposition, but in general they are not very warm.  

What is the role of the independent unions and the position of the « official » union (i.e. the union integrated into the regime – editor’s note)?

In our factory, the independent union, on the one hand, and the management, favorable to the opposition, on the other, was the backbone of the organization of the strike. At first, the « official » union did not oppose it, because the co-workers were all indignant. On the first day, the representative of the factory’s official union voted for the strike and even supported us, registering as a striker, while we put forward political demands and many were cursing his union. Later, we never saw him again: the orders to fight the strike, coming from above, had come from there.

What about the other strike committees? 

They were set up in August in most of the companies on strike. The union hall was taken over by the workers who wanted help in organizing the strike and setting up their strike committees. The Belaruskali miners’ committee, of course, became one of the most important and organized; it still is. The power concentrated its blows against it: thus, one of its most active leaders, Anatoly Bokoun, was imprisoned first for twenty-five days, then for fifteen days. Not one strike committee leader escaped being imprisoned! Despite the repression, the workers continued to support the strike through thick and thin. A third of the miners refused to go to the surface, chaining themselves to the bottom of the mine. In addition to political demands, the miners have recently made economic demands: better working conditions and wage increases.

What are the prospects?

The prospects for the workers’ struggle have improved considerably. A few months ago, « strike » or « strike committee » referred to a distant past. Today, all workers know what a strike is and have participated in it. But let’s not fool ourselves: the next strikes, on purely social demands, will not be so easy. Because this political strike was launched by both workers and management. Without unions, the working class is not organized, and when the demands represent only our own interests as a working class, we will find the opposition of engineers and managers in our way. The capacity of the workers to move is decisive: in the country, on August 7, no one could imagine that ten days later we would all be on strike. Our task, as communists, is to prepare ourselves at all times for such abrupt turns, using unions, organizations and parties ready to serve the workers.