Sunday, August 16, 2009

Here's an item from the Moscow News about a recent protest by autoworkers at the AvtoVAZ works in Russia. Note that, as usual, the protest was in response to planned layoffs. Note also that it gathered far more participants than expected. Molly would also like the reader to note that the "official" union response ie calling for nationalization is very much beside the point. the plant is, for all intents and purposes, nationalized already, and the demand for workers' control by "union activists" is far more relevant than nationalizing an already nationalized company.
AvtoVAZ protest prompts inquiry:

Ayano Hodouchi
A protest rally by 2,000 AvtoVAZ car workers on Thursday prompted the state corporation running the factory to threaten to fire troublemakers, while President Dmitry Medvedev reacted to workers' complaints of mismanagement by announcing an inquiry into state-run companies.

The protest, organized by the Edinstvo, or Unity, trade union, went off without incident, although many more than the planned 500 participants attended. Union leader Pyotr Zolotaryov called for AvtoVAZ to be nationalised, and union activists said the plant should come under workers' control.

AvtoVAZ, which is controlled by state corporation Russian Technologies, announced last month it was sending workers on an enforced furlough for August and slashing hours and wages in half starting in September. The company has denied it has plans to fire 26,000 employees - one-quarter of the workforce at its giant plant.

Analysts fear there may be social unrest in Tolyatti, a city of 700,000, on a much larger scale than in Pikalyovo, a small Leningrad region town where Prime Minister Vladimir Putin intervened in June to get three factories reopened and back wages paid.

Vladislav Kapustin, minister of industry, energy and technology in the Samara region government, said that AvtoVAZ did not need any more state support for the time being. "AvtoVAZ makes as many cars as it sells," Kapustin told RIA Novosti, adding that the situation may worsen in the case of a second wave of the economic crisis many analysts fear will come this autumn.

Kapustin also said that regional authorities planned to offer extra part-time work to 22,000 AvtoVAZ employees to make up for short-time working.

Russian Technologies chief Sergei Chemezov, a close ally of Putin's, told reporters in Ankara last week that he is confident AvtoVAZ sales would grow again in August. "In July, sales volumes expanded by 12 per cent to 15 per cent, in August, that figure will grow even more," RIA Novosti quoted Chemezov.

Chemezov slammed the workers' protests as "provocative", adding: "There are people who are not at all happy that we are in the factory. They have been asked to leave."

He reiterated that mass layoffs would not take place at the factory if sales recovered and the market stabilised, Vremya Novostey reported.

AvtoVAZ's press service declined to comment on Monday on who the company wanted to dismiss.

On Thursday, Medvedev removed Chemezov from a presidential committee for economic modernisation, the Kremlin's press service said. Vedomosti reported that his removal may have been due to the fact that he was not an active enough participant in the committee, according to sources close to the Kremlin.

Seemingly putting more pressure on Chemezov, Medvedev on Friday ordered a probe into the activities of state corporations, including Russian Technologies. According to the Kremlin website, Medvedev ordered Prosecutor General Yury Chaika and the head of the Kremlin's oversight department, Konstantin Chuichenko, to investigate the activities of state-owned corporations, and in particular, the use of state funds.

The probe may be aimed at addressing workers' complaints, rather than preparing any drastic changes.

"A change of management is possible but not very likely," said Ivan Bonchev, an auto industry analyst at Ernst & Young.

"It is one of the options, but not the most likely one."

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