Russian car workers win union recognition


Benteler car workers in Kaluga, Russia, to the south west of Moscow, have won their strike over recognition of their union. On April 2 at 8am the administration of the plant issued an official statement accepting negotiations with the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA).

Members of the ITUA went on strike after repeated attempts to negotiate with the company failed.

Volkswagen workers at a neighbouring plant pledged their solidarity.

The Benteler workers in Kaluga, organised by the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) affiliate ITUA, went on strike in the evening of March 29, as management had repeatedly refused to negotiate with the union.

On February 29, the ITUA union local offered to begin negotiations with the company management. However, the company refused.

In early March, the workers held a work-to-rule which prompted management to accept negotiations.

Still, collective bargaining didn’t begin in March, and instead of engaging in negotiations in good faith with the union, management adopted anti-union policies.

It refused to register any documents handed over by the representatives of the ITUA and prohibited activists from remaining on plant premises during non-working hours.

On March 29, at 8pm Benteler workers went on strike.

Earlier that evening ITUA coordinator in Kaluga, Dmitry Kozhnev, took part in the meeting with company management, city authorities and the prosecutor’s office.

Company management stated that it refused to negotiate with the ITUA alone, since it didn’t represent all workers.

Kozhnev replied that the ITUA represents Benteler workers in full accordance with Russian law.

The management promised to prepare an official note accepting negotiations; however, it never did.

There have been reports of company intimidation and harassment towards the workers, including information that security guards tried to seize Kozhnev and throw him out of the building, but were stopped by the workers.

Workers have continued to overwhelmingly support the ITUA.

Upon announcement of the strike, workers were forced by security guards out of the shops, but they managed to stay in the cafeteria.

The plant was surrounded by riot police and security forces from both the Benteler and nearby Volkswagen plant.

However, workers from VW, also organised by the ITUA, as well as social and union activists from Kaluga, went to the factory gates to support striking workers.

Benteler supplies car parts to the Volkswagen plant. Since there is no stock of Benteler components at VW, this raised the possibility that production at VW would completely stop.

Benteler workers managed to stop the assembly line at their plant for half an hour; however, the management has used university students, several Volkswagen workers, office staff and construction workers as strikebreakers.

Some 100 striking workers still remained at the plant.

Company management ordered all food and beverages to be taken out of the cafeteria, so the ITUA organised a solidarity fund for food and water for the striking workers.

Plans for future stoppages were under way.

In a letter addressed to Benteler CEO Hubert Koopmann, the IMF called for an end to attacks against strikers and urged the company to enter into good faith negotiations immediately.

The assembly line at Benteler didn’t stop so that strikers were forced to take measures outside the plant.

They blocked the entrances to the plant and stopped lorries with Benteler components from going to Volkswagen, disrupting supplies, and also preventing strikebreakers from entering the plant.

There are also reports that the car parts made by scabs are defective. The strike certainly affected VW performance.

The police completely left the plant on March 30; security guards didn’t interfere with the strike.

The ITUA is affiliated nationally to the Confederation of Labour of Russia (KTR).

On March 31 KTR president Boris Kravchenko came to Kaluga.

There was a meeting between Kravchenko, Dmitry Kozhnev (ITUA coordinator in Kaluga), Alexei Nastin (president of the union local at Benteler) and the governor of Kaluga region Anatoly Artamonov, members of the regional government, Benteler director Hubert Koopmann and HR director Elena Sirotkina.

The result of the meeting was that on Monday, April 2nd at 8am, Koopmann and Sirotkina promised to issue an official statement recognising the ITUA as social partner and accepting negotiations with it.

Striking workers left the plant.

Collective bargaining with the ITUA began on Wednesday, April 4th.

‘The strike at Benteler is a huge success for the workers’ movement in Kaluga,’ said Olga Masson, editor of the ITUA newspaper Autoworker.

‘The results will have a great impact on all the autoworkers in the region.’

Whilst the dispute is not over, the machinery is now in place to address the ongoing concerns of the car workers.

These include demands for an increase in wages from the 18,000 roubles ($600) per month they are currently paid.

Workers say that the wages are below comparable pay in the region, which houses an industrial hub.

A new collective agreement between the union and management is expected to be drawn up within the coming week.