“The Worker Is Always Vulnerable”

How has the situation of wage-earners changed since the outbreak of war? Who is most often fired for an anti-war stance? Are Russians uniting to defend their labor rights, and what methods are they using? Participants in the Antijob and Antifund projects talked about their work and the prospects for the labour movement in light of the war and mass layoffs. Editorial Collective at Posle.


Source > Posle

— How did the Antijob project come about, and what are its objectives?

— Antijob was founded by several participants of the Autonomous Action of 2004. Initially, the idea was to match the project against job.ru, the oldest of the employment websites with a mass audience. Our project has moral and political foundations, and we abide by the presumption of class guilt. Our starting point is that, within a capitalist system, the exploitation of the worker by the employer is a norm, and the worker is always vulnerable. This vulnerability is what we seek to resist.

Later in 2011, Antijob began taking an active part in the Seti Solidarnosti [Networks of Solidarity] — the radically decentralized organization with its cells in various cities, enabling workers to demand justice in their workplaces. The movement relied on the tactic of direct action. They came to companies, helped to organize strikes, threatened to make public information about the internal conflicts within the companies if the workers’ demands were not met and revealed [but not necessarily disclosed] compromising information about the owners of businesses involved. The Seti Solidarnosti ceased their activities due to the toughening of the regime. However, Antijob still exists as an online project that publishes reviews of employers given by their employees. Moreover, in contrast to similar commercial internet projects, which appeared later, by principle, we do not accept money to remove bad reviews. 

An employer values its reputation. These days, job applicants check company reviews before attending an interview. There have been many successful cases where workers wrote their reviews and made employers pay the wages or compensation, they are due and meet other requirements. A construction company even had to rebrand itself and change its name because of the many bad reviews it received on Antijob.   

As an online platform, Antijob also publishes various texts about anarchist theory, wages, labour and capitalism, as well as articles on contemporary issues. We have also published two books: the second edition of Work. Capitalism. Economics. Resistance by the American anarchistic collective Crimethinc (in cooperation with the Radical Theory and Practice publishing house) and a collection of workers’ short stories Labor Sets You Free (together with the Napilnic cooperative) — worker narratives on rights violations and the struggle with the latter. Since the war began, we have actively covered the situation with layoffs due to the anti-war stance and numerous cases of employees being laid off on our social media. This includes cutbacks and wage cuts directly related to the war. We are now a multimedia platform, publishing popular long-reads, the most recent of which was dedicated to the economic situation in Russia and the worsening labor conditions.

Sometimes we have to make concessions, covering up specific texts and reviews that have caught the attention of Roskomnadzor (Federal Media Supervision Agency) because we want to ensure that people from Russia have access to our website and social networks. In this case, the text is often replaced by a request from Roskomnazdor and sometimes by a court decision [Note: This conversation took place before antijob.net was blocked. The site is now blocked at the request of the RCN. However, it is accessible through a VPN or an antijob.info mirror]. For us, it is crucial that Antijob be popular broadly, including amongst people who may not yet have clearly formulated political views. Most of our readers are workers, and we try to appeal to them. Sometimes the mere existence of a collection of accounts about the capricious and arbitrary demands set by employers is enough to politicize. And even notwithstanding a certain tendency to self-censorship, we can bring our ideas out to people. 

— After the start of the invasion in Ukraine, Antijob, the Feminist Antiwar Resistance (FAR), and the Antiwar sick leave set up the AntiFund. What is the nature of its work?

— We initially started helping workers who had been dismissed or pressured at work due to their anti-war stances. In the fund’s framework, we organized legal assistance, which involved consultations on how to lodge complaints and even accompaniment to court proceedings. Most of all, we received these claims from educators and creative professionals. I recall one schoolteacher who was fired because he showed an anti-war presentation at the end of classes. He was not allowed even to collect his belongings from his office. Another situation arose with a worker at an Italian insurance company who wrote a letter to the company’s management with a request to be relocated. The Russian side of the leadership saw the letter and excluded the woman from all of the company servers. She was placed for several months in front of a broken computer because they were not allowed to fire her formally. And then, her daughter, who also worked for the company as an intern, was dismissed. 

With time fewer people have come forward with these issues, but in connection with the war, sanctions and difficult economic situation, there have been instances of redundancy or withholding pay. Now the mass redundancies, in general, take place in companies closing their operations within Russia, but soon they will also occur in local companies. For example, “Avtovaz” moved the production of the Lada Vesta cars from Izhevsk to Togliatti. Due to the lack of components, they could not assemble cars in Togliatti. So the management decided to sacrifice the plant in Izhevsk. Some specialists were offered relocation to Togliatti, but most employees are being laid off. The company says it will keep a small number of employees because electric cars will now be produced there, but the employees do not believe it and think the plant will be closed. Boeing pilots could also be laid-off soon because such planes are no longer in use due to sanctions. 

— Sociologists and other researchers often say that society is very atomized in Russia. Do Russians come together to defend their labor rights?

— After mass redundancies and wage withholding began, people began to unite to ask for government assistance. They lodge collective claims with the courts or write open letters to the President. In addition, workers often seek out journalists who can add credibility to their situation since they have little belief that they can fight for themselves. Over the past month there were several direct addresses to Vladimir Putin, including, for example, from the workers of the Izhevsk car factory that we mentioned, as well as the workers of Moscanal (the emergency service for the Moscow sewage system), who were sent to work in the self-declared “Luhansk People’s Republic.”

In the AntiFund, we try to spread information about collective methods in the struggle for our rights. We offer legal aid in organizing workers’ unions and strike actions. Currently, not many people are involved in this kind of action. Many are afraid to take such measures because they do not know their rights. They feel they are committing illegal activities and fear losing their positions. Service industry workers, such as taxi drivers and couriers, have proven to be the most effective at self-organizing. 

— In the context of the new repressive laws and shady practices of law enforcement, it seems that in Russia, turning to the law or government institutions to defend one’s rights is pointless on principle. What is the situation like regarding labor rights?

— Labor relations in Russia are often subject to informal rules than to legislation in the strict sense. Many workers do not know their rights, so it is easy to manipulate them. For example, most companies try to make their employees leave of their own volition. There was one demonstrative incident when a schoolteacher was made to go, and she refused. Then she was called to the school’s finance office to sign some documents, out of which was a letter of intent to leave that was slipped in. Then the lawyers informed her that she could revoke the letter, but two days after she signed, her bosses were smart enough to check the CCTV recordings and find evidence of her negligence. 

Often employers bargain and suggest in exchange, for example, for a letter expressing the intention to leave voluntarily, to pay one month’s salary in lieu. In this way, they avoid the procedures of formal termination. In truth, when workers bring complaints to the courts, quite often, they receive substantial compensation. At the same time, we cannot objectively assess how government departments work because we do not know what percentage of claims they ignore. 

We can confidently say that disregard for labor rights is a mass phenomenon in Russia. Although a worker may be lucky enough to receive the payment due to them after court proceedings, the overwhelming majority of companies do not take responsibility for rights infringements. For example, the work conditions at Ozon, Wildberries and Sima Land warehouses amount to slavery. People are forced to pass naked through a metal detector on arrival and departure from their workplace. Even though this situation has been publicized for several months, nothing has changed.

If you do not believe strongly in the Russian legal system, you must turn to it in principle and report violations. This is worthwhile if your situation is not directly tied to a critique of the regime or the expression of a bold position when it is already clear beforehand that a court will not decide in your favour. In workplace conflicts, there is still a chance of getting justice and inspiring other workers to defend their rights based on your example.

Now that the AntiFund has appeared, we can receive free legal counsel and understand how to defend our rights in our concrete personal situations. Help of this kind used to be available only in protecting political rights. There is also The Сivic Assistance Committee that works with refugees but provides support in the form of job searches more than in resolving labor conflicts. It turns out that the war sparked the emergence of many different help initiatives. 

— Some hope that a new influx of people joining the anti-war movement will happen in tandem with the worsening employment crisis: people will lose their jobs and understand that the war affects them directly. What do you think about this perspective?

— Here at Antijob we also believe this. Historical examples can show us that this is possible. If we take as an example the revolution in Iran. Although it took a conservative form and ended in the victory of the Islamists, its history shows cooperation considering how protest mobilization was held. At first, the students protested. Workers joined them only after Sheikh Mohammad Reza Pehlevi brought the reforms that led to massive inflation. The factories started to close down and make workers redundant. And it was these massive demonstrations that led the Sheikh to step down from power, and a new government was formed. A similar story can be found in Poland, where the Solidarity trade union and the labor movement played a significant role. Because of layoffs and plant closures, the number of protests related to labor issues will increase. This implies more opportunities to spread our agenda, including its anti-war aspects. This is the scenario we are counting on and trying to encourage it by calling on workers to organize themselves. There will be more redundancies in Russia, prices will increase, and wage levels will plummet. At some point, the question can no longer be ignored. 

The Anti*Capitalist Resistance Editorial Board may not always agree with all of the content we repost but feel it is important to give left voices a platform and develop a space for comradely debate and disagreement.  

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