This comparative study of the trade-union movements in the auto and farm-machine sectors of Belarus, Russian and Ukraine in 1991-2003 grew out of my longstanding interest and involvement in the Soviet and post-Soviet labour movements, first as an academic, and over the past decade, as a labour educator. The study seeks to understand the obstacles to the development of an effective labour movement that would be a force for social justice and democracy and what it will take to overcome those obstacles.
The book is thus written from a committed, activist point of view. At the same time, it seeks support in an honest analysis of the available facts and the determination of their interconnections. Much of the data was collected in the course of my activity within the framework of the School for Worker Democracy, which conducts rank-and-file education in the three countries. This put me in contact with hundreds of activists, some of them union officers but many with no elected position. Over the years, I have visited dozens of plants, attended numerous union meetings, participated in collective protests. Beyond the enterprises, I have spoken at length with union leaders and staff at the regional and national levels, attended union meetings, conferences and congresses. I have also had good access to union documents and publications at the various levels.
The choice of the auto and farm-machine sector was to some extent dictated by my privileged contacts with its unions, initially facilitated by the Canadian Autoworkers' Union. But another consideration was the economic importance of the auto sector for modern economies and the key role its unions have played in the labour movement [p. ix] around the world. The machine-building sector, the largest industrial employer in the three countries, has in general been little studied.
The book's theoretical framework is Marxist. This is not a concrete set of propositions about unions or "industrial relations," but a general approach to understanding society from the vantage point of workers' interests, the ultimate goal being their liberation from exploitation. (The term "workers" is used here in the broad sense of non-managerial wage and salary carriers.) A basic premise of the book is the fundamentally antagonistic nature of the relations between labour and capital. Their conflicting interests arise out of the different positions they occupy in society. This is reflected, for example, in the fact that what is economic freedom for employers is unfreedom for workers and vice versa. Unions, therefore, are or should be fundamentally about power. Another basic premise is that society constitutes a dynamic "totality" of interdependent parts. "Industrial relations" cannot be understood in abstraction from the other aspects of society, including ideology, politics, the international system and the international balance of forces.
It is a cliché to write that the too many people to be named have contributed to this book, but it is unavoidable. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the worker activists who over the years shared their experiences and thoughts with me, and sometimes also their friendship. In the bleak post-Soviet reality, they insisted on their human dignity and fought back. Some eventually tired and abandoned the struggle. Others, tireless fighters like Grigorii Artemenko, Petr Siuda, Viktor Vetchinkin, died well before their time. All have inspired me in my own union and political activity and have greatly enriched my life. They were and are genuine heroes. For me, they are Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, and the main reason I keep returning there.
My understanding of the labour movement and my overall intellectual development have greatly benefited from my collaboration with Galina and Boris Rakitskii, two original Marxist thinkers with whom I have had the good fortune to work together in the Russian School for Worker Democracy. Long discussions over the years with Nikolai Preobrazhenskii, another good friend, have helped me to see beyond the surface of post-Soviet reality, in which the first rule is that nothing is ever as it appears. Vladimir Zlenko, former national president of the Ukrainian Union of Auto and Farm-Machine Workers, who presently heads the Ukrainian School for Worker Democracy, proved to me that union leaders even in the bleakest of circumstances have options other than to embrace "social partnership." He was an invaluable source of information and insight into the complex inner workings of the union movement. Both he and the late Grigorii Artemenko, another good friend, proved to me that even sixty [p. x] years of totalitarian rule did not completely break the continuity with the magnificent workers' movement that dared in 1917.
Among the many other people who over the years have helped me in various ways in this research, I should mention especially Serezha Agapov, Boris Maksimov, Fatima Bianchi, Aleksandr Bukhvostov, Lyudmila Bulavka, Aleksandr Buzgalin, Seymour Melman, Simon Clarke, Don Filtzer, Dave Melnychuk, Leo Panitch, and Nikolai Pokhabov, as well as my friends from the Canadian Autoworkers' Union the late Dan Benedict, Sam Gindin, and Herman Rosenfeld, together with whom I also had the privilege of doing labour education in the countries studied. Their union and its educational programme were an inspiration to me and of great practical help.
Finally, I want to thank my wife, Sonia, for so graciously tolerating both my long absences, and also my presences, these many years.
A Note on References
Much of the material for this book comes from informal conversations with workers and union leaders and from discussions in educational seminars. These sources are often unnamed in the book. Sometimes this is because the person so requested; at other times, it is because I did not have a chance to ask their permission. Sometimes I have purposefully changed the name, position or place of employment to protect the source. In order not to encumber the text with references, I have not bothered to cite the exact date and place of interviews, even where the person is identified, unless I felt it was particularly pertinent.