On 13 October, following increasing attacks and imprisonments on protestors in Belarus, exiled oppositionist Svetlana Tikhanovskaya gave her “People’s Ultimatum” to president Lukashenko.
Tikhanovskaya was the challenger to Lukashenko in the rigged 9 August election. She declared that if political prisoners (now running into thousands, including leaders of the liberal opposition, are not released); if Lukashenko doesn’t stand down; and if the attacks on protesters on the streets don’t stop, then she would call on Belarusians to “paralyse the life of our country” from 25 October.
The following day, 14 October, she made a video appeal to workers. “For decades, pro-government trade unions have been taking your money without representing your interests”. She talked about the moves to build independent trade unions, and the industrial action at the tram-factory Kommunmash, the huge chemical plant GrodnoAzot, and many other factories. Three days later, she held an online session with the leaders of strike committees.
A leaflet distributed around the week-end protests and organising independent unions, claimed that 5,000 leaflets had been distributed at the MTZ factory alone. It called on workers to join the independent union.
The striking potash miners of Belaruskali are mobilising for action after 25 October. The regime summarily re-imprisoned strike leaders Yuri Korzun and Pavel Puchenya as soon as they finished their 15-day prison sentence on Monday 19 October. On the same day. representatives from the complex met with Tikhanovskaya.
Some on the Belarus left argue that the strike call should not be supported.
They argue that Tikhanovskaya is not an advocate of socialism. That no immediate demands are made that can alleviate workers’ grievances.
It is true that Tikhanovskaya is a bourgeois liberal, as far as we can see. Workers have yet to make their demands central to the rebellion against Lukashenko.
It does not follow that socialists should stand aside as workers have their heads beaten and are jailed as Lukashenko tries to maintain his dictatorship. If the strike call is not linked to broader workers’ demands, it is up to socialists to link it.
Others in Belarus, claiming to be on the left, say that Lukashenko’s regime should be defended from these strikes because he defends state property from privatisation.
Such arguments are the legacy of decades of Stalinist rule and miseducation, inculcating an idea of socialism as state ownership (no matter who “owns” the state) and having nothing to do with workers’ liberties and working-class power.
A recent interview with a strike-committee member from a factory supplying the Belaruskali complex, released through the left wing Telegram site Flame, indicates some of the issues.
The factory maintains and repairs metal structures and technical equipment for Belaruskali. This is a machine translation of excerpts: we hope to post a better and fuller translation soon.
The strike committee represented the majority. Dissatisfaction with the police terror of 9-11 August was simply off scale. Some of the strikers even admitted that they voted for Lukashenko, but they do not accept terror. All those who did not take part were either very afraid of the reprisals of the regime, or were poorly organised
Yet efforts of propaganda still have an impact on the minds of the working class. People condemned the strike for nationalistic demands...
The current demands are all standard according to the “manual” of the liberal opposition. In response to my proposals about economic and social demands, many said that at the moment those were not important...
An independent trade union, along with a strongly opposition-minded engineering and technical staff, constituted the organisational backbone that played a key role at the start of our strike... The leader of our official trade union, who arrived on the first day of the strike, in general, supported us. Later, of course, we did not see him again.
In other places with strikes, for example the Shakhtospetsstroy Trust and Kaliyspetstrans, they do not have an independent trade union and the entire organisation fell mainly on the opposition-minded engineering and technical personnel.
The strike of Belaruskali [the potash mine], became the largest and most organised, and took the full brunt of repression. For example, the most active and competent leader of the strike committee, Anatoly Bokun, served 25 days in jail and then received another 15 days without going free. Probably by now there are no leaders of the Strike Committee who have not have been in prison for days.
Despite the repressions, workers still join the strike from time to time...
The prospects for the workers’ struggle have improved significantly thanks to this strike. But I do not think we should delude ourselves. It will not be possible to do a future strike with economic demands as easily, due to the fact that the initial political strike was initiated by workers of different layers of the hierarchy at the enterprise.
The working class lacks organisation, and when the demands represent the interests of only the working class, they will receive resistance from the engineering staff and bosses, which will greatly complicate the task.
The task of the communists is to be fully prepared for a turn at any time, through the means of trade unions, active organisations, and parties ready to help the workers.