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Trade Unions


The core of the lower tier of organizations is comprised of trade unions and associations of entrepreneurs. The trade unionsí role of the organizations protecting workersí interests revived in the late 1980s, as a result of the resurgence of the working-class movement during Gorbachevís perestroika. The practice of electing union leaders was reestablished. Under the pressure of trade unions many state-appointed economic managers were dismissed from their positions for gross violations of workersí rights.  

1989 miners' strike in Donbass. Photo: V. Dronov

In the summer of 1989 minersí strikes were held, the first strikes by Soviet workers in decades. They challenged the very legitimacy of a system established on the claim that it represented the working class. The strikes acted as schools of the working-class movement by training leaders and catalyzing a reform of the trade unions. In 1990, Russiaís leading trade union, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, was set up on the basis of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions. The latter was the single official Soviet trade union organization that united the overwhelming majority of the USSRís working population.

Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia 

Gradually, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia has assumed characteristics that are distinctly different from those of its Soviet parent. First, it is no longer directly controlled by a single party: the trade unions that form the Federation sometimes have different political orientations. Second, they are no longer part of the companiesí administration, as they were under the Soviets. They now distance themselves from the administration and increasingly assume the functions of protecting specific interests of its members.  

During the 1990s, the Federation fought to moderate the negative effects of the market reforms on the workers by settling disputes through negotiations and consultations and by calling strike actions. The Federation comprises about 365,000 primary local organizations with a total membership of 42 million. Alongside the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, other trade union associations exist in Russia, including the All-Russian Confederation of Labor, the Congress of Russian Trade Unions, and others with the total membership of about 6 million.

In the course of the transition to a market economy, the trade unions have been transformed from the structures that were part of the command-administrative system into independent public organizations. On the whole, trade unions in Russia do not yet wield the kind of influence that their counterparts in more developed civil societies do. But their reputation among the working population and, therefore, their impact on public and political life in Russia look likely to continue to grow. 

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