Ilya Matveev: The New Putinist Stability?

Events are unfolding in plain sight, and strange as it might seem, the flood of disinformation cannot prevent us from seeing a quite simple picture.

The subway workers’ union had long warned of the danger, and there had generally been a lot of reports in the press on the growing number of accidents in the Moscow Metro, and now there has been a new fatal accident.

The last couple of weeks, Russian media had reported constantly about how deftly the separatists had learned to use the Buk surface-to-air missile system and how many Ukrainian airplanes had been shot down. Just before news of the Malaysian airliner broke, reports had managed to surface—in “Strelkov’s dispatches,” in the media, everywhere—that the militants had shot down another Ukrainian transport plane. The plane turned out to be the civilian jetliner.

Recent articles in Vedomosti newspaper and especially leaks at b0ltai.wordpress.com make it easy to piece together the fiscal and economic situation in Russia. The country is in an “autonomous” recession, meaning one caused by internal factors. The resources for growth have been exhausted, and there is no money for Crimea or for executing Putin’s May 2012 presidential decrees. The government is preparing to respond with austerity measures: the abolition of free medical care for nonworking citizens, tax increases, and another raid on retirement savings. For now the situation is rough but not catastrophic. At the same time the overall trajectory is clear: there will be less and less money, and it will be ordinary people who pay the bills.

However, there is no one to protest: all the country’s internal contradictions, which were somehow politically articulated in 2011-2013, have been crushed by the Crimean steamroller, and the opposition is divided and marginalized. The population has closed ranks around the new Putin “geopolitics,” becoming an aggressively frightened mass. Any possibility of electoral protest has been completely blocked off: with stunning cynicism, the field has been purged in the run-up to municipal elections in Moscow and Petersburg.

We can see that the new system is closed upon itself: the geopolitical adventures are needed, ultimately, only to strengthen Putin’s personal power, to maintain his sky-high rating. The exact same role is performed by mega-events like the Olympics and the 2018 World Cup. Yet the economic cost of the geopolitics and mega-events will be huge, and people themselves will foot the bill (for sanctions, for Crimea, for kickbacks). However, the imperialist ideology surrounding the events for which they are paying out of their pockets will prevent them from articulating their protest politically. It is a paradox, but a paradox that has already been observed in history. Recall, for one, Marx’s remark that Louis Bonaparte ruled in the name of the peasant masses (who supported him at elections) but against the interests of these masses.

This new period of stability might last as long as the previous one. No, it is no longer the apolitical period of stability of the noughties, but it might prove no less stable.

Ilya Matveev is an editor of OpenLeft.Ru, a member of the PS Lab research group, a lecturer in political theory at the North-West Institute of Management (Petersburg), a PhD student at the European University (Petersburg), and a member of the central council of the University Solidarity trade union.

Welcome to Sochi

An unexpurgated cri de coeur from the Russian internets:

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Вот эту фотографию из подмосковной больницы я бы сделал символом современной России, особенно в свете приближения самой дорогой в истории человечества Олимпиады в Сочи. ( – English translation is below).

Дорогие френды, особенно забугорные – пошлите ее своим друзьям. Пусть расходится по сети. И пусть ухмыляющемуся главарю криминального государства, чье личное воровское состояние оценивается в несколько десятков миллиардов долларов, будет неуютно стоять на трибуне в феврале – оттого, что все уважающие себя политики и знаменитости побрезговали стоять с ним рядом.

Here’s a photo of the local hospital in Boyarkino village not far from Moscow. This is a typical picture, not some extreme one. There are thousands of hospitals, schools and public offices like this in Russia, not only in province, but in major cities as well. I would have made this picture the symbol of modern Russia, especially today, while the most expensive Olympics in the history of mankind are approaching in Sochi.

Dear friends, please, share this with your friends. Let it go over the whole network, so for the world’s most corrupt leader of the most criminal state, whose personal fortune is estimated at tens of billions of dollars, it would not be so comfortable to host this Olympics. Let it be uncomfortable for him to stand on the podium in February, because any self-respecting politician or celebrity would be ashamed to stay next to him.

Meanwhile, back in the fascist fairyland, the locals were getting worked up about the upcoming corporate slugfest down south.
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Time Is Not on Their Side

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If the following article makes no sense to you, don’t worry. It makes no sense to us, either.

MOSCOW, October 11 – Reverting to Winter Time especially for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics would cost the Russian budget in excess of $300 million, the head of the organizing committee said Friday.

Russia used to set its clocks back by an hour in the winter, as is done in the rest of Europe, but canceled the practice in 2011 under former President Dmitry Medvedev.

The International Olympic Committee was among those who called for a return to Winter Time to bring Russia’s broadcast schedules closer to the West for February’s Winter Games.

President Vladimir Putin ruled that out earlier this year, and Sochi 2014 chief executive Dmitry Chernyshenko elaborated on the reasons why in an address to lawmakers in Moscow on Friday.

“We forecast, other than the reputational risk and discomfort to our athletes, logistical issues and financial risks,” were winter time to be reinstated, Chernyshenko said.

“The extra expenditure needed from the federal budget to compensate international broadcasters who might lose advertising contracts in the event of a time change will lead to penalties, and we will have to compensate for it. The sum of the risks could exceed $300 million,” he said.

Reverting to winter time, he said, would lead to “fatal changes in the timetables” of Sochi’s logistics, including transport and cargo schedules.

The Games, Russia’s first Winter Olympics, are set to run February 7-23.

Source: RIA Novosti

Image courtesy of Hymy Huulet Facebook page and Comrade Tiina. The cartoon reads (in Finnish):

“I changed the clocks to winter time.”

“It’s nice to know that at three in the morning.”

Because of Russia’s inexplicable rejection of winter time, there is a two-hour difference between Estonia and Finland and the neighboring Russian regions of Pskov, Novgorod, Murmansk, Karelia, Leningrad Region and St. Petersburg during half the year.

The Return of Serfdom?

iuf.ru
September 2, 2013
The Cost of the World Cup
FZ-108 primarily threatens hundreds of thousands of Russian workers

A serious discussion has erupted since the contents of the notorious “2018 World Cup Law” (or FZ-108, for short)* were revealed to the general public. The focus of the discussion has been the consequences of removing restrictions on employing migrant laborers and the possibility of their runaway exploitation if the law’s clauses on voluntary contracts (which place them beyond the reach of a number of articles in the Labor Code) are enforced.

However, the people most threatened by FZ-108 are Russian citizens.

When the discussion of FZ-108 was getting underway, many in Russia were disturbed by the fledgling campaign against “illegal migration” recently undertaken by law enforcement and local authorities in several areas of the country, a campaign involving police raids and mass imprisonment of migrants in special camps, where they were forced to live almost on the bare pavement, without electricity and other basic conveniences. Given this background, it was unsurprising and even natural that the public would pay more attention to the clauses in FZ-108 dealing with the employment of foreign nationals and stateless persons. The perception exists that the law has nothing to do with Russian citizens.

But is this really true? The answer is simple: no, it isn’t!

* * * * *

Major sporting events like the World Cup always entail the generation of tens of thousands of jobs in construction, light industry, building maintenance, catering, retailing, transportation and so on. Yes, these jobs appear only for a few years, but wise use of such opportunities can give the economy a stimulus for decades to come. Increasing employment leads to growth in domestic spending and private savings, which, in turn, improve demographics. These are the three pillars of sustainable economic development.

But all that happens only when the new jobs are decent, meaning the wages they pay allow people to spend money, including on major and long-term purchases (e.g., home appliances, furniture and cars), and maybe even take out a home loan, and the terms of employment enable them to feel confident in the future, save money, and start and raise a family.

However, the wording of FZ-108 makes it clear that none of these things are expected to happen in Russia. Instead, the authorities are planning to tackle the job of preparing and staging the 2018 World Cup with slave labor, thus definitely ruling out any positive effects both for workers and the economy as a whole. The only outcome of this championship will be the personal gain of a few.

Why is such a conclusion warranted? The fact is that FZ-108, unlike, say, FZ-310 (which deals with the 2014 Sochi Olympics),** expressly stipulates significant exceptions to labor laws, exceptions that will diminish job quality. They are mainly concentrated in the controversial Article 11 (Chapter 4), “The Characteristics of Work Related to the Staging of the Events.”

First, Article 11 gives employers the right to establish long working hours unilaterally (Section 1).

Second, Article 11 allows employers to define the manner of payment for work at night, on weekends and on public holidays without regard to the stipulations of Articles 154, 113 and 153 of the Labor Code. Moreover, this can be done through collective bargaining, through the inclusion of such clauses in individual employment contracts or, more generally, through the enactment of “local regulations,” that is, yet again, unilaterally (Sections 2 and 3).

Third, overtime pay is abolished. Employers may simply compensate for overtime by “providing additional leisure time,” but the wishes of workers are not taken into account, and Article 152 of the Labor Code is effectively revoked (Section 4).

Finally, Section 5 abolishes such nonsense as the provision of elective annual leaves at times convenient for workers (such guarantees are given in Article 122 of the Labor Code, for example, to women before and after maternity leave). Like the rest of the lives of employees, holidays are governed by the “work plans of relevant organizations for preparing and staging the sporting events.”

However, as Vladimir Yurasov, a partner at the Moscow law firm Knyazev and Partners, rightly noted during an interview on RBK-TV, all these rules are clearly contrary to the Russian Federal Constitution. Article 37 of the Constitution states that everyone has the right to remuneration for work without suffering any form of discrimination, and that employment contracts guarantee workers statutory working hours, weekends and holidays, and paid annual leave, as stipulated by federal law. FZ-108 assumes that if workers are employed in the “preparation and staging” of the World Cup, this may very well serve as grounds for discriminating against them in terms of compensation, working hours and the right to paid leave and time off. In this case, “local regulations” are declared primary, rather than the Labor Code and Constitution.

Of course, these draconian measures do not apply to all workers in Russia, only to “FIFA employees, FIFA subsidiaries, FIFA business partners, confederations, national football associations, the Russian Football Union, the Russia 2018 Organizing Committee and its affiliated organizations, whose work activities are related to the staging of events.” The most interesting phrases in this clause are “FIFA business partners” and “work activities [...] related to the staging of events.” Let us consider them in the order they appear.

As Article 2 of the law explains, a “FIFA business partner” is a “legal or natural person that has a contractual relationship with FIFA or its subsidiaries and is involved in events.” The list of such individuals and companies could prove to be quite long, because all commercial partners (including sponsors and licensees), suppliers, agents, broadcasters and so on will be included. Moreover, the provisions of the law apply not only to the “business partners” themselves but also to their subcontractors and subsidiaries.

Because preparations for the World Cup have just kicked off, the list of “FIFA business partners” is still incomplete. At present, for example, we know the names of only three companies that will serve as corporate partners to the 2018 World Cup: Coca-Cola, Hyundai-Kia and Anheuser-Busch InBev. In all, FIFA will have thirty-four such partners by 2018. Of course, all these companies have subsidiaries and subcontractors—personnel and temp agencies, construction and security companies, cleaning and catering companies, firms involved in maintaining equipment and buildings, supplying brand-name goods, producing and placing ads, and so on.

Another way to assess the scope of the problem is to compare the 2018 World Cup with another sporting event that will be hosted by Russia, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. We already know the names of all its suppliers, partners and licensees. Let’s take a look at the list.

• Worldwide Partners of the Olympic Games: Coca-Cola, AtoS, Dow Chemical, General Electric, McDonald’s, OMEGA, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Visa

• General Partners of Sochi 2014: Aeroflot, Megafon, Rostelecom, Bosco di Ciliegi, Volkswagen Group Rus, Sberbank of Russia, Russian Railways, Rosneft

• Official Partners of the 2014 Olympic Games: Ingosstrakh, PwC

• Suppliers of Sochi 2014: Avaya, Baltika, EF English First, Kommersant Publishing House, Abrau Durso, Adecco Group, EXECT Business Training, Kelly Services CIS, Detech, Microsoft Russia, GAZ Group, Scania-Rus

In addition, nearly seventy companies have signed licensing agreements with the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee.

It is obvious there will be no fewer companies wishing to link their logos to the World Cup. Only unlike the employees of Olympics partners, employees of FIFA’s business partners will be forced to waive many of their workplace rights.

But perhaps only a small number of workers will be affected by this restriction of rights? Unfortunately, the wording of the law gives no grounds for such a hypothesis. The law mentions employees whose work is related to the preparation and staging of the World Cup. However, the wording is utterly unspecific. How do we differentiate the work a company does in preparation for the World Cup from its other activities? For example, Coca-Cola produces beverages emblazoned with the World Cup logo. Does this constitute work performed as a FIFA business partner or not? Can it be construed as having to do with the preparation and staging of the World Cup? What about cellular network development work done by mobile phone companies? Or the introduction of new direct flights by air carriers? Without going out of our way to abuse common sense, we can construe nearly all commercial activity by FIFA business partners as preparation for the World Cup.

Of particular concern is the more than probable inclusion among the business partners of such companies as Adecco Group, EXECT Business Training and Kelly Services CIS – that is, companies still operating in the legal gray zone of personnel services. Given that Bill No. 451173-5, better known as the law banning contingent labor, which has already suffered serious damage and almost been stripped of its original intent, was returned for a second reading in the State Duma, the de facto support and promotion of these companies by official Russian sporting organizations and state agencies looks like a targeted attack on the quality of employment.

How many Russians will be affected by these measures at the end of the day? If we accept the flawed logic of FZ-108, we can agree with Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko that the concept of the World Cup has been developed and adopted by FIFA in such a way that almost seventy percent of the country’s population will be involved in preparing for it and staging it.

Does this mean, as some journalists have predicted, the return of serfdom? The answer depends largely on the actions of the trade unions.

_____

* The full text (in the original Russian) of the Russian Federal Law “On the Preparation and Staging of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in the Russian Federation and the Amendment of Certain Russian Federal Legislative Acts” can be found here: http://www.rg.ru/2013/06/11/chempionat-dok.html

** The full text (in the original Russian) of the Russian Federal Law “On the Organization and Staging of the Twenty-Second Olympic Winter Games and Eleventh Winter Paralympic Games of 2014 in Sochi, the Development of Sochi as a Mountain Resort and the Amendment of Certain Russian Federal Legislative Acts” can be found here: http://www.rg.ru/2011/06/06/olimp-dok.html

Migrant Labor and the 2018 World Cup in Russia

iuf.ru
Migrant Labor in Russia: From Golyanovo to the 2018 World Cup

On July 11, 2013, the Russian Federal Law “On the Preparation and Staging of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in the Russian Federation and the Amendment of Certain Russian Federal Legislative Acts” came into force without any uproar, something inadmissible in such delicate matters. (Hereafter referred to as FZ-108 for brevity’s sake, the full text of the law in the original Russian can be found here.)

While the name of the law might not sound too promising, its content opens up truly outstanding prospects for any Russian employer even tangentially connected with the 2018 World Cup. FZ-108 establishes special conditions for the employment of “foreign nationals and stateless persons” (i.e., migrant laborers) involved in the preparations and staging of the World Cup and Confederations Cup.

Article 9 Chapter 4 generously eliminates the need to obtain permits for the employment of migrant labor and notify the relevant authorities of the conclusion or termination of contracts with foreign workers, or of their arrival or departure. Nor are migrant workers themselves required to obtain work permits. Quotas for the issuance of visas and work permits are waived for those employers involved with the 2018 World Cup. Article 10 is even more interesting: it abolishes all regulation and control over the recruitment of foreign nationals and stateless persons as volunteers—that is, it practically and plainly permits employing migrants without remuneration. Article 11 exceeds all limits of generosity. It allows employers to set long working hours right in the contracts of all workers “employed in the preparation and staging of the events” (with no explanation of what that phrase means) and waives the requirements for the compensation of night work, the compensation of work on weekends and holidays, and the duration and compensation of overtime (as stipulated by Articles 154, 113, 153, and 152, respectively, of the Russian Federal Labor Code). The icing on the cake is Article 56 Chapter 14, which exempts all payments made to migrants under labor, civil, and volunteer contracts from obligatory social security and insurance deductions.

This simplified hiring procedure is a clear incentive for employers to employ foreign workers on the widest possible scale.

Here we should stop and ask ourselves to whom FZ-108 applies. The answer: any entity that is a “FIFA business partner.” By law, this means any legal or natural person in a contractual relationship with FIFA or its subsidiaries and involved in “events.” This might be a commercial partnership agreement or an agreement for provision of services, but in any case the provisions of the law apply to the subsidiaries and subcontractors of all these “business partners.”

Thus, the list of organizations with special rights vis-à-vis workers employed in preparing the “events” is very broad. We can safely include in this list the general contractors and subcontractors involved in building the stadiums, suppliers, FIFA sponsors (all thirty-four of them!), FIFA licensees (i.e., companies that have the right to use the World Cup logo on their products), firms providing security at the World Cup, and so on. Of course, all these companies have subsidiaries and contractors—personnel and temp agencies, construction and security companies, manufacturing facilities, cleaning and catering companies, firms involved in maintaining equipment and buildings, supplying brand-name goods, producing and placing ads, and so on and so forth. By the way, the recruiting agency Kelly Services is among the official suppliers of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In light of the new law, we can easily imagine the consequences if this or any similar firm signs a contract with FIFA.

It is reasonable to assume the Russian authorities understand they will be unable to get ready for the World Cup employing only Russian citizens and are thus counting on migrant workers. Employers in construction, residential building maintenance, cleaning, retail, and other sectors where the skill requirements are low and cheap labor is the source of profits have long ago discovered this magic wand.

But we cannot help noticing that all these measures have been proposed and ratified by the same government that is literally right now organizing actual raids on migrants and imprisoning them in special camps in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Volgograd, Samara, Rostov-on-Don, and Kaliningrad. Does this mean that the right hand of the Russian state doesn’t know what the left hand is doing? Not in the least.

All the above-named cities are hosting the 2018 World Cup.

In accordance with FZ-108, any migrant worker needs to do just one thing to obtain legal status: become involved with the preparation and staging of the World Cup or Confederations Cup, that is, enter into an employment, civil or volunteer agreement with one of the organizers of the events, or with their contractors or subcontractors. Thus, for example, a migrant from Vietnam now being held at the camp in Golyanovo, after signing a contract with some subcontractor of a World Cup licensee manufacturing mascot dolls for the championship, will be legalized de jure. De facto, however, he or she will go back to another semi-underground workplace, but now no one will be able to exercise any oversight or supervision. Now the migrants who are liberated from slavery or buried after they burn to death in sweatshops locked from the outside will be absolutely legal. It’s a sleight of hand, as they say.

The anti-migration campaign of the authorities stokes openly racist attitudes in society, shifting public attention from societal and labor issues (which had recently come to the forefront) to the search for scapegoats. Meanwhile, there is no guarantee that the practice of stripping migrant workers who are employed in the preparations for the 2018 World Cup of their rights will not be extended to all foreign workers tomorrow, and incorporated in the Russian Federal Labor Code the day after tomorrow, thus fulfilling the most cherished dreams of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.

The fight against xenophobia, the persecution of migrants and the violation of their rights must, therefore, become one of the main issues on the agenda of the trade union and labor movement in Russia.

__________

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Migrants at the deportation camp in Golyanovo, which instantly became a household name. Photo © The Moscow News.

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The name Golyanovo had been linked with migration even earlier, however. In the photo we see the liberated “slaves of Golyanovo,” who had been held for years in the basement of a grocery store, and their saviors from non-governmental organizations. Despite the best efforts of human rights activists, the criminal case against the slave owners has fallen apart. Photo courtesy of the LiveJournal blog Living Tomorrow.

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During a fire at a garment factory in Yegorievsk, fourteen migrants from Vietnam perished. They were locked in the factory and thus could not escape to safety. A year later, punishment for the perpetrators of this crime is still a distant prospect. Photo courtesy of 1.tv.ru.