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Russia: Strike At Automaker Comes To Early End

By Sergei Khazov Union leader Pyotr Zolotaryov outside the factory on August 1 (ITAR-TASS) TOLYATTI, August 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Several hundred workers at Russia's largest automobile plant, AvtoVAZ, walked off their jobs for four hours on August 1 in what they called a warning strike.

Workers at the plant, located in Tolyatti on the Volga River, were demanding that their pay be raised to 25,000 rubles a month ($977). On average, workers at the plant currently earn approximately 10,000 rubles ($390).

"A middle manager at AvtoVAZ makes approximately 3,000-4,000 euros [$4,100-$5,480] a month, or even more. An assembly-line worker -- that is the most tense, the most responsible sector -- makes about 11,000 rubles [$430]," Vladimir Sidorov, a metal worker at the plant, told RFE/RL. "On such a salary I must take care of my child."

Sidorov says he is able to make ends meet because his wife works as a sales clerk and his parents help out with fresh produce they grow at their dacha. "We eat potatoes and macaroni," he says.

Trade-union leaders hoped to rally thousands of AvtoVAZ's 110,000 workers. But union leaders and AvtoVAZ employees said the auto plant's management took measures in advance to intimidate workers out of participating in the strike.

Sidorov says that rumors circulated last week that management planned massive firings if the strike went ahead.

Police Crackdown

Police also arrested union activists prior to the strike.

Pyotr Zolotaryov, chairman of the Unity trade union, says one activist, Anton Vechkunin, was arrested on July 27. But when Zolotarev inquired about Vechkunin at the local police station, he says that officers on duty told him they had no such person in custody.

Zolotaryov also said that Mikhail Doronenko, an activist from the Revolutionary Workers' Party, was detained on July 31 at the Kazan railway station in Moscow as he was attempting to leave for Tolyatti.

Doronenko was attempting to bring 5,000 copies of a special edition of the newspaper "Worker's Democracy" for the strikers. Police confiscated all the copies of the newspaper.

"Of course, it's always like this," Zolotaryov told RFE/RL's Russian Service. "The management of AvtoVAZ always use such repressive methods during tense periods, before strikes."

Sidorov, the metal worker, says he turned out for the strike despite the intimidation tactics.

"We need to feed our children, so they are not ashamed of us that we work at AvtoVAZ and receive small salaries," Sidorov says. "We need the factory directors to show the workers some respect."

Over Before It Started

The strike began at noon on August 1, with 500 workers participating.

Zolotaryov told journalists that the strike -- which he called a "warning" -- would last for 24 hours. But the union abruptly changed tactics and called the strike off after just four hours.

It's not clear why the strike was cut short. Employees hinted that the auto plant's management made some sort of agreement with the union, but added that nobody would speak openly about what happened.

RFE/RL Russia Report

RFE/RL Russia Report

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