Belarus: ‘without organisation, without struggle, the oppressive unfreedom will never disappear’

August 14, 2020

The revolt against the authoritarian regime in Belarus has spread from the city streets, where thousands of protesters have been battling with police, to the workplaces. On Thursday 13 August workers at large enterprises – including chemical and food factories, and construction and transport companies – downed tools in protest at the monstrous surge of police violence and arrests. People are quitting the state-supported trade unions. Films and photographs of workers’ meetings, at which participants denounced police violence and the fraudulent election results, are spreading like wildfire across social media. Womens’ organisations are taking to the streets – against a president whose fury was provoked, especially, by the support for Svetlana Tikhonovskaya, the woman who dared to stand against him for election. Here are two appeals by independent trade union organisations that were published yesterday. Please share and re-post. GL.

Open Appeal by the Belarusian Independent Trade Union to workers

Dear Belarusians,

The authorities’ actions – in falsifying the election results, breaching human rights, instigating mass arrests and beatings of peaceful protesters and passers-by across the whole country – could all lead to irreversible consequences for Belarus. We are hearing ever-louder

A factory meeting in Minsk earlier this week

announcements from the European Union and the United States, that they are ready to impose various sanctions, including economic ones, on Belarus as a state that is trampling cynically on the rights and freedoms of its citizens.

Closure of the western markets for our products and services would be a catastrophe for our enterprises. The impact of this would be borne first of all by ordinary workers, who are in a bad enough situation already.

To defend ourselves and our freedom of action at the workplace, we propose the following pattern of simple collective actions:

1. Quit the state’s social organisations, such as the [government-supported] Federation of Belarusian Trade Unions, [the pro-presidential civic-political association] Belaya Rus and the Read the rest of this entry »


The Russian state’s case against Yuri Dmitriev, historian of Stalinist repression, dissected

July 24, 2020

On 22 July the city court in Petrozavodsk, north-west Russia, sentenced Yuri Dmitriev – a historian of Stalin era repression, who works excavating the remains of political prisoners killed in local camps – to three-and-a-half years in a penal colony.

Dmitriev was found guilty of forced sexual activity with his underage adopted daughter, and cleared of charges of creating pornographic material, possession of weapons and indecent acts. He has always denied all these charges. Taking into account time served, Dmitriev is expected to be freed in November – although the prosecutor had called for a 15-year sentence.

Dmitriev, who was acquitted of similar offences at a previous trial, has won support internationally as a victim of political persecution.

People & Nature today publishes an article by Nikita Girin, examining the charges in detail, that first appeared in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta on 13 July. It reflects the view of Russian human rights defenders and free speech advocates – that these charges were contrived, with a view to silencing Dmitriev’s authoritative, determined voice on Stalinist repression.

The article shines light on the brutal and cynical methods used by the state to protect its Stalinist predecessors from Russians determined to understand their own history. Please read and share.


Viktor Filinkov, political prisoner: “An idealist who takes on responsibility for the big picture”

July 3, 2020

While Black Lives Matter demonstrators fill the streets of cities around the world, opening a new chapter in the history of anti-racist and anti-fascist struggle, the Russian anti-fascists Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov are starting long jail sentences.

A St Petersburg court sentenced Filinkov to seven years, and Boyarshinov to five-and-a-half, on 22 June, on trumped-up charges of involvement in a “terrorist grouping” – the “Network”. In February, seven other defendants were jailed by a court in Penza for between six and 18 years, and last year another in St Petersburg for three-and-a-half years.

Detailed evidence that the “network” case defendants were subjected to horrific tortures after their arrest

Viktor Filinkov in court. Photo by David Frenkel, Mediazona

has been published and submitted to state bodies. President Vladimir Putin last year cynically promised to look into it. Nevertheless, the defendants have been railroaded to penal colonies.

This portrait of Viktor Filinkov – who refused to admit guilt and received one of the heaviest sentences – is by Yevgeny Antonov. It was first published in Russian by the Petersburg news outlet Bumaga.

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On Monday 22 June, the 2nd Western District Military Court [in St Petersburg] announced the sentences on the Petersburg defendants in the “Network” case, Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov. They were found guilty of involvement in a terrorist grouping (article 205.4, part 2 of the criminal code). Filinkov was sentenced to seven years in a penal colony (standard regime). Boyarshinov got five and a half years (Yuli was also convicted of the illegal possession of explosive materials (article 222.1, part 1)).

Four days before the sentencing, Filinkov addressed the court. The 25-year old computer programmer set out the inconsistencies in the prosecutor’s case, and used diagrams to show why the PGP [Pretty Good Privacy encryption] programme would not be used by a conspiratorial terrorist group, as the prosecution had claimed.

In his closing statement, Filinkov stated that the internal affairs ministry, the prosecutor, the federal prison service, the Investigative Committee, the federal security service [FSB], the court and the Read the rest of this entry »


Lugansk: authorities cough up miners’ unpaid wages, but activists still under arrest

June 14, 2020

Mineworkers have ended an underground occupation in separatist-controlled territory in Lugansk, eastern Ukraine, after bosses paid most of the wages they were owed. But 14 trade union activists are still under arrest by the authorities of the Russian-supported “people’s republic”.

The sit-in by 119 mineworkers at the Komsomolskaya mine in the city of Antratsit, which started on Friday 5 June, ended in the early hours of Saturday 13 June. They were paid a large part of the wages they were owed, promised the rest by this week, and assured that there would be no more arrests.

On Friday, about 100 people gathered in the town square at Antratsit to support the miners. Pavel Lisyansky, Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman in the area and a long-standing trade union activist, said in a facebook post:

I have been informed that the final decision to accede to the protesting mineworkers’ demands was made on account of the solidarity protest by people in Antratsit. The Russian federation’s occupation administration feared that this protest would spread, especially since international trade union organisations had begun to speak out about the strike.

Lisyansky said on Saturday that an electronic and transport blockade of Antratsit, and the

Demonstrators in Antratsit on Friday. Photo: ok.ru/vgorodeant, via MK

Dubovsky area around the mine, continued, and the fate of activists arrested last week was unknown. The internet was blocked, although Whatsapp and similar services worked.

Aleksandr Vaskovsky of the Independent Miners Union of Donbass said, in an interview with News.ru, that 21 activists – based in Krasnodon, Rovenki, Krasnyi Luch and Belorechensk, as well as Antratsit – had been detained last week. Some had been tortured.

According to News.ru, Azamatkhan Karimov, an activist of the Workers Control group, had reported that seven of these 21 were released on 9 June. Karimov said that the detainees Read the rest of this entry »


Black and white protesters have changed the political landscape

June 12, 2020

These comments on the Black Lives Matter protests were published by Let’s Get Rooted, a group looking to focus on workers’ self-organisation at work and beyond.

Hundreds of thousands of people in cities across the world marched in defiance of their governments and police to show their solidarity with the protest in the US against the police murder of George Floyd.

His murder by the police was just one more in the long list of such killings in the US, in the UK

London, 7 June. Photo by Steve Eason

and around the world. But the response to this latest outrage has been a storm of protest which is inspiring. Black and white protesters, mostly young, have changed the political landscape.

A killing, which in previous times might have led to local black protests in the US, lit a spark of multiple frustrations and discontent. The world is in lockdown with the coronavirus epidemic which has highlighted and deepened all the social inequalities. The virus is a killer but its victims, medically and financially, are overwhelmingly the most deprived sections of society.

In the UK, a government which came to power on its nationalistic, flag-waving Brexit campaign has shown its incompetence and indifference to ordinary people’s lives, trying to push people back to work, push children to school – all to try to get the profit making machine going again.

The protesters in Bristol who pulled down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston will be cheered by millions of people. The footage of the mass murderer, who has been worshipped by the Bristol elite for decades, being rolled and dropped in the river will be watched over and over again.

It is hilarious watching British politicians, academics, civic dignitaries and other worthies all now trying to play catch-up with their learned debate about whether to remove other statues. Sir Read the rest of this entry »


Lugansk miners occupy pit and defy security forces

June 9, 2020

Mineworkers are staging an underground occupation in defiance of the authorities in the Lugansk separatist “republic” in eastern Ukraine – who have responded with a campaign of intimidation and arrests.

There were 123 mineworkers underground at the Komsomolskaya pit, in the mining town of Antratsit, for the third day running on Sunday (7 June), the News.ru site reported yesterday. One who had fallen ill was brought to the surface.

The protesters are demanding that their wages for March and April be paid in full. A similar underground protest on 21 April resulted in some money being handed over by Vostok-ugol’,

An earlier protest, in Zorinsk in the Lugansk “republic”, on 4 May, against the closure of the local pit. Photo from Dialog.ua

a new company set up in the “republic” and charged with closing pits and cutting the labour force.

The Lugansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” were set up by separatist military forces, supported by the Russian government, who clashed with the Ukrainian army in the military conflict of 2014.

The militarised regimes have clamped down on labour and social movement activists, and made independent journalism impossible in the “republics” – meaning that protest has been rare, and news of it does not travel easily. But this week mineworkers and their supporters have taken action nonetheless.

On Sunday the Lugansk “republic” police blockaded the Komsomolskaya mine and stopped food and drink being passed in to the occupiers. Galina Dmitrieva, a local trade union activist, received a a message saying that state security ministry (MGB) officials were on their way to the mine.

After that, mobile phone reception was blocked and the popular “Vkontakte” social media (similar to facebook) was blocked. News.ru published text exchanges with local residents who Read the rest of this entry »


Moscow couriers strike: “no limit to the indignation”

June 8, 2020

Couriers at Delivery Club, a food delivery company in Moscow, staged a strike on Friday to protest at fines and impossible work demands. Their ranks have swelled five times over during the coronavirus lockdown. These two reports were translated and published by the Russian Reader.

Report by RTV1, 5 June:

Couriers at the food delivery service Delivery Club in Moscow held a strike on 5 June. According to them, working conditions at the company have recently taken a turn for the worse. For example, the company has started giving couriers long-distance orders, as well as

Striking food couriers at Delivery Club, Moscow on Friday. Photo by Mitya Lyalin, courtesy of RTV1

frequently fining them. The workers walked out in protest. Our correspondent followed the industrial action and listened to the protesters’ demands.

Around forty couriers, nearly all of them wearing the company’s bright green raincoats, came to Delivery Club’s offices this afternoon. The couriers did not chant slogans. They wanted to speak with company management. Although they were not deterred by heavy rain and waited for over two hours, no one from Delivery Club management came out to speak with them.

In a conversation with RTVI, one of the protesters expressed his dismay.

“We have gathered here to get them to cancel the excessive fines against us. Take me: I deliver on foot. I used to get orders within a three-kilometer range, but now they’ve been sending me Read the rest of this entry »


Public health: workers and communities organise, Tory ministers undermine

May 29, 2020

In Downing Street, the prime minister has trashed the UK public health strategy, with his repulsive defence of his senior adviser making up his own rules. Elsewhere, health workers, teachers and communities are organising to protect people from the coronavirus more effectively. Here PHIL EDWARDS, Joint Secretary of Newham Save Our NHS, writing in a personal capacity, reflects on how the virus is changing the politics of health.

The Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, has announced that along with the London boroughs of Camden, Barnet and Hackney, our borough will be part of a local test and track (or trace) initiative.

The government in turn announced that local areas were to submit plans for carrying out local test track initiatives across the country. The Newham initiative, on 22 May, was the result of

Newham Save Our NHS on a national demonstration against cuts, July 2018

weeks of pressure nationally from public health experts, local authorities, medical practitioners, and of campaigns like our own.

This came days after the release of evidence that the national test and track scheme launched by the health secretary Matt Hancock’s friends in Serco, the private contractor, and recruitment agencies sub-contracted to contact people using the government-approved mobile app, was collapsing in disarray.

As the Newham Health and Wellbeing Board met this week, to respond to questions on the local test trace scheme from local residents, it was pointed out that the government would finally launch its app this week after several false starts.

We have to approach this “victory” with some careful qualifications. It is not yet clear what the relationship is between these “local” tests and the national effort run by Serco. The scheme in Sheffield (see “Testing times” below) is run and operated by local health professionals. In Read the rest of this entry »


The hostile environment. Who needs a virus?

May 29, 2020

A guest post by PHIL EDWARDS, joint secretary of Newham Save Our NHS, writing in a personal capacity. See also a linked post – Public health: workers and communities organise, Tory ministers undermine

The shocking, disproportionate impact of the Covid-19 virus on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities is the outcome of discrimination, exploitation and racism that has piled up over decades.

The heightened danger to BAME communities is one of the most alarming aspects of the pandemic.

The Guardian reported earlier this month that more than three-quarters of BAME doctors feared they would contract Covid 19.

As the Tory health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that they were “investigating” the high incidence of deaths from Covid 19 amongst the BAME community, our health campaign group

Health workers demonstrating against the “hostile environment”

in Newham, east London, circulated a report from The Voice newspaper by Dr Winston Morgan, a toxicologist at the University of East London, on this issue.

The article was used to question ministers in parliament, to challenge the racist idea that this was somehow genetic – even though hugely different ethnic groups globally were suffering disproportionately.

In fact, the truth is that deaths amongst BAME people, whether in the local population generally or among healthcare workers specifically, is the result of historic discrimination resulting in disproportionate economic and social inequalities.

The fact is that, if you are poor, living in overcrowded accommodation, struggling to survive Read the rest of this entry »


Test, trace, isolate, support. Don’t trust the government to do any of it

May 18, 2020

Download this article as a PDF here

Doctors and community health campaigners are working out how to start local testing and tracing projects, as building blocks of the public health strategy needed to combat Covid-19.

The local initiatives come in response to the government’s disastrous failure to organise testing and tracing, seen by public health specialists as one cause of the UK’s high rate of infections and deaths.

In Sheffield, a group of doctors including retired public health specialists, directors of public health and GPs have set up a pilot project, aimed at working out how volunteers without medical training could do contact tracing.

The Sheffield Community Contact Tracers work with the World Health Organisation guidelines on

Covid-19 is opening new fronts in long battles over health. Here, junior doctors blocking Whitehall in protest at long hours and poor working conditions, 2016. Photo: Steve Eason

Covid-19, which recommend that “cases are identified, advised to isolate, and that contacts are traced, advised to quarantine, and then followed up to identify new cases”.

The organisation points out: “Contact tracing is not currently part of UK guidelines, but there is a groundswell of opinion that it should be.”

Local authority and NHS staff have contact tracing skills, but there are not enough of them, the group says. Volunteers can be recruited and trained to do contact tracing, and to support people who need to isolate: the pilot project will determine exactly how.

In Oxfordshire, the Keep Our NHS Public group published a briefing this week urging that the Sheffield initiative be “supported and replicated”.

The Oxfordshire group call for the local authorities’ public health teams, and the Directors of Read the rest of this entry »


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