The Center for Political and Economic Reform has released its report on labor protests for the third quarter of 2016. If you’re not familiar with TsEPR, you should keep your eye on it. It’s one of the two outfits I know of (the other being the Center for Social and Labor Rights) that monitor labor unrest in Russia. Also TsEPR is run by Nikolai Mironov, who publishes some pretty searing social and economic commentary in Moskovskii komsomolets. His comments are always worth reading (You can find some English translations of his columns over at the Russian Reader).
The third quarter report presents some interesting findings.
- There were 544 recorded incidents of labor conflicts throughout 78 Russian regions. This is an incredibly sharp increase, almost by two times, from the previous quarter when TsEPR recorded 263. It’s quite interesting that this increase has occurred in the later part of the summer when Russian politics tends to generally slow down.
- Wage arrears continues to be the main flash point of conflict. According to Rosstat, as of September 1, the total amount of wage arrears in the Russian Federation was 3.5 billion rubles ($56.3 million) affecting about 66,000 people. Of those people, 45 percent work in manufacturing and 27 percent in construction. Though conflicts over back wages are increasing (there were 171 incidents in the second quarter), the amount of wage arrears have been slightly decreasing every month since April.
- Most labor conflicts remain local. Anyone reading these numbers as indicators that Putin’s “days are numbered” is letting desire overcome analysis. The targets for these struggles remain employers and local officials. Workers continue to strategically appeal to “Putin” because they know that it will get some attention to their plight from the media and perhaps even Moscow. Disgruntled Russians know full well that local minigarchs and officials won’t budge without pressure “from above.” It’s likely we will see more local struggles over the next year. As Mironov told RBC, “It’s obvious the increase in the number of incidents involving wage arrears and layoffs will continue, and will be particularly acute after the cuts in the 2016-2017 budget.”
- Elements of Russian society are more active. This is perhaps the main takeaway. While it’s foolish to read too much into things, the increase in labor conflict does indicate that Russian society is not as inert as many presume. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the complexities of Russian society demand more attention. Analysis shouldn’t just relegate their gaze to the opaque maneuverings in the Kremlin and the shadowy silhouettes cast on its inner walls. Things are happening out there.