- The history of trade unions and labor in Russia is paradoxical. Given that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) ruled in the name of the workers, the party did not see a need for independent trade unions in the Soviet Union. As a result, the Soviet trade union system was incorporated into the state apparatus, thus depriving workers of effective bargaining power and giving them little influence over the firms and industries in which they were employed, though the trade unions had some say over housing conditions, distribution of welfare benefits, and working conditions. In 1990, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, known by its Russian acronym FNPR, was established to provide an independent voice to workers. Today, the organization has approximately 30 million members, representing nearly half of the country’s workforce of 70 million. The FNPR controls disbursement of social insurance payments, protects workers from being dismissed unfairly, and seeks fair wages for its members. Despite the image of independence, the trade unions—including the FNPR—are closely tied to the government, a reflection of the Soviet heritage. Pressure was put on the trade unions to support the idea of “social partnership” with the government to prevent the collapse of the system during the chaotic transition to a market economy. During the 1998 ruble crisis, the FNPR demanded Boris Yeltsin’s resignation in an open letter, throwing its support behind Yevgeny Primakov (who was ultimately chosen as prime minister). Other major trade unions include the General Confederation of Trade Unions, the All-Russia Confederation of Labor, and the Confederation of Labor in Russia.Since coming to power, Vladimir Putin has sought to wrest control of distribution of social benefits away from the trade unions, arguing that the state should administer such payouts. The neoliberal Labor Code of 2001 also granted more control to employers on hiring and firings and limited some forms of collective bargaining. Putin has also backed the creation of new, state-sponsored trade unions in the chemical, energy, and mining sectors, a move viewed with suspicion by older trade unionists. Putin’s clampdown on civil society has also weakened the country’s 50,000 trade unions.See also Trud.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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