On the night of May, 8 a powerful explosion ripped through the Russia's largest coal mine Raspadskaya near the city of Mezhdurechensk, Kemerovo region, followed by another methane blast 4 hours later. Several ground-based structures were destroyed by the double blast which also led to the ventilation system being rendered inoperative. The exact death toll is still unknown.
Currently, official media reported 66 workers dead, 84 injured and 24 missing. A sudden excess of level of methane is said to have caused the explosion.
All the essential safety regulations were poorly enforced in the mine. To continue the production process the mine workers were forced by the managers to cover the detectors measuring the level of methane and the amount of coal dust in the mine. Many of the workers lacked so called “self-rescuers” - oxygen cylinders, critical to have in such cases. Bodies of 25 of them were found dead.
These events and the authorities’ response to it led to the miners’ mass protests. They accused the officials of having distorted the information on the number of the dead and the amount of their wages at the enterprise. In the meantime the families of miners and rescuers, remaining underground, are not getting information on the progress of rescue works. The miners point out that the death toll exceeds 150 people, which surpasses the figures provided by the officials. It was stated by the authorities that the miners earn an average of 70,000 rubles a month, which is not true. According to the workers, their wages depend on the production and amount to about 25 000 rubles.
The pressure from the managers of the mine and piece-rate wages make the miners work in such risky conditions. It is not an hourly-payment that the workers are getting but the amount of the work performed is being estimated. This makes the miners ignore safety standards. It is required to leave a gas polluted mine when emergency alarm bursts out. But in such a case the workers do not get anything, or the amount of money is being calculated according to the tariff rate at the level of the minimum wage.
The city of Mezhdurechensk has formed around coal mining with the mine being one of the few places to earn a living. Most miners have families to support with the wages they get from the mine. Almost all of them have debt obligations which must be repaid to banks. Fear of dismissal and the lack of prospects for the future due to loss of the apartment make the miners turn the blind eye to the terrible working conditions and neglect of safety standards. They cannot speak the truth about what really happens. The workers’ attempts to establish independent unions in order to defend their rights are cut short by the mines’ management through repression.
Now patience has come to an end. Spontaneous rallies took place in the city, one of which ended in the section of Novokuznetsk-Abakan railway getting blocked by the workers during the night of May, 14. The mayor made attempts to speak with the miners urging them to disperse which was refused. About 300 people took active part in the clash with riot police called in to break up a rally. They were throwing stones and bottles at the police which resulted in about 28 people getting detained and 6 police officers getting injured.
It was not until the railway getting blocked that the issue gained attention. In his turn Aman Tuleyev, Kemerovo region Governor , called the protesters "the leaders of criminal groups and the unemployed," voicing the attitude of those in power to the workers and their relatives.
Message from Russian anarchists to the miners of Mezhdurechensk
What happened at the Raspadskaya mine is a tragedy. Those perished will never come back. Children of more than a hundred families have become orphans. We are overwhelmed with feelings of grief and hatred towards those in power. These explosions could have been avoided. But the greed of the owners of the mine and the hopeless position of the workers did not allow for it. Your reaction to what has happened is obvious and clear to us. We fully support you and your rage. Street protests and closing the railroad is a truly effective methods of resistance to those who make our lives unbearable.
But you should be aware that the dialogue with the authorities is not a fair play. We have seen how arrogant Mayor Sergei Shcherbakov was when speaking with you. We are just plough cattle for them, nothing more. Their task now is to suppress any protests by way of "handouts" to the families of the perished miners and the workers, who cannot continue working in the meantime. An initiative group was quickly established, but it neither expressed solidarity with the miners, nor demanded the arrested be released. It’s members even stated their negative attitude to such kind of activity of the workers. We assume that most of you did not participate in this group getting formed.
Now the salaries are promised to rise up to 40 000 rubles (ca $1333), but only once the mine has been restored. No one has an idea when this is going to happen, and besides the management of the mines is very unlikely to go for it once the protests have come to an end. Also the mines directors are not likely to be fired. All of this is unfolding in the context of fabulous profits gained from the exploitation of the mines, which in 2008 and in 2009 amounted to $ 500 million and $ 170 million respectively.
In view of the information blockade set up by the official media and the pressure from the police that you’re under we want to express our solidarity. You are not alone in your struggle. We follow the events taking place in Mezhdurechensk. We admire your opposition to riot police who have no shame. While we will support you by way of political action from our side.
Now the protest actions should be continued. Such requirements as to have a meeting with the Prime Minister, who should resolve all the problems, is a dead-end. Putin leaves - the situation remains the same. Especially that the significant holding of shares belongs to the closest loyal oligarch - Abramovich. You are in a very difficult position, but still able to ask for better working conditions. Ask for the abolition of piece-rate wages in hazardous production facility. Ask for the social protection for those working in hazardous production facility be increased. You can try to set up an independent labour union, controlled only by workers' meetings and the delegates from their side, who, if required by others, can be replaced at any time. You can spread the ideas of self-management out to the people under exploitation, up to the take-over of the enterprise by the workers. You can use the direct-action tactics - strikes, boycotts, up to sabotage. Only such action will make the authorities consider those who pay taxes and, thus, ensure existence of those in power. You have the opportunity to spread the message out to other workers and urge them to join the social protest.
This should be realized that unless we see ourselves as the class suffering exploitation, we will remain suppressed.
Solidarity from Moscow. May 16, 2010.
Also about this labour conflict (in Russian) from CRAS-IWA: