Belarusian workers with a banner saying "Strike" in Russian
Belarus’s dictator Lukashenko held his inauguration for a new term as president on 23 September, but protests continue.
Universities had resumed and many students had joined demonstrations and sit-down protests held throughout the week. The weekend demonstrations were slightly smaller in Minsk on 26-27 September, but they continue to spread and grow outside the capital.
The police response gets increasingly violent and threatening. In Grodno, shots were fired over the heads of demonstrators. Sub-machine guns were brandished by police in front of demonstrators in Gomel on 27 Sep.
Everyone in the opposition can see that the street protests alone will not defeat the Lukashenko regime. At best they may shift the regime marginally, with a possible Putin-agreed replacement president but little or no structural reform.
Calls are rising for strikes. The 27 Sep demonstration in Zhodzina, where close to a quarter of workers are at the BelAZ automobile factory, was led by a banner proclaiming: “Strike”.
The will of a large majority of Belarus workers is for a mass strike. The question is how to create it.
No strike is ever really spontaneous. It has to be worked for. Initially a minority will support it. Others will oppose it or be unsure. There will be arguments. “Can it win?” “How long will it need to be for?” “How do we win the majority?” “How do we protect ourselves from the bosses’ retaliation?”
The cautious arguments are inevitably stronger when the coercive power of the state and employers is as fierce as in Belarus.
Many of the initial layer of militant workers have been victimised, sacked or faced imprisonment. Some, including members of the National Strike Committee that had a fleeting existence three weeks ago, have had to flee the country.
But still everywhere there are calls for strikes.
On 23 September the Belaruskali potash mine Strike Committee made the call for a national strike in response to Lukashenko’s inauguration. That one didn’t come off. But we’ll see.
In their call they said:
“This does not require any permits or approvals, since the law in Belarus has ceased to exist… In 1968 a strike of nearly 10 million [in France] led to the resignation of Charles de Gaulle [actually, not until April 1969]. The act of civil disobedience in the form of refusing to work for political reasons is one of the most effective instruments of nonviolent resistance. Therefore, we do not go to work until complete victory...”
“Therefore, we stop factories, plants, enterprises and firms until we send Lukashism to the dustbin of history! We refuse to feed the junta! One for all and all for one!”
At Belaruskali, two workers in quick succession had gone into the mine and refused to leave, shackling themselves to machinery to make it difficult to move them. They were eventually removed. They were taken to hospital and then for police interrogation — Oleg Kudelka taken to a mental hospital in a reminder of the traditional manner of the Soviet Union’s treatment of dissidents in the 70s and 80s. Striking workers flocked to the mine offices to protest. 22 of them were arrested.
400 Ukrainian miners at the Oktyabraska mine launched an occupation over wages and conditions on 3 September. There are strong links between the independent union of Ukrainian miners and those at Belaruskali. A video message was sent from Belaruskali to Oktyabraska.
The Ukrainian workers have used hunger strikes and other occupations in the past. Anatol Bokun, co-chair of the strike committee of Belaruskali, has been on hunger strike since 23 September.
Belarus workers are striving to organise a national strike movement that will not only finish off Lukashenko but articulate their demands for the future of Belarus and inspire reluctant workers to join them.
The liberals who lead the Belarus opposition — heroic as many of them are — do not understand the workers’ movement. They will not be encouraged by the EU or any foreign power to help workers put their stamp on the revolt. It is the job of the international workers’ movement to assist the Belarus workers.
• LabourStart Belarus solidarity statement here.