On 13 October Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya made an ultimatum on behalf of the oppositional Coordinating Council. If Lukashenko didn’t resign, she would call for a peaceful nationwide rejection of his rule and a general strike from 25 October.
The strike call gave a boost to the protests against Lukashenko. The weekly Sunday demonstration in Minsk on 25 October was larger than it had been for over a month, probably close to 100,000.
It was met at the intersection of Orlovskaya and Novovilenskaya in Minsk with the most brutal attack yet from Lukashenko’s security. Stun grenades were used. Gunshots were heard and serious injuries were suffered.
But students are increasingly politically active. On Monday 26 October they organised walk-outs from Belarus State University and other universities, challenging the directors and administrators in heated debate.
The strike call seems not to have pulled out the majority of workers at the major factories.
Militant strikers did managed to march past security through many factories, appealing for workers to join them. Some factories, like the tractor factory MTZ and automobile factory MAZ, had the hated state security OMON helping managers try to block the strikers.
At MTZ, OMON had paddy wagons waiting alongside to carry away those they arrested. But that did not stop workers getting into the factory.
The threat of dismissal as well as imprisonment always hangs over the head of Belarus strikers. At the Naftan oil refinery, workers told the Tut news agency that the manager had said anyone joining the strike would be immediately sacked.
Elsewhere the regime has extensively replaced indefinite employment contracts with short-term ones.
Tikhonavskaya’s people had done consultations with many of the strikers. In her rallying call to workers she stressed restoring pension rights, ending a freeze on wages, and ending corrupt and bullying management methods.
Strikes require strong organisation in the workplace. For an unofficial general strike in the face of huge repression, workers need not only anger at brutality and injustice but also confidence that they will win and have the organisation to do so.
After fake elections and phoney state unions, they need to know a democracy, a union, a political leadership they can trust.
Tikhanovskaya’s Coordinating Council includes one worker with a militant reputation, Sergei Dylevsky. Some associated with the Council but jailed, like Tikhanovskaya’s husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, have a background in radical journalism.
Lukashenko’s persecution of them has enhanced their reputation, but pro-regime forces still throw scorn on them as celebrities, intellectuals (or even, in the case of Victor Babariko, a banker) whose interests are not the workers’.
The workers need their own democratic and independent unions. They also need their own programme for a future Belarus where workers are in control.
In a country as oppressive as Belarus, workers will be organised in ways that cannot be known or shared on media. It appears at the moment that the organisation is not yet strong enough to achieve a full general strike. But these things can change quickly.
The leaders of the independent union at the Belaruskali potash mine have been jailed again.
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