Angry miners strike for back wages
  From press reports

from "Vladivostok News"

May 15, 1998

Coal miners in the Partizansk region began a hunger strike for back wages recently, after co-workers who used similar tactics were paid months of withheld salaries in late April.

Seven miners at the Nagornoye mine launched their strike May 6 after almost 50 hunger striking co-workers were fully paid nine months’ back wages on April 26. Miners at the Tsentralnoye mine, also in Partizansk, were paid three months’ back wages in April, after refusing to eat.

But chances of success for the latest hunger strikers are slim, said Vladimir Seybratov, head of the Nagornoye coal mine. “At this time, we’ve got no money,” he said. “There won’t be any positive results of this protest.”

Meanwhile, officials in Saratov in central Russia showed their support for the Primorye miners by sending 40 train containers of wheat to Partizansk after the strike began. “Our two regions are barely surviving, practically without the support of the federal government,” Saratov’s First Deputy Minister of Agriculture Viktor Mikheyev wrote in a press release.

“This action is not only done in sympathy for Primorye’s problems, but also to show solidarity with Primorye coal miners,” he wrote.

In April, Nagornoye hunger strikers made international headlines when they held their mine director hostage, putting him on a “forced diet,” they said at the time. Over 6,000 miners in the region have intermittently gone on strike since April 1.

The unrest follows a massive restructuring effort in Primorye’s coal industry. The Nagornoye and Tsentralnoye mines have frequently been considered for closure because they are inefficient and loss-making, local press have reported. More than 1,300 coal workers could lose their jobs in the cuts.

Primorye Gov. Yevgeny Nazdratenko criticized former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, a long-time political foe, for destroying the coal industry and creating the cycle of non-payment that has ravaged the region’s energy sector.

“No one is telling the regional governors when they make reforms,” Nazdratenko said at a recent press conference. “How are we supposed to deal with that?”

Nazdratenko also accused Moscow officials of taking a severe attitude in dealing with inefficient mines in Primorye. “They tell us that if we want a mine, we should buy it,” Nazdratenko said. “And if we don’t want to buy it, we should close it. It’s incredibly cynical.”

Miners in the northern city of Luchegorsk also plan to strike on May 19 if they are not paid six months of back pay.