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Editorial Last Updated: Mar 23, 2022 - 10:55:20 AM

Just A Leedle Hapai
By Dr. Gary K. Busch, 22/3/22
Mar 22, 2022 - 5:42:24 PM

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During the last week I have had some continuing contacts with some friends in the international labour movement in discussions with the current crisis in the Ukraine. It is the general consensus that Putin and the Russians are not likely to change their tactics or move to a Plan B. Conditions in the Russian workplace are deteriorating with increasing layoffs of the labour force and additional delays in the payment of wages and benefits. The decline of the rouble is most noticeable in goods imported into Russia but prices are rising in general for all goods and services. To many, there are similarities of the current situation with the 1998 Crisis when the Russian government and the Russian Central Bank devalued the rouble and defaulted on its debt. The crisis had severe impacts on the economies of many neighbouring countries as well. The accumulation of regional debt incurred by the response to the COVID crisis hangs heavily on regional budgets. Social services are diminishing de facto, if not by government decree.


For the independent unionists and organised groups of professionals (doctors, teachers, firefighters, etc.) there is no specific issue yet around which they can organise, save an opposition to the war in the Ukraine. They point out the fact that the country was brought back from the brink in 1998 by a  $22.6 billion International Monetary Fund and World Bank support program; a luxury that is not likely to be approved under current sanctions. They point out that in May 1998, coal miners went on strike over unpaid wages, blocking the Trans-Siberian Railway. By August 1998, there was approximately $12.5 billion in debt owed to Russian workers.  In June 1998, despite the IMF bailout, monthly interest payments on Russia's debt rose to a figure 40 percent higher than its monthly tax collections. This time, they agree, it will be worse as sanctions have closed the door to the usual reliefs.

They say that Putin and the government has no plan to relieve the growing burdens on the populace. In Hawaii there was a saying (as in the title of the comment) that the government was only a leedle hapai (that means ‘only a little bit pregnant’). It is not a program which will diminish as time goes on. Add to this the increasing deaths among the conscript soldiers and the restrictions in movement overseas by Russians and there is a growing pressure of dissent in the public.

The forces of repression of the state are formidable. It is not easy, safe or comfortable to actively dissent in public. Thousands are doing so, at great risk to themselves and their careers, but this is not yet a directed movement with agreed goals and leaders. However, the seeds of revolt have been sown. In Belarus the railroad workers have closed down the vital rail connection which would support Russian logistics. In three areas of Russia, railroad workers have delayed and blocked the transport of men and supplies to Ukraine. Unhappy workers are learning to protest by just not showing up. The Russian war machine has the railroad as its backbone. The vast distances between the factories of Siberia and the Far East from the Ukraine are served by railroads. The unionists have suggested that this might be the point of concentration of their protests – delay and impede rail transport. All that is needed is for people to stay home. If they are not getting paid properly, if social payments are delayed or diminished by inflation, staying at home and doing nothing is a plan for change.

In the Russian Far East much of the work on construction of pipelines and the oil and gas business is performed by Chinese workers. Some of the Chinese workers have been on strike for three weeks, closing down the Russian oil company at Komsomolsk-na-Amur. The transport workers of Kazakhstan have begun minor protests which may expand. This trend may expand to other parts of Russia and the ‘stans’.

No one can say definitively that there will be co-ordinated mass dissent as time goes on. It is too early for that. However, a ‘leedle hapai’ is not deterred by words, rallies  and nationalist rhetoric. The clock is ticking.

Source:Ocnus.net 2022

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