Union of higher education employees “University Solidarity” holds conference in Moscow

On Saturday 27 April representatives of university teachers from 13 regions of Russia gathered in Moscow at the trade union-linked hotel Izmailovo. The purpose of the gathering was to set up an independent inter-regional trade union that would stand up for the interests of higher education employees in deeds, not words.

Judging by the speeches at the meeting and the talk in the corridors, the problems in higher education are intensifying sharply. A teacher from Ufa asked: “As a reader my [monthly] salary is 13,000 rubles [£270 or $415], while a cleaner at the supermarket across the road gets 15,000. What are we going to do?”

Actually it’s clear what to do: push for higher pay. The president and government talk about the fact that by 2018 university teachers’ pay will be 200% of the average in each region. That’s good, but no-one in government has explained to the long-suffering teachers how to live until then.

Moreover, the government’s “road map” for higher education envisages a substantial reduction in teacher numbers, as part of the cuts in the number of universities and the public sector workforce in general.

The historian Dr Konstantin Morozov, member of the organising committee and professor at the Russian State University for the Humanities explained how the work to form a new union was initiated and developed. Significantly, the idea at first had been to set up a university Teachers Association, but then a section of the activists involved had reached the conclusion that the organisational form that could most effective unite people to defend their rights was a trade union [which has a specific legal status].

For those at the conference, it was obvious that the traditional union of education and research workers, inherited from the USSR, could not do what had to be done. Taking advantage of the passivity of the majority of employees, this union has adopted a collaborationist position in respect of government policy and is an obstacle to any real struggle.

The situation with the traditional union, which is affiliated to the Federation of Independent Trades Unions of Russia, is unacceptable to the most honest and active people in its own ranks, including the leaders of several of its [workplace] committees who attended the “University Solidarity” conference as observers.

As for the aims of the new union, one of its joint presidents, Pavel Kudiukin, a reader at the Higher School of Economics and at one time deputy labour minister of the Russian Federation, pointed out that the government is going all-out to destroy any illusions in the university-based intelligentsia that it has any kind of special status. “University teachers are not only being proletarianised, they are being singled out for special punishment”, he told the conference.

It therefore makes sense for the new union to use the whole arsenal of weapons available to unions for defending employees’ rights, including strikes. This point was made to the delegates by Igor Kovalchuk, deputy president of the Russian seafarers’ union,  as he delivered a message of support from his organistaion.

Boris Kravchenko, president of the Russian Confederation of Labour, told the conference that public sector workers may well become the backbone of a general campaign to defend social rights from government attack. Education and health are, after all, the spheres in which workers’ interests coincide most directly with those of the whole of society.

And the first tangible expression of such solidarity came with the adoption of a resolution at the conference to support the protest campaign by doctors in Izhevsk [who have recently staged a widely publicised hunger strike against health cuts].

The new union also intends to work closely together with “Teacher”, a union that brings together, mostly, school teachers.

The Moscow conference agreed on a constitution, a declaration and the other documents needed to set up a trade union.

The leading organ is a central council, which will work together with the five joint presidents, who represent the Russian State University of the Humanities, Moscow State University, the Higher School of Economics and two regional centres, Kazan and Ekaterinburg.

It is expected that workplace organisations of “University Solidarity” will soon appear in many of Russia’s leading higher education institutions.

Source: University Solidarity Russia

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