The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Ford workers don't give up

Mar 19, 2007

The following article is from the March 2 issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), published by the revolutionary workers' group of that name active in France.

On February 14, the Ford night shift at Vsevolojsk, near St. Petersburg, went on strike. In the morning, another shift joined them, and then other workers joined in, out of 1,900 employed at the plant. In total, 80% of the workers decided to strike. In response, management got a court to declare the strike illegal.

The Russian labor code puts so many conditions on the right to strike, finding a way to strike that the authorities would consider legal is mission impossible. In reality, the application of the law depends on the relation of forces. The Ford workers already have had some experience with this.

The workers, who call themselves the "Fordovskys," went on strike last March and then in December. Each time, their demands concerned pay and working conditions. Each time, they forced management to retreat a bit, and raised the average wage from 15,000 to 17,000 rubles a month, or about $650 per month.

Management, the authorities, and certain Western reporters in Russia claim that the strikers are "privileged," since the average worker makes less, on average $390 dollars per month. During a previous strike, the Ford strikers responded by showing that managers in their departments got twenty times more than what workers made. They also pointed out how high the cost of living is. It costs 40% of a worker's pay to rent an apartment.

Ford, like the other Western car companies, a few years ago began to export cars to Russia by advertising them as exotic foreign cars. Then, as a middle class grew in the big cities with relatively high incomes, the foreign companies decided to assemble some of their models in Russia.

This seemed like a great business opportunity. The central state chose to stop supporting the antiquated Russian auto industry. The Moscow and St. Petersburg authorities urged foreign companies to set up factories. Foreign firms found operations extremely cheap. Labor costs were so low that they invested much less in machines, robots, and other forms of automation that are found in assembly plants in other countries. The French company Renault went so far as to brag that it assembled its Logan car at Avtoframos in Moscow with all work done by hand!

Ford and the other foreign auto companies rely on elbow grease and the sweat of their workers to produce cars and substantial profits in Russia. So it's not surprising when the Ford strikers in Vsevolojsk denounce unhealthy and unsafe working conditions, the lack of paid vacations (that even the weak Russian law is supposed to guarantee), forced overtime on days off, the absence of a contract and job guarantees, and wages that never rise ... except when they go on strike.