The long-haul truckers, who have been striking against the Plato fee system, have decided to extend their action into politics and to do so in the same way that they have conducted themselves in the past: from below rather than above and using their parking places as agitation sites.
In today’s Nezavisimaya gazeta, journalist Yekaterina Trifonova says that the truckers’ proposed candidate, Carrier Union president Andrey Bazhutin says that the decision to nominate him is “a healthy decision” and that he and the truckers plan to “go with it to the end” in the expectation of picking up support from others.
Many groups of Russians have had the same experience the drivers have, he says: the authorities are unwilling to talk to them. Among them are many workers whose wages haven’t been paid, farmers, opponents of the Moscow renovation program, and those who have suffered by the actions of the big banks.
The union leader continues that the truckers have no plans to drop their demands for a meeting with the transportation minister in order to begin negotiations about the Plato fee system. If the minister continues to refuse to meet, Bazhutin says, the union will make political demands including calling for the retirement of the Medvedev election.
He suggests the drivers are especially angry because the authorities are backing away from some of their earlier concessions, demanding that truckers pay the Plato fees in order to be exempted from local taxes and canceling meetings officials had promised.
Bazhutin says he will begin to collect signatures for his presidential run in October and that he doesn’t anticipate any problems with gathering the necessary number in the required number of federal subjects.
The problems are at least potentially elsewhere: information agencies have refused to work with the campaign even if the union pays.
The Carriers Union head says that he doesn’t expect the campaign to cost much because the drivers already have organizations in 80 regions, numerous volunteers, and ready-made signs from the anti-Plato strike. Expanding that effort will not be difficult or expensive.
He adds that the authorities have still not reacted to his plans, perhaps because they are worried that the union will increase its strike effort in response.
At present, there are “about 30” trucks engaged in strike actions of various kinds in Moscow. Many more would join them if union leaders call for that.
Officials have many ways to block Bazhutin’s candidacy, although they can’t reject him for having violated any criminal law as they have in the case of Alexei Navalny. But some political figures think, the Nezavisimaya gazeta journalist says, that the Kremlin wants the union leader to be a candidate to suggest there is real competition.
Many opposition figures, like Sergey Mitrokhin of Yabloko, oppose Bazhutin’s candidacy not only for that reason but out of a belief that the truckers should join one of the existing opposition parties and back its candidates, who have more experience and name recognition.
But as of now, all indications are that the truckers will go ahead, thus adding a political dimension to their labor action.
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