Magazine article New Internationalist

Change the Rules

Magazine article New Internationalist

Change the Rules

Article excerpt

AT a recent birthday dinner, a community worker told me about her husband's mental breakdown. He was an architectural draftsman who'd worked with the same company for many years when it went bankrupt. As is increasingly the case in my country - Australia - the workers lost all their back-pay in addition to holiday, superannuation and long service leave entitlements: in her husband's case tens of thousands of dollars. He went on to another company, worked many hours of unpaid overtime to help keep the company afloat... and ended up in a dark room curled up in a foetal position.

After reading about the experience of the Brukman factory workers, I wondered what could have happened if the workers in this man's first company had just kept on going without their employers.

That's what's happening in Russia - in the Yasnogorsk Machine tool factory near Tula, south west of Moscow. Having worked without pay for a year, the 4,000 workers of the privatized factory discovered that the machines they'd produced were being stolen by the plant's General Director. The outraged employees took over. They locked out the plant administration, replaced the board of directors, took a greater role in decision-making, got their back-pay and then granted themselves a 50-per-cent pay increase. Four years later, they are still going.

Meanwhile less than 150 kilometres away in the Ryazan textile plant, 290 women workers fought against their firm's bankruptcy and liquidation in 1999 by using fire engines to blockade demolition equipment heading for their factory. Then they too steadily worked on to achieve back-pay, wage increases and more control in decision-making. …

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