FROM a small room on the second floor of a nondescript building
in this bleak Siberian city, a group of coal miners have transformed
an underground strike into a mass movement that threatens to topple
the Soviet system.
The room is the headquarters of the Novokuznetsk Workers' and
Strike committees - forces that have idled 88 of the 101
coal-related mines and industries since early March in the key
Kuzbass coal field, the nation's largest.
Unlike their counterparts in the Donbas coal region of the
Ukraine, the Kuzbass miners have no economic demands. They are
waging a purely political strike, demanding that Soviet President
Mikhail Gorbachev resign.
"We have come to the conclusion it will be impossible to solve
the economic crisis under the current government structures," says
Ravil Vakhitov, chairman of the Worker's Committee. "We just don't
want to change governments, we want to change the system."
Despite such militant rhetoric, strike organizers aren't trying
to achieve goals overnight. Restraint, education, and preparation
are the operative words at the Novokuznetsk headquarters. Drawing on
experience from a 1989 walkout, the strike leaders are learning from
their mistakes, as well as training miners to serve as organizers
"The Workers' Committee has been a school," says Mr. Vakhitov.
"There are guys who are now leaders who a few years ago couldn't
speak in front of a crowd. But after they worked at the committee,
they became used to talking to people and were exposed to
Indeed, the Novokuznetsk strikers have evolved into militant
missionaries of the proletarian class - spreading across the
country, seeking converts.
"The workers in Leningrad wanted to form their own committees, so
they asked us for help, because we have experience in organizational
methods," said Mikhail Gonturov, a Worker's Committee member of the
Bolshevik Mine outside Novokuznetsk. He spoke the day before
departing to serve as an adviser at the massive Kirov munitions
factory in the old imperial capital.
"It's funny that we have to reteach them what they knew so well
in 1917," Mr. Gonturov said, referring to the Bolshevik Revolution
in which Leningrad factory workers played a vital role.
Movement begins to grow
The miners' movement has spread rapidly, threatening to collapse
Soviet industry. Factories nationwide have announced their support
for the miners' goals and are striking, or threatening to strike,
pressuring the government from all sides. Even in the normally
docile Communist stronghold of the republic of Byelorussia, workers
are following the miners' example. Workers in Minsk, the
Byelorussian capital, virtually shut down the city last Thursday,
protesting steep price increases introduced by the government last
The price hikes, together with the miners' leadership, have so
fanned the flames of worker discontent that conservative Communists
are trying to disassociate themselves from Mr. Gorbachev in an
attempt to avoid being dragged down with him.
"To say the party defends Gorbachev is nonsense," says Mikhail
Yelovikov, the conservative Novokuznetsk party boss. "If Gorbachev
continues acting this way and cannot contain the situation, it may
cause the party to demand his resignation."
The government has tried desperately to isolate the miners'
movement, but its efforts have met with little success. …