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Labor Under Putin: The State of the Russian Working Class

Since 1991, Russia has seen massive changes in the structure of the economy, control over property, the reconfiguring of employment by sector, the provision of social benefits, and the nature of the labor market.  The impact of these shifts on work, workers, labor organizations, and the “politics of production” has been significant; what follows is an overview of the changes (and some continuities) that Russia’s workers have faced.  It is important to note that it is only with significant caveats that it is possible to speak of a “labor movement” in Russia today. This is not to say that there are not important labor struggles taking place, but the increasingly authoritarian political context makes social mobilization and social movement development difficult.[i]

The Changing Russian Labor Force Since 1991

The story of the Russian economy over the past twenty-five years is one of calamitous collapse followed by a long and uneven recovery.  As a result, Russia’s workers face a landscape very different than the one that existed in 1991.  Between 1990 and 1998, industrial production in Russia fell by 60 percent, with the light industrial sector falling to 10 percent of its 1990 level.  The immediate cause of this collapse was the policy of “shock therapy,” which exposed the often obsolete Russian industrial base to unaccustomed market pressures.  While the economy was rebuilt, by 2015 industrial production was still only 85 percent of its 1990 level.  The unevenness of Russia’s economic recovery, and the lack of sectoral balance, is also striking.  Of all industrial sectors, only the gas sector has consistently surpassed 1990 production levels.


Table 1.  Industrial Output by Sectors (1990=100).  Source: adapted from Illarionov[1]

As Andrei Illarionov, a former economic advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has noted, “output in every other major industrial sector has decreased.  The size of the machine-building sector was reduced by 16.4 percent.  The output in the chemical industry fell roughly by half.  And light industry essentially ceased to exist.”[2]  According to World Trade Organization (WTO) figures for 2014, fuels and mining products constituted 70.3 percent of merchandise exports from Russia, with all other manufactures accounting for 20.8 percent.[3]

This shock led to a fundamental restructuring of Russia’s working population.  According to Russian state statistics, between 1992 and 2015, the total employed population fell from 72 million to 68.5 million.  Over this period, Russia lost over seven million manufacturing jobs, which meant that industrial workers fell from 34 percent of the labor force to 18.7 percent.[4]  (By means of comparison, over the same time period the United States lost 4.5 million manufacturing jobs, but as a percentage of the labor force these jobs fell from just 14 percent to 9 percent.[5]   In other words, the relative economic and social impact was much more severe).  At the same time, workers in wholesale and retail trade and “catering,” went from 6.8 percent of the labor force in 1992 to 20.9 percent in 2015.  The third largest category of workers today, accounting for 8 percent of the labor force, are employed in a sector that was not even listed in 1992—the “real estate, renting, and business activities” sector.[6]   Over this twenty-three year period, tens of millions of Russia’s workers not only had to change jobs, many had to reinvent their lives entirely.

The economic and social effects on Russia’s workers of the wild fluctuations in the Russian economy have been substantial.  According to World Bank data, Russia’s gross domestic product per capita went from about $3,485 in 1991 to $1,330 in 1999, rose quickly on the strength of oil and gas to $15,543 in 2013, and then fell to $9,057 in 2015.[7]  More telling, however, is that average real wages in industry fell by almost 57 percent between 1991 and 1999, and did not reach their 1991 levels until the middle to late 2000s, depending on the sector.[8]  Unemployment went from three percent in 1992 to a high of 14 percent in 1998 and now, in spite of the collapse of oil prices and the effect of Western sanctions, stands at 5.4 percent.[9]  Unemployment rates are significantly higher for people under age 24, and there is no statistically significant difference in unemployment rates between men and women.[10]  A final measure of the shock of transition was the drop in life expectancy:  between 1991 and 1994, it fell from 74 to 71 for women, and from 64 to 57 for men, with working-age men hit particularly hard.[11]

The changed structure of ownership is equally important.  At the end of the Soviet period, most property in Russia was owned by the state, and it took many years and a highly corrupt privatization process to change that.[12]  In 1992, just over 69 percent of the Russian population worked in the state or municipal sector; another 10.5 percent worked in “mixed” Russian-owned state/private sector jobs, while 19 percent worked in the private sector.  In 1992, only .3 percent worked in foreign or joint foreign/Russian firms.  By 2015, those numbers had almost entirely reversed:  27.7 percent of the employed population worked in the state/municipal sector, while 62 percent worked in the private sector.  Only 5 percent worked in the “mixed” state/private sector, while the percentage of workers employed by foreign or joint Russian/foreign firms had jumped to 4.8 percent.[13]

The changes outlined above are linked to other seismic shifts that Russia’s workers have experienced since 1991.   For a “typical” industrial worker in the late Soviet period, for example, much of her or his life outside of work was directly linked to the workplace.  In many cases, housing stock was owned by the enterprise, and most social services were provided through the workplace.[14]  Many Russian cities were classic “company towns”—Tol’iatti was Russia’s Detroit; Magnitogorsk its Bethlehem.  The fates of these towns and their workers have varied with the fortunes of the enterprises.  The case of the car company AvtoVaz in Tol’iatti, is emblematic. Molly O’Neal, author of Democracy, Civic Culture and Small Business in Russia’s Regions, notes: “AvtoVaz represented in 2007 nearly 40 percent of the region’s [Samara] industrial output and a large share of the region’s tax revenue.”[15]  Even more telling is that “around 34,000 employees still lived in AvtoVaz housing and enjoyed at least some company-provided social services as of late 2010, but this was a sharp decline from the 115,000 people AvtoVaz once employed.”[16]  The experience of AvtoVaz reflects what occurred across Russia:  managers and workers struggled to keep enterprises operating as best they could, and to defend their (sometimes competing) interests in the process.[17]


Trade Unions, Legislation, and Power Relations

During the Soviet period, virtually all workers were members of a trade union, but the primary function of Soviet-era unions was not to defend workers’ interests.  Trade unions were an arm of the Party-State system, designed to help enact Communist Party policy at the workplace and distribute social services.[18]  All Soviet trade unions belonged to the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions (VTsSPS), which was a powerful bureaucratic apparatus, controlling “substantial property . . . as well as considerable financial resources.”[19]  Most Soviet workers were trade union members by default, not conviction, since union membership was automatic.

In response to this situation, in the late Soviet and early post-Soviet periods a series of new, independent trade unions emerged.  The most prominent of these was the Independent Union of Miners; others followed, including the Union of Locomotive Engineers, the Union of Longshoremen, the Airline Pilots Union, the Air-traffic Controllers Union, and the Union of Seamen.   These unions were made up of skilled workers who could not easily be replaced.  This gave the unions leverage in collective bargaining, but prevented them from easily expanding their membership.  Still, by the end of the Soviet period, Russia had two separate and competing trade-union structures.

In 1990 the VTsSPS was replaced by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR), which was fundamentally the same organization with the same apparatus.  In order to get the FNPR leadership and bureaucracy to support him—and control labor unrest—Yeltsin gave the FNPR control of almost all of the resources of the old Soviet trade union system on the territory of the Russian Federation.  The FNPR has retained that control ever since, as the current regime finds the organization a convenient tool for managing labor issues.[20]  The independent unions retained their separate organizational structures, but in 1995 most of them came together to form the Confederation of Labour of Russia (KTR).[21]

The FNPR remains the umbrella organization of the “official” unions in Russia. Russian labor scholar Irina Olimpieva captures the essence of the FNPR’s approach to union activity in arguing that the FNPR unions “follow the ideology of ‘social partnership,’ stressing the commonality of interests among employees and employers.  They are well incorporated into the Russian system of social partnership and claim to be the sole monopolistic representative of the rights of all Russian employees.”[22]  While the FNPR unions are not the sole representatives of Russian employees on the ground, they hold 27 of the 30 trade union seats on the Russian Trilateral Commission on the Regulation of Social and Labour Relations that deals with labor issues.[23]  As noted above, these unions are bureaucratic organizations designed to maintain order and “social harmony” at the workplace, to provide social services, and to avoid labor conflict at all costs, even in the face of workers’ grievances.

The independent unions also take part in the “social partnership” process and have three representatives on the Commission, but they are also much more likely to engage in what would be seen as normal trade-union activities in the west .  Over the years, the independent unions have organized their own strikes and supported wildcat strikes and other forms of spontaneous labor protest.  It is instructive that the lead “story” on the FNPR website in September 2016 concerned a conference on “the world of labor in the twenty-first century,” while the Russian Confederation of Labor website featured a report on trade-union officers picketing against Danone Russia for its failure to carry out its agreement to index wages.   While the work of the independent unions has become more difficult due to changes in the Labor Code (about which more to follow), these unions remain the most important organizing force for workers in Russia today.

One frustrating aspect of analyzing Russian labor politics is that there is the lack of accurate data on trade-union membership.  Neither the FNPR nor the KTR publish membership numbers at the national level, and according to Petr Biziukov, a leading labor analyst, “statistics by sector and region simply do not exist or are contradictory.”[24]  The FNPR’s figures indicate that membership in all of its unions fell from 28 million in 2006 to 21 million in early 2015.[25]  This figure, however, has no real bearing on the FNPR’s activities.  In Biziukov’s words, “the FNPR traditionally overestimates its membership numbers, due to the fact that they include “formal membership,” in which people are members of the union, but have no kind of connection with the trade union at all, and at times don’t even know that they are a trade union member.”[26]  The problem with membership numbers for the independent unions is similar, but for a different reason.  Membership in the independent unions can be dangerous for workers: union organizers and members have been fired and physically assaulted on more than one occasion.  As a result, the independent unions do not publish definitive numbers.  The generally accepted range for membership in the independent unions collectively is between 2 and 2.5 million, although that does not include workers who are “unofficially” affiliated or sympathetic.

The trade-union movement is hampered even more by the Russian Labor Code that went into effect in 2002.  This law severely restricted the rights of trade unions:  They lost their right to block the firing of a worker by the initiative of management; they lost the right to call a strike (which now must be approved by the employees of an enterprise as a whole); the number of sectors where strikes are illegal was increased; and solidarity strikes were prohibited.[27]  An almost comic illustration of this is found in the annex of the 2015 Russian statistical yearbook, in which the entry for “number of organizations where strikes took place” drops from 11,162 in 1998 to 80 in 2002, and then drops to an average of four per year from 2008 to 2014.[28]  This number is only possible because the Russian state only counts “legal” strikes; according to sources collected by the Center for Social and Labor Rights, in recent years the number of labor protests is more than one per day.  The Code also makes it difficult for the independent unions to establish union locals in factories, particularly when one of the “official” unions is already present, since the FNPR unions actively work with management to prevent independent union organizing.[29]

The state of Russia’s trade-union movement is problematic at best.  If we take the highest estimates of trade-union membership (including the FNPR unions), as of 2015 approximately 24 million workers were union members.  This puts union density at just under 35 percent, which is very high in comparison to the United States and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (10.7 percent and 16.7 percent respectively)[30]  This is largely an illusion, however, since the FNPR is more an arm of the state than part of a social movement. If one counts only the independent unions, the figure is closer to 3.5 percent.  The weakness of Russian trade unions overall is reflected in public opinion data.  In the annual report of the Levada-Center (Russia’s sole remaining independent survey organization) trade unions came in last in a list of twenty-two influential actors in Russia.  Putin came in first, followed by the Federal Security Service and the Armed Forces.[31]


Labor Protests in Russia

In spite of a hostile political environment and restrictive labor legislation, labor protests in Russia are common and increasing in number and intensity.  According to the Center for Social and Labor Rights, the average number of labor protests per year from 2008 to 2014 was 241; in 2015 it was 409, and for the first eight months of 2016 it was 251.  Up to the middle of 2016, the “intensity” of protests also increased markedly from previous years.  The common metric used to determine “intensity” is the percentage of “stop-action” (work stoppage) protests as a percent of all protests in a given period.  While this number changes significantly month to month, the percentage of “stop-action” protests reached a level in 2015-2016 that has not been seen since 2008-2009.[32]  New data for the last several months of 2016 indicate a slowdown in the number of protests and the percentage of stop-actions, which may be connected to the resolution of a number of high-profile conflicts in the run-up to the recent parliamentary elections.[33]

Table 2:  Stop-Action Protests as a proportion of All Labor Protests, January 2008-July 2016

Source: Biziukov, TsSTP



Labor protests in Russia are almost all either wildcat actions or actions by independent unions.  They are widely dispersed by geographic region and economic sector, and they involve workers in both the private and state sectors.  Some of the major actions in the regions with the highest number of protests include: workers blocking a major highway in Tol’iatti, the home of the auto giant AvtoVAZ; truck drivers bringing the Moscow Ring Road to a halt over a controversial new road-use fee; workers at the Verkhnesiniachikhinskovo metallurgical factory going on hunger-strike, and protests by workers at an asbestos brickworks over pay and living conditions.[34]  One other important point is that a very small number of these protests are listed as “inter-regional.”  This indicates that in spite of the fact that labor protests are widespread and intense, they are not coordinated across regions or sectors—an indication that at this juncture, there are no organizations that can unify workers across the country.

Labor protests are equally widespread by economic sector, and the number of sectors experiencing these conflicts is increasing.  The sectors that consistently experience the highest level of protests are manufacturing (including mining), transport and communications, construction, education and healthcare, but the dominance of these sectors is becoming much less pronounced as protests spread to more sectors of the economy, such as utilities and retail.[35] The most intense protests—that is, those involving work stoppages and slowdowns—remain predominantly in the manufacturing, transport and communications, construction, and housing and utilities sectors.[36]  The number of stop actions has increased markedly as well, particularly in the construction and housing/utilities sectors.

The most striking thing about labor protests in Russia today is the cause of most of these protests, whether stop-action or not.  Since 2011, the overwhelming reason that workers strike or protest is non-payment of wages.  Of the cases mentioned above, all of the labor actions were the result of non-payment with the exception of the truck-drivers protest in Moscow.  In the first eight months of 2016, 53 percent of labor protests were due to wage arrears—the highest figure in eight years.  Since 2013, the average period of wage arrears has been three and a half months.  The situation has become so serious that the Russian government has adopted changes to the Labor Code that extend the statute of limitations on claims for wage arrears from three months to a year, allowing workers to file cases not only in the district where they work but also in their place of permanent residence, doubling compensation rates that workers can demand for non-payment of wages and increase fines on employers.[37]

Objectionable decisions by owners and management is by far the second largest declared reason for labor protests, at 34 percent.  This category includes a number of different issues that vary from case to case, but they usually involve “changes in the social-labor sphere of the enterprise” that worsen the workers’ position, which might include everything from a reorganization of the enterprise to outsourcing of jobs to bankruptcy. Protests arise in most of these cases because “these actions are taken without the agreement of the workers, but are presented as a fait accompli” by the management.[38]  The fact that management acts in this way is not surprising, considering that the “politics of production” is constructed in such a way that the “social partnership” model is heavily skewed toward the interests of capital.  Olimpieva puts it succinctly:  “That is why, according to the expression of one trade union committee chairman, today it is not possible to speak about a social partnership in Russian enterprises, but about a ‘social coexistence if the employer wants it.’”[39]

Given all of this, it should come as no surprise that only nine percent of labor protests since 2010 have been carried out according to the stipulations of the Labor Code.  The rest have been technically illegal.  At the same time, these protests have not been political in any direct way, except insofar as they reflect on the system’s inadequacies in terms of representing workers’ interests.  Indeed, it is not uncommon for the workers involved to appeal to the Russian state or to Vladimir Putin personally to intervene on their behalf.  For example, a group of workers in the Amur region wrote Putin a “letter” on the roofs of their dormitories with the phrases “Save the Workers” and “four months without pay.  We want to work.”[40]  In this case, the protest worked:  A spokesperson for the workers talked to Putin on one of his famous scripted call-in shows, and the workers were paid.[41]  This singular event has to be seen in the context in which, in spite of the publicity, an increasing percentage of Russia’s population view strikes as either ineffective or unacceptable.[42]  It will be interesting to watch these numbers, particularly if Russia’s economic problems come to negatively affect a broader portion of the population.


Laboring Under No Illusions

Russia’s workers have used myriad strategies in an attempt to defend their interests, but as the evidence above suggests they face significant obstacles organizationally, legally, and politically.  For a large majority of Russia’s workers, trade unions have proven to be an ineffective mechanism for the advancement of their interests due to the “official unionism” of the FNPR and the massive roadblocks faced by independent unions and activists.  That is why this article has avoided the terms “trade-union movement” and “labor movement” in the context of contemporary Russia—not to take anything away from those who continue to work diligently to build such movements.

The independent unions in Russia have been at the forefront of many of the labor protests that have taken place over the last several years, and they have proven to be effective and courageous advocates for workers’ rights, winning battles over wages and working conditions on the picket line and in the courts.  Still, the majority of the labor protests that have taken place since 2000 have been local wildcat strikes:  sometimes organized by local trade union committees, sometimes by ad-hoc committees of workers who organize in response to the increasing deterioration of wages and working conditions.  It is unclear whether this recent wave of labor protests will continue, or whether some new forms of labor organization will emerge from it.  The Russian state is not generally sympathetic to social activism.  That said, it seems that for the time being the patience of Russia’s workers is wearing thin.


[1] Adapted from Andrei Illarionov, “Industrial Catastrophe in Post-Soviet Russia,” Cato at Liberty, May 1, 2013, 12:02pm, accessed 20 September 2016 (http://www.cato.org/blog/industrial-catastrophe-post-soviet-russia)

[2] Andrei Illarionov, “Industrial Catastrophe in Post-Soviet Russia,” Cato at Liberty, May 1, 2013, 12:02pm, accessed 20 September 2016 (http://www.cato.org/blog/industrial-catastrophe-post-soviet-russia).  See also “Russia in Figures 2016,” Federal’naya sluzhba gosudarstvennoi statistiki, available at: www.gks.ru.

[3] World Trade Organization, Trade Profiles 2015, p. 151.

[4] Simon Clarke, The Formation of a Labour Market in Russia, (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 1999), Table 6.3, p. 296; the 18.7% number comes from combining the figures for the manufacturing sector, the mining and quarrying sector, and the electricity, gas, and water supply sector.  See Russia in Figures 2016, section 6.4.

[5]Robert E. Scott, The Manufacturing Footprint and the Importance of U.S. Manufacturing Jobs, Economic Policy Institute Briefing Paper #388, January 22, 2015 (http://www.epi.org/publication/the-manufacturing-footprint-and-the-importance-of-u-s-manufacturing-jobs/); Bureau of Labor Statistics, Charting the labor market: Data from Current Population Survey (CPS), October 7, 2016 (http://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cps_charts.pdf).

[6] Russia in Figures 2016, section 6.4.

[7]The numbers are from:  http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD?locations=RU

[8]IMF Staff Country Report No. 00/150, November 2000, Russian Federation: Selected Issues, p. 32; see also the section entitled “Dokhodyi i raskhodyi naseleniia,” in Rossiia v tsifrakh, 2003 through 2015.

[9]See Trading Economics at:  http://www.tradingeconomics.com/russia/unemployment-rate.

[10]“Rabochaia sila, zaniatost’ i bezrabotitsa v Rossii,” Federal’naya sluzhba gosudarstvennoi statistiki, available at: http://www.gks.ru/free_doc/doc_2016/rab_sila16.pdf

[11]Timothy Heleniak, “Population Trends,” in Stephen K. Wegren, Return to Putin’s Russia, Fifth edition, (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013), pp. 154-155.

[12] There are a number of interesting and competing accounts of this process.  See, for example, Chrystia Freeland, The Sale of the Century: The Inside Story of the Second Russian Revolution, (UK: Abacus, 2005); Anders Aslund, How Capitalism Was Built, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Peter Reddaway and Dmitri Glinsky, The Tragedy of Russia’s Reforms, (Washington D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2001).

[13] Russia in Figures, section 6.3.  For more detail on individual and small business, see Molly O’Neal, Democracy, Civic Culture and Small Business in Russia’s Regions, (London: Routledge, 2016)

[14]For example, day-care services were provided by the workplace; vacations were organized through the workplace; goods that were in short supply were provided by the workplace; and sometimes even the main meal of the day was eaten at work.

[15] O’Neal, Democracy, Civic Culture, and Small Business in Russia’s Regions, p. 80.

[16] O’Neal, p. 91.

[17] The best accounts of how these processes played out are Simon Clarke, The Formation of a Labour Market in Russia, and Claudio Morrison, A Russian Factory Enters the Market Economy, (Abington: Routledge, 2008).

[18] There is a large literature on this subject.  See Sarah Ashwin and Simon Clarke, Russian trade unions in transition, (New York: Palgrave, 2003); Paul T. Christensen, Russia’s Workers in Transition, (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1999); Linda Cook, Labor and liberalization:  Trade Unions in the New Russia, (New York: The Twentieth Century Fund Press, 1997).

[19] Irina Olimpieva, “Labor Unions in Contemporary Russia: An Assessment of Contrasting Forms of Organization and Representation,” Working USA, Volume 15, June 2012, p. 268.  I would disagree with Olimpieva that the VTsSPS had extensive political power, particularly when compared to the industrial ministries and enterprise directors as a “corporate” interest.

[20] For a detailed discussion, see Simon Clarke, Peter Fairbrother, Michael Burawoy & Pavel Krotov, What About the Workers, (London: Verso, 1993), pp. 181-185; Christensen, Russia’s Workers in Transition, pp. 109-114.

[21]The organization soon split into two associations—the Russian Confederation of Labor and the All-Russian Confederation of Labor—which reunited organizationally in 2011.  See the sections of the Russian Confederation of Labor’s website (www.ktr.su) “Kratkaya istoriya” and “Organizatsiya” for the evolution of the organization and its current organizational structure.

[22] Olimpieva, “Labor Unions in Contemporary Russia,” p. 271

[23] The full list is available on the official Russian government website: http://government.ru/info/22197/

[24] Personal communication with Petr Biziukov of the Center for Social and Labor Rights, Moscow, 9/21/2016.

[25] See Olimpieva, p. 270 for data up to 2010; for 2015, see the report of the FNPR’s Ninth Congress at: http://www.fnpr.ru/n/2/15/305/10431.html.

[26] Personal communication with Petr Biziukov of the Center for Social and Labor Rights, Moscow, 9/21/2016.

[27]The labor code can be found at: http://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/WEBTEXT/60535/65252/E01RUS01.htm  For analyses of its contents, see Petr Biziukov, “Trudovyie konfliktyi v postsovetskoi Rossii,” Kak zashchishchaiut trudovyie prava v Rossii (Moscow, 2011); Olimpieva, “Labor Unions in Contemporary Russia, pp. 274-275.

[28] Social and Economic Indicators of the Russian Federation: 1991-2014, Federal State Statistical Service of the Russian Federation, available in English at: http://www.gks.ru/free_doc/doc_2015/year/pril-eng15.htm.  There was a sharp increase in reported strike activity in 2004 and 2005, mainly due to a spike in wage-arrears and the partial political opening connected with the Presidential election campaign of 2004.  Once Putin was reelected and his power increasingly consolidated, the suppression of social mobilization resumed its previous course.

[29] Sarah Ashwin and Simon Clarke, Russian Trade Unions and Industrial Relations in Transition, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), pp. 128-9; Irina Kozina, Postsovetskie profsoiuzi, Otechestvennie zapiski, Number 4, 2007.

[30] See OECD.Stat at: https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=UN_DEN.

[31] Obshchestvennoe Mnenie—2015, (Moscow: Levada-Tsentr, 2016), p. 113.

[32]Petr Biziukov, “Trudovyie protestyi v Rossii v pervoi polovine 2016 goda,” and “Trudovyie protestye v uiule i avguste 2016 goda,” Tsentr sotsial’no-trudovikh prav, http://trudprava.ru/expert/analytics/protestanalyt/1712; http://trudprava.ru/news/protestnews/1731.  In looking at these numbers, one must take into account that protest activity in Russia tends to increase from September to December.

[33]Biziukov, “Trudovyie protestye v uiule i avguste 2016 goda.”

[34]See, respectively, Novosti NEWS.ru, “V Tol’iatti rabotniki ‘AvtoVAZagregata’ perekryili federal’nuiu trassu, trebuia vyiplatit’ dolgi zarplate,” August 29, 2016 (http://txt.newsru.com/russia/29aug2016/tlt.html; RFE/RL, “Disgruntled Truckers Bring Moscow Ring Road to a Standstill,” December 4, 2015 (http://www.rferl.org/a/russia-truckers-protest-moscow-standstill/27407250.html); Gazeta.ru, “Rabochie metallurgicheskovo zavoda na Urale ob”iavili golodovku,” 19.07.2016, (https://www.gazeta.ru/business/news/2016/07/19/n_8897777.shtml; and URA.ru, “Na Urale vstal zavod deputata-millionera.  Rabotniki sidiat bez zarplatyi,” 09 avgusta 2016 (http://ura.ru/news/1052257902)

[35]Biziukov, “Trudovyie protestyi v Rossii v pervoi polovine 2016 goda.”

[36]Strikes in the education and healthcare sectors are illegal, and most workers in those sectors do not consider walking out of their jobs acceptable in any case.  Protests in these sectors generally are limited to meetings.

[37]Tsentr sotsial’no-trudovikh prav, “V TK RF vnesenyi izmeneniia, napravlennyie na zashchitu ot zaderzhek zarplatyi,” July 8, 2016 (http://trudprava.ru/expert/article/employart/1696).

[38]Bikiuzov, “Trudovyie protestyi v Rossii v pervoi polovine 2016 goda.”

[39]Olimpieva, p. 277.

[40]Tom Parfitt, “Unpaid spaceport workers appeal to Vladimir Putin with giant graffiti, The Telegraph, 15 April 2015, (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/11540257/Unpaid-spaceport-workers-appeal-to-Vladimir-Putin-with-giant-graffiti.html)

[41]Andrew E. Kramer, “Unpaid Russian Workers Unite in Protest Against Putin,” The New York Times, online version, April 21, 2015 (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/22/world/europe/russian-workers-take-aim-at-putin-as-economy-exacts-its-toll.html).

[42]Obshchestvennoe Mnenie—2015, (Moscow: Levada-Tsentr, 2016), Table 11.26, p. 150.


Pull Quotes

[From 1992 to 20015], tens of millions of Russia’s workers not only had to change jobs, many had to reinvent their lives entirely.  (2)


Many Russian cities were classic “company towns”—Tol’iatti was Russia’s Detroit; Magnitogorsk its Bethlehem. (2)



…[B]y the end of the Soviet period, Russia had two separate and competing trade-union structures. (3)



The trade-union movement is hampered even more by the Russian Labor Code that severely restricted the rights of trade unions…(4)


Labor protests are equally widespread by economic sector, and the number of sectors experiencing these conflicts is increasing. (6)


Since 2011, the overwhelming reason that workers strike or protest is non-payment of wages.(6)


[I]t is not possible to speak about a social partnership in Russian enterprises, but about a ‘social coexistence if the employer wants it.’  (7)


Author Biography


Paul T. Christensen is Associate Professor of the Practice in the Political Science Department at Boston College. He is the author most recently of “Russia as Semiperiphery: Political Economy, the State, and Society in the Contemporary World System,” in the book The Political Economy of Russia, Neil Robinson, ed., (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013).