Anti-Extremism Cops ‘Crack Down’ on Labor Union in Kaluga

Officers from a department charged with combating extremism visited the office of an independent labor union in Kaluga, attempting to detain an activist without a court order, the union said on Thursday.

The officers, one of whom identified himself as Alexei Sveridov, said they came to “get to know” the activists of the Interregional Labor Union of Car Industry Workers, the union said on its website.

But they then attempted to drag away Andrei Bitkov, a leftist activist supporting the union, the report said. The workers did not let police take away Bitkov, who was earlier called up for military service but appealed the draft summons, citing health issues.

However, a spokeswoman for regional police said the anti-extremism officers only came to give the labor activists a brief lecture on legislation on public rallies, given the increasing rally activity in the country.
As for Bitkov, he was contacted by district police, who unsuccessfully tried to hand him a draft summons, the spokeswoman said. She denied any physical conflict took place. The reports could not be immediately reconciled.

The labor movement in Russia is near-defunct, but the Interregional Labor Union of Car Industry Workers, which comprises about 1,400 members in Kaluga region, a thriving industrial hub southwest of Moscow, is a rare exception.

The group has staged a successful strike on a Benteler plant in March, demanding an increase in wages. After three days, the employer agreed to open negotiations, which are still ongoing.

“The anti-extremism department was constantly pressuring our activists during the strike,” union coordinator Dmitry Kozhnev told RIA Novosti.

“They were spying on us and trying to prevent us from reaching the site of the strike,” Kozhnev said.

“The authorities are irked by the very existence of the labor union, which is independent both from them and from the employers,” Kozhnev said.


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