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Since 2008 TIE is implementing a training project and organisingproject in Russia in cooperation with the independent trade union MPRA(Interregional Trade Union of Automotive workers) and her partner organisation TIE-Moscow. MPRA organises mostly workers in the Russian plants of foreign automotive multinationals such as Ford, VW, GM and their suppliers. MPRA is a democratic trade union in which the members have the power and defend their interests themselves. This is in contrast to the traditional Soviet trade unions. Therefore MPRA is encountering a lot of resistance from the affected employers and the Russian authorities. Trade union activists are intimidated and union leaders dismissed. Since the presidential elections at the beginning of 2012 the intimidation of all independent democratic organizations in Russia has further increased.

End of 2010 started the project ' Organising in Russia”, with financial and substantive support by FNV Bondgenoten. With the support from the project MPRA took on a group of young organizers, who full time committed themselves to organise workers in various automotive companies. Former FNV-officer Mieke Verhagen gave the new organizers for this purpose a number of trainings in the organising method taken over from America, as it is applied by FNV Bondgenoten in, inter alia, the Dutch cleaning sector.

Initially the Russian organizers were not very keen to apply the Dutch method and they continued with their own way of working. The difference was especially that in Russia already quite quickly a trade union branch was established at the company, in order to provide the necessary protection to the newly recruited trade unionists. But in practice employers went directly to the attack as soon as they received the membership list of the new trade union branch. Because the Russian activists were not yet sufficiently organized and not prepared for this, many new trade union branches were destroyed again within a short time.

With the support of Mieke Verhagen and later of her co-trainer Nelke Temme the Russian organizers learned that they first needed to hold conversations with the workers, look for informal leaders and build a strong organization. Then the new activists should be trained and prepared for the inevitable conflicts with management, before they would manifest themselves as a trade union openly and seek negotiations and legalization.

From 2012 MPRA now is slowly getting successful with the building of new trade union branches in the regions around St Petersburg and Kaluga, two growth centres for the Russian car industry. MPRA seeks now no longer fast membership growth in a short time, but focuses on strengthening the internal organization of the trade union branches and from there on organisation and mobilisation of the workers around important issues. In this way at the companies Volkswagen and Benteler in Kaluga it succeeded to conclude a collective agreement (at Benteler a strike was first necessary), while also at General Motors in St Petersburg the first results were achieved.

Through the success of the work of the organizers, there are now many new and still relatively inexperienced union activists who need activist training. TIE-Moscow trainer Gezilda Martins Lima has therefore at the end of 2012 given a number of activist trainings in Kaluga and St Petersburg. Activists from the WIS-Metal of FNV Bondgenoten have also  contributed to these training from their own experience with trade union work at their company in the Netherlands. It is the intention to continue in 2013 with activist trainings in cooperation with the WIS-Metal of FNV Bondgenoten.

The organising method involves a change in the trade union model: instead of a model in which workers delegate their problems to an official who negotiates with the employer, organising involves an active attitude of union members at the shop floor. The Russian organisers followed in total six international trainings, in between they performed home tasks in between and received feedback and coaching.

The change in way of working did not come easily. Sometimes it was difficult for the organisers to stick to the step by step approach and not keep everything in their own hands as they did before. Now the organisers work in a systematic way, they have daily conversations with workers, they delegate as many tasks as possible to the informal leaders in the plants. Previously they mostly kept contact with the workers through one person (the chair person), and the did not know very well what was going on in the enterprise. Now they are looking all the time for possible new activists, they give these people tasks and test them to see whether they really have the capacities to become an activist. Even if the chair person does not do her work well, the union building process goes on through the activists in the different departments.

MPRA is still a small trade Union (approx. 3000 members) but she has many active members en for instance for the 1st of May MPRA managed to mobilise considerable numbers of workers in manifestations in five Russian towns. MPRA is now campaigning for a law change so as to enable workers to affiliate directly to the union and no longer solely through the company administration.


- For articles on Russia please click here
- For more information on the project in Russia, mail Jan Cartier:
- For more information on trade union rights in Russia, see: the Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights, Russia:

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