by Philippe Alcoy
Note of the LeftEast editors: this text was published in French on the 15th of December at Revolution Permanente 2015 and reposted in English by Left Voice two days later. LeftEast reprints the English translation with the permission of the author.
The Russian government seeks to impose a new tax, called “Platon,” that charges truckers for each kilometer they drive. In a sector where 80% are private trucks or tiny owners that hold two trucks at most, this new tax is perceived as a threat to living standards or even to their only means of survival. Truckers have been struggling since mid-November to halt the Platon.
We interviewed Kirill Medvedev, anticapitalist activist of the Russian Socialist Movement (RSD) and member of the Arkadiy Kots music band on the situation of the struggle.
The interview was conducted by Philippe Alcoy and originally published in Revolution Permanente. We have edited the text for style and grammar.
Who are the truckers?
They have rather different positions and standards of life. But one important thing is that most of them cannot imagine themselves without this work, in some cases just because there is no other job for them in the region, as drivers from Dagestan have discussed. But they love this work – which is, of course hard, but is still associated with freedom – so they consider themselves a privileged part of the working class with its own sense of pride. And their position has been relatively stable since late USSR. That’s why they’ve reacted so radically to this new law, which is destructive both to their material conditions and to their self-consciousness and pride.
Do the truck drivers have the support of others workers and the population? A survey shows that they have the support of 71% of the people in Moscow.
I think they have passive support of the majority, as well as support from independent trade unions, which say that drivers have to struggle not only against this new “Platon” system of exactions, but also with “grey” transactions in their sphere, which are of course untransparent and lie outside standard labor regulations.
There is a project to organize a new drivers’ union, so if they will manage to make it really self-organized and independent, without any “helpers” from the Communist Party or Kremlin, then it will probably be a small victory. I think one of the tasks of the radical left is to help them in this process.
One of the most positive things about this movement is that drivers from Dagestan have been very active, together with people from different parts of Russia. It’s an important example of international struggle because ethnic and religious divisions are strong in Russia in general and many politicians (including the opposition) trying to play them up.
Some left and opposition groups support the drivers by bringing them fuel, food, medicine, etc. Our RSD group is also going to their camps; there was a concert of our band, Arkadiy Kots at one of the camps, and we also distribute our leaflets in Moscow, calling on the public to support the drivers.
What about police repression? We have read that the drivers are under heavy surveillance and repression.
Many trucks going to Moscow, where a demonstration was organized, were stopped and blocked under different pretexts. Their camps near Moscow are under permanent surveillance. There were a few arrests (but just for few hours) and there is no information on TV. Government officials say they can make some small concessions, but they can’t cancel the whole Platon system.
How do they organize the struggle?
First of all, they coordinate using their radio system (where to go and all that), but in political terms they now elect some camp leaders (I mean their camps near Moscow), regional leaders, and speakers.
They always keep secret what they are going to do next, so there is always some hope, but sometimes you feel it’s just a bluff—that the government is only biding its time, hoping the drivers will grow tired and eventually go home. This may happen if we don’t see any radical changes this week.
There is one driver’s union that has existed for many years. Its leader is active in the campaign and trying to be its speaker, but this union is not radical enough. Structurally, it’s part of the system. The idea to organize a new and more radical union is quite popular among protesters now.