Miners Strike Nationwide to Protest Overdue Wages
MOSCOW (AP) _ Half a million coal miners staged a one-day strike Wednesday and threatened a protracted walkout if their demands for overdue wages and government subsidies were not met.
From Sakhalin Island in the Pacific Ocean to the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, 189 of Russia’s 228 mines either closed down altogether or stopped supplying coal to clients. The others stayed open only to produce fuel for their communities.
Vitaly Budko, leader of the Russian Independent Union of Coal Miners, said the fireworks would begin next month if the government failed to respond.
``We will go on a protracted strike March 1 and demand early presidential elections and a resignation of this government,″ he said.
Alexander Livshitz, President Boris Yeltsin’s chief economic adviser, said Wednesday the government will pay its debt in full. ``The miners’ fair demands will be met,″ he told the Interfax news agency.
The government owes the industry about $325.4 million, and another $532.3 million is owed by companies, most of them government-owned power plants.
Union leaders and government officials last week worked out a deal where Russia would pay the miners $615.3 million before the end of March, Budko said.
He said First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais ``flatly refused″ to pay the full amount now because the government had no money. ``That was either total failure to understand the problem, or a deliberate provocation,″ Budko said.
``They wanted to get it all at once,″ said Arkady Yevstafiev, an aide to Chubais. ``But that would mean taking the money from teachers, or doctors, or pensioners.″
Coal accounts for more than 80 percent of Russia’s heating fuel and over half of the fuel used by its thermoelectric plants.
The World Bank has offered a $600 million loan if Russia agrees to close 80 unprofitable mines in five years, but miners say that is too fast.
There have been no nationwide strikes in Russia since 1989-90, when coal miners’ strikes nearly brought Soviet industries in Russia to a halt.