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Mine Goes Back to Work; Threats to Gorbachev Increase

April 17, 1991

MOSCOW (AP) _ The nation’s largest coal mine resumed operations Wednesday free from Kremlin control after the republic of Russia took charge from the national government, the miners’ union said.

It was unclear whether the national Coal Ministry had relinquished the Raspadskaya mine in western Serbia or whether Russia had appropriated it. The ministry said it had no comment.

The return by workers at the mine was a small crack in a crippling nationwide mine strike, but also a victory in the fight by republics to gain control of Soviet industry and natural wealth.

Workers in other industries threatened to join the miners who continued the 7-week-old strike, and a veteran dissident who returned to Moscow this week after more than 15 years in exile urged the strikers on.

Vladimir Bukovsky said mass protests and a general walkout were ″the only solution″ to force Kremlin reforms and to oust President Mikhail Gorbachev, who was in Tokyo seeking Japanese investment for the crumbling Soviet economy.

Some hard-liners also have demanded Gorbachev’s resignation, saying he has not acted firmly enough to end ethnic and labor strife.

Next week, the party Central Committee is scheduled to meet in Moscow to review the work of its leaders, including Gorbachev.

The mine strikes have battered the Soviet economy and posed a strong challenge to Gorbachev’s authority as party chief and government president. The miners started the strike on March 1 demanding pay raises, but Gorbachev’s resignation has become their main goal.

Miners at the Raspadskaya mine returned to work after Russia agreed to workers’ demands to take control of the operation from Moscow, said mine officials and strikers.

″The country’s largest coal mine is now flying the (Russian) flag instead of the Soviet one,″ said the independent Postfactum news agency.

Tass quoted the Raspadskaya mine director, Alexander Yevtushenko, as saying coal shipments from the mine would resume Thursday. It said the mine is capable of producing 20,000 tons a coal a day. The republic presumably will make all decisions about production and sales.

No figures were immediately available on how many miners work at Raspadskaya or how they arrived at the decision to return to work.

″On one hand, it’s wonderful that they have resumed work,″ said Vyacheslav Sharipov of Siberia’s Kuznetsk coal basin strike committee. ″On the other hand, it’s damaging to the workers’ movement.″

″At the very start, we agreed that the decision to end the strike should be reached together,″ he said.

All 15 Soviet republics have declared independence from the Kremlin or seek greater automony.

Their main goal is control over natural resources and state-owned industries in the republics. Russia, with 90 percent of Soviet energy supplies and the bulk of other resources including diamonds, has led this fight.

Regional officials say they should be given control because decades of mismanagement by Moscow have stifled the nation’s economic growth.

The national government currently runs all major industries and mines. It has offered some industries greater self-control and given more power to local officials. But it has stopped short of handing over ultimate authority, and its proposed Union Treaty to hold the country together does not make more concessions.

Last month, miners in Kazakhstan agreed to suspend their strike until July 1 partly in return for transfer of mines from Kremlin to republic control. The issue is being negotiated now.

The Independent Union of Miners has estimated 300,000 of the 1.2 million miners are taking part in the walkout. The central government puts the figure at less than 100,000. Counting has been complicated by conflicting reports and sporadic walkouts.

Other workers across the nation also have struck.

Workers in the Byelorussian capital of Minsk held a 200,000-strong warning strike last week and threatened another one next Tuesday unless the republic’s lawmakers consider their demands for higher pay and greater republic self- rule, a strike official said Wednesday.

The newly formed Federation of Russian Independent Trade Unions on Wednesday called for a strike on April 26 to press demands, including higher pay and repeal of an unpopular 5 percent sales tax.

The prominent dissident Bukovsky told an audience Wednesday that Soviet people can help striking workers with ″non-violent protests, like demonstrations.″

″It’s not a matter of choice between feeding and not feeding yourselves,″ he said. ″It’s a choice between risking a five- or seven-day strike now, and a slow tortuous death″ under a dictatorship.

Bukovsky spent more than 10 years in Soviet prisons before being exiled in December 1976 and stripped of his citizenship. He said he decided to come back now to help the fledgling democratic and workers’ movements.

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