The International Handbook of Labour Unions
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The International Handbook of Labour Unions

Responses to Neo-Liberalism

Edited by Gregor Gall, Adrian Wilkinson and Richard Hurd

Since the 1970s, the spread of neo-liberalism across the world has radically reconfigured the relationship between unions, employers and the state. The contributors highlight that this is the major cause and effect of union decline and if there is to be any union revitalisation and return to former levels of influence, then unions need to respond in appropriate political and practical ways. Written in a clear and accessible style, the Handbook examines unions’ efforts to date in many of the major economies of the world, providing foundations for understanding each country.
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Chapter 11: Russian Unions After Communism: A Study in Subordination

Sarah Ashwin


Sarah Ashwin INTRODUCTION Russia’s neo-liberal reform programme combined the ‘textbook economics’ of ‘market fundamentalists’ (Stiglitz 2002: 138) with a long governmental tradition of ‘callous economic radicalism’ (Rosefielde 2001: 1159) – an unholy alliance often referred to as ‘market Bolshevism’. Utopian experiments are facilitated by the absence of effective constraint on government action and Russian society in the 1990s was unable to offer such restraint. Along with the rest of Russian civil society, Russian unions were weak and ill-prepared for the whirlwind of transformation. On the eve of reform, Russia’s unions were divided into two camps: the anti-communist independent unions, and the former communist unions which had organised 99 per cent of Soviet employees (including managers). The former broadly supported economic reform, while the latter, though they were far more critical, had little credibility. At the time, it seemed that the independent workers’ movement might represent the future of Russian unionism, with the former communist unions decaying along with the system of which they were an integral part. But the strike wave of 1991, which looked like a promising beginning, instead turned out to be the high point in the influence of the independent workers’ movement. Independent unions proved unable to expand beyond their small base in mining and transport, and remain tiny in comparison with the former communist unions. Although independent trade unions also exist in health, education and municipal transport, their main significance is to act as a spur to the former communist unions to improve their representation of members....

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