From Socialist Voice, July 2007

Russian union leader seriously injured by employers’ thugs

On Thursday 7 June, Mikhail Chesalin, chairman of the local branch of the Dockers’ Union of Russia in Kaliningrad, was savagely stabbed and beaten outside the union office.
     An unknown number of assailants attacked him when he got out of his car at 10:30 a.m., stabbing him numerous times in the spine and beating him severely about the head. He was left lying face down, unconscious, in a pool of blood.
     Chesalin’s colleagues believe the attack was orchestrated by Vladimir Kalinichenko, general director of the Commercial Seaport, where the dockworkers’ union is at present running an organising campaign. The union has been in a bitter fight with him for ten years, after Kalinichenko made it his personal goal to destroy the union, following its strike in 1997.
     Their battle and the workers’ determination have become a symbol of Russia’s young, struggling independent trade union movement. Since April the union has been conducting an unprecedented organising drive among the workers in Kaliningrad port to change a miserly and arbitrary wage system and win respect and a voice on the job.
     Kalinichenko has tried to break up every union event by sending his personal “security” forces, together with local thugs, to spy on and intimidate workers.
     Mikhail Chesalin is known throughout the region, the country and the world as one of Russia’s foremost defenders of workers’ rights. The dockworkers’ case has received the attention of the International Labour Organisation, the European Court of Human Rights and, most of all, the residents of Kaliningrad, who voted for Chesalin when he ran directly against Kalinichenko in 2006. With thirteen times less money, Chesalin received four times the votes of Kalinichenko to be elected as a deputy to the regional parliament. In that sense this attack is not only on free trade unionism but on an independent governmental representative.
     For twelve years the Dockers’ Union of Russia, with a vigorous and committed membership and under Chesalin’s dedicated and principled leadership, has stood for fairness and dignity for Commercial Seaport workers. For this, union members have lost their jobs, their livelihoods, and their families, but they are free men. For the first time in this battle the port has crossed the line to violence and attempted to silence a great leader of workers.
     We, Chesalin’s union members and colleagues, call on our brothers and sisters around the world to raise their voices, and their considerable strength and solidarity, to communicate to Russian employers and the Russian government that an injury to one is an injury to all, that this threat to justice here is a threat to justice everywh ere, and that workers around the world will not stand by as their brothers and sisters are denied basic rights.

■ For more information, and to sign the international petition in support of Mikhail Chesalin, visit http://www.labourstart.org.

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