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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

American unions come to the worker's paradise

"Workers of the world, unite" is taking on a whole new meaning in Moscow with the arrival of America's main labor movement. The AFL-CIO has come to town to assist a Russian proletariat that survived seven decades of rule in the name of the working people.


"The communists had 70 years to represent workers, and they didn't do it", said Tom Bradley, director of the AFL-CIO.


Bradley says his labor federation, which set up shop here recently, will "try to foster an independent free trade union movement" in Moscow, and across the former Soviet Union.


"Workers need to feel that they have some organization speaking on their behalf", Bradley said. "If we don't help provide that voice, they may return to dangerous extremes on the political right and left to satisfy their yearnings for a voice in society".


The AFL-CIO has 13. 5 million members in the United States and offices in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. The Moscow office, staffed by Bradley and three part-timers, is funded by a $1 million grant for the next two years from the National Endowment for Democracy.


"The U. S. government realizes that what we're doing helps prevent the danger of extremism", Bradley said.


Matthew Boyse, labor officer for the U. S. Embassy in Moscow, added, "We have very similar interests and agendas - to advance the cause of worker's rights".


Unlike some Western European trade unions, the AFL-CIO does not support or recognize Russia's official trade unions, like those that organized the recent teacher's and doctor's strikes.


"These unions were run by communist powers dictating party ideology that tried to manipulate workers for production", Bradley said. "They are creatures of the old system".


"Leopards don't change their spots", he added. "The unions are now trying to survive the changes with their privileges intact".


The former system here, under which each Soviet industry was represented by an official union, started to change in 1989, when Russian coalminers participated in their historic first walkout.


Leaders of the strike committees broke away from the official union leadership and eventually formed their own grouping, the Independent Union of Coalminers.


According to Bradley, these post-1989 unions can be considered truly democratic because their leadership-came from "the bottom" instead of from senior echelons of the Communist Party.


The AFL-CIO leader criticized the administration of President Boris Yeltsin for advocating pluralism among unions while maintaining special privileges for the official unions.


For example, the official unions have control of social security funds used for sick leave and vacations, as well as ownership of resorts for workers, or, Bradley says, "at least union leaders".


"These are powerful, coercive powers over workers", Bradley said.