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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Minister Levels 'Treason' Charge

Russia's deputy minister of labor, who submitted his resignation last month, has charged the ministry of committing "political treason" against the country's new independent trade unions.


Pavel Kudyukin's resignation, expected to take effect this week, highlights a growing political battle between the Federation, of Independent Trade Unions, successor to the only legal trade union under the Soviet government, and breakaway, alternative unions that developed after the landmark coalminer's strikes of 1989.


"My disagreement is with the government's attitude to old and new trade unions", said Kudyukin last week. "The government is committing treason against the new unions which supported the government. It marks a serious shift in government policy".


He is the eighth top official in the ministry to resign since the former labor minister, Alexander Shokhin, was replaced by the more conservative Gennady Melikyan last June, which, according to Kudyukin, leaves only two holdovers appointed by Shokhin.


The resignation follows Melikyan's limitation of the role of alternative Unions in a government commission that is to decide, in part, how to administer and control social welfare benefits through a 300-billion ruble ($463-million) fund. It has been run since Stalin's time run by the former union federation, which gained increased membership on the commission at the expense of alternative unions.


Workers contribute 5. 4 percent of their annual salaries to the fund each year. Last year, a Supreme Soviet investigation disclosed that at least 38 percent of the worker's fees collected in 1991 - about 6. 6 billion rubles - were never deposited in the fund and were siphoned off by bureaucrats.


"Everybody has the right to announce his opinion", said Gleb Podvosysky, spokesman for the Ministry of Labor, who refused further comment.


The federation now has 11 out of 14 trade union seats on the commission. The largest alternative unions refused to take up their positions as a form of protest against their alleged low level of representation, Kudyukin said.


According to the government, the federation should have more seats because it has the most members - 60 million. But Kudyukin said most of the federation's members joined because they had to under Communism.


Now, Kudyukin said, the alternative unions have more power than the federation to organize and cause potential instability through strikes. For example, he cited the success of the miner's recent one-day warning strike, when as many as 100, 000 miners across Russia stopped producing or transporting coal.


The resignation highlights a growing conflict between supporters of the federation and the new, alternative unions. A The Moscow Times investigation last year showed that the federation controls a vast network of newspapers, think tanks, resorts, and other property and enterprises across Russia - and the world. Some labor analysts say this empire rivals that of the former KGB and the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union.


Other analysts and union leaders said the federation has the potential to form a political party and may consider doing so. Last year, the federation formed a political alliance with Arkady Volsky's Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, which is part of the Civic Union coalition that often opposes Yeltsin's reforms.