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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Just a Matter Of Time Till Strikes Grip

The call by the Federation of Independent Labor Unions for a nationwide strike to recover back wages has as yet had little discernible effect. Although Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin responded with a plea for restraint and vague promises of payment, there was not much in the way of cold hard cash.

It is difficult not to sympathize with those who have not been paid in several months. In most other countries of the developed world, prolonged delays in paychecks would lead to strikes, riots, or worse. But in Russia, the threat of strikes is issued fairly regularly, and is seldom backed up by action.

During the presidential election campaign Russia's voters were inundated with pledges that the debt to the nation's workers would be paid off. But as soon as the votes were counted, the promises evaporated.

Meanwhile, the social crisis is deepening. Even the International Monetary Fund has warned that serious social unrest could result unless wages and pensions are paid. Top military officers warn that the army could get out of control unless some money and attention are directed its way.

There are indeed signs that Russia's workers may be running out of patience. Since June the number of protests and work stoppages has increased, and one government source said Thursday that 3,700 enterprises and schools had been hit by strikes so far this year, up dramatically from 1995.

Still the government does little except try to shift the blame to nameless tax-evaders, while awarding billion-dollar tax credits to well-connected companies.

It is possible that Tuesday's threatened strike will yet again fizzle, rather than thunder, for lack of support. The workforce is not yet organized enough, or convinced enough of its own power, to mount a successful campaign.

They are also almost too ready to accept excuses and make sacrifices. Russians are famous for their stoicism, and a heartfelt appeal from the head of government could stave off an explosion.

But the government has coasted for far too long on the passivity of its citizens. Sooner or later, even the notoriously tolerant citizens of Russia will come to the end of their rope.

Tension is building perceptibly, both within the government and within society. With the president ill and the political future in doubt, the time is ripe for civil unrest. Factions within the power structures are angling for control, and may seek to exploit popular discontent for their own ends. The non-payments crisis must be dealt with, and soon. Otherwise, the prophecies of doom issuing from everyone from the communists to the head of IMF could all too easily be fulfilled.