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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Class Struggle' of Miners Lacks Clout

KIEV -- Eastern Europe's coal miners have been striking to press claims for pay and more subsidies to their dilapidated industry, but the former shock troops of communist labor have lost most of their clout and prestige.

About 500,000 miners, their demands limited to securing back pay and state help, were either striking or refusing to load coal Wednesday in Ukraine's Donbass coal field. But numbers were down since the stoppage began a week ago.

In Russia, where Boris Yeltsin is pondering a second run at the presidency, miners ended a two-day strike last week after the government promised them a cash injection of $2.2 billion.

Eight collieries remained on strike in southern Poland to win pay and pension benefits, but their company said it could go bankrupt if it met the demands.

Romanian miners picketed gold, uranium, zinc and lead mines for a day on Tuesday and have threatened to stage an indefinite walkout next week.

Ukraine's miners, their monthly wage of up to $75 unpaid for months, appear increasingly desperate in pursuing the strike in mines dating largely from the last century. Official statistics say 1 million tons of coal costs 4.72 human lives.

"We have to stand firm and win, there is no other way," top unionist Viktor Lysenko said in the mining center of Donetsk.

The government has come up with $31 million -- a quarter of the pay claimed by miners, many of whom live in squalor. But spokesmen pledge to provide no more and say power stations and coking plants must pay their huge unpaid bills to the industry.

The settlement for the Russian miners followed a compromise with the government, under pressure from hard-pressed social groups in the run-up to the June 16 presidential election.

"We will be monitoring to make sure the government sticks to it," a spokeswoman for the Rosugleprof trade union said. "If not, a full-scale strike will resume on March 1."

The strikes are a far cry from the 1989 and 1991 walkouts, which brought Soviet industry to a halt and catapulted Yeltsin to center stage as a defender of workers' rights.

A 1993 stoppage in Ukraine forced President Leonid Kravchuk to call an early election, which he lost.

Miners once earned wages above industrial averages and were regarded as a driving force in the communist "class struggle" putting workers and peasants in the forefront of ideology.

Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu even gave himself the honorary -- but widely ridiculed -- title of "first miner of the country."

Miners defied Ceausescu in 1977, blocking pits for days, only to be arrested by the Securitate secret police. Two years after Ceausescu's 1989 execution, Jiu Valley miners rioted in Bucharest, forcing Prime Minister Petre Roman from office.

Romania's current left-wing government blatantly uses some of the miners to shore up its support and has avoided talk of restructuring with elections looming later this year.

Despite remaining dependence on coal as the region's main energy source, most post-communist governments are preoccupied with inflation and budget targets set by Western financial institutions. That means restructuring the industry and closing inefficient mines.

Ukraine's government is discussing the closure of dozens of pits. Management at Poland's 50 collieries has cut wages and given early retirement to thousands of miners.

grouped profitable and loss-making mines into holdings to shift the economic burden.

Miners in the Czech Republic have also been marginalized by government moves to reduce their numbers and close pits.

But management at the country's largest company in northern Moravia agreed to increase wages by 5.5 percent above price rises and talk of a strike has receded. Conditions are said to be better than among Russian, Ukrainian and Romanian miners.