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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Workers Slam Lawless Governors




About 100 factory workers from various Russian regions demonstrated in front of the Federation Council on Thursday to protest what they called "lawlessness on the part of regional authorities."


Members of the Russian Communist Workers' Party joined laborers from the Leningrad, Tula, Kemerovo and Moscow regions on the steps of the upper chamber of parliament. Braving freezing temperatures, the demonstrators brandished signs with slogans like "A Factory is not a toy for the authorities," and "Out-of-control governors should resign."


The Federation Council, which convened Thursday, is comprised of leaders from Russia's 89 regions and republics. Several demonstrators said regional leaders have profited from privatizing enterprises in their regions, while workers have been deprived of their livelihoods.


"Criminal capital is taking over everything, and the politicians, especially the governors, are connected to this," said a man who gave his name only as Anatoly. Sporting a long wool coat and leather cap, Anatoly, 28, held a poster that read: "We demand that the scoundrels resign."


"Governors are repressing workers across Russia," said Anatoly, who recently left a low-paying factory job to become a security guard.


"We're not against the governors, we're against lawlessness and physical violence, and the governors are largely responsible for this," 62-year-old Oleg Melnikov said.


Among the demonstrators was a group of workers from the Vyborg Pulp and Paper Mill, which was stormed by riot police last month. In September 1997, foreign investors bought the bankrupt plant, which is located in the town of Sovietsky near Russia's border with Finland.


Saying they were owed $8 million in back wages, and fearing massive layoffs, the plant's 2,100 workers occupied the premises for 18 months, refusing to allow the new owners in. They posted their own armed guards, blocked the Helsinki-St. Petersburg highway and tried to run the plant on their own, calling it a "peoples' enterprise."


Last month, in a raid that gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "hostile corporate takeover," a crack police unit stormed the factory. After a 12-hour standoff the workers were evicted from the building.


Vitaly Kirakov, one of the demonstrators at the Federation Council on Thursday, was among the workers evicted from the factory. He blames the situation on the Leningrad regional governor Valery Serdyukov.


"Serdyukov is guilty for what happened at our factory," Kirakov said. "It is the governor's responsibility to protect citizens and see that the law is observed in their regions."


"Capital and profit have become more important than conscience and morality, and this is mindless," said Anatoly Lashin, 57, a retired engineer who said he came to the demonstration out of "sympathy for the workers."


"Everything in our country is now decided by money, even the war in Chechnya. I truly feel sorry for the Chechen people who are victims of this," Lashin said. "I have three sons and I am worried about what kind of country they will live in."