“Shifted their ground” or went underground. What happens at BMZ a year after the strike attempt
In August 2020, many major industrial giants were in a fever. Outraged at first by dishonest elections, then by police violence, the hard workers went out to the streets and to the front gate entrances of their factories. Strike committees and independent trade unions were organized. A similar situation was at the Belarusian Steel Works (BMZ) in Zhlobin.
What happened at BMZ in a year? Naviny.by discussed the issue with the workers of the plant who were fired for political reasons.
Chronicle of a factory riot
August 9-11: many BMZ workers went to the city center to protest against the election results. The hard workers faced police violence – many of them were beaten, detained, and then convicted.
August 14: unrest at the plant, workers call the management of BMZ as well as city and region authorities to the carpet. The authorities reassure workers, promise to “sort the things out”, suggest that they should solve the problems “in a legal way” – i.e., collect 2/3 of the signatures of the payroll employees of the plant for a strike.
“There was no movement forward on the part of the authorities. That is why we went out to hold a meeting again”, – says Pavel Magidov, a former BMZ worker.
On the morning of August 17, the workers gathered at the factory entrance. Then we went to the shops shouting: “Strike” and “Join us!” All three steel furnaces were shut down. The bosses again reassured the workers, promised that no one would be punished.
On the evening of August 17, citizens of Zhlobin went to a mass meeting near the Metal Workers’ Palace of Culture. The local police chief tried to convince people that no one had been beaten. But people came out and showed their bruises.
The police chief promised to release all the detainees. The detainees were released. However, the participants in subsequent rallies were punished and got “days of detention”. Revenge to BMZ workers started. Following the rally at the front gate and stopping the stoves, the Investigative Committee initiated a criminal case for “riots”.
In October, about twenty BMZ employees individually announced their joining the strike. They were all fired. Those who tried to organize an independent trade union at the plant were fired as well.
On February 1, the Zhlobin district court sentenced Igor Povorov to three years in prison for attempting a strike (“organizing mass riots”); Aleksandr Bobrov and Yevgeniy Govor were sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
Dismisals and pressure still continue.
“They raised salaries three times in a year. People were overfed”
Former BMZ employee Aleksandr (the name is changed for security reasons) is one of those who tried to create an independent trade union at the plant.
“Now we have a strike committee at the enterprise, but it became depersonalized. People are afraid of reprisals. Another reason is that people are much sepaarted after August 2020. In Zhlobin, about 30 people were convicted in criminal cases for participating in protests on August 9-11. It scared others. The number of convicts also includes factory workers.
I now keep in touch with the guys at the plant. The situation is such that everyone is wary of each other, they are afraid to talk about politics in general. We understood that now our people do not need anything. During the year, as far as I know, the salaries at the plant were raised three times – albeit by 5%. It is normal for a district town to receive at least 1.5 thousand Belarusian rubles. And more is possible. For any dissatisfaction, the management says: “Your salaries have been raised, what else do you need?”, – said Alexander.
He believes that the workers of the plant now “just do not give a damn about anything, they go to work, keep silent and earn money.”
At the same time, the plant’s Telegram channel is working. “Workers drop photographs of documents and working conditions into the bot-chat. And when we publish a photo with the problems of safety and working conditions at the plant, the management immediately reacts, puts things in order”, – said the former employee of the plant.
He added that after the events of August 2020, a new position appeared at the plant – Deputy Director General for Security, Regime and Personnel.
“He is a former KGB officer. Now he is monitoring the plant. He was appointed as an overseer. The conversation with unreliable workers is short – dismissal, non-renewal of the contract. Moreover, the criminal case in which three workers were convicted was worded in such a way that those three and “unidentified persons” staged the strike. Now they continue work at the plant aimed at identifying those “unidentified persons”. So, everyone is very scared. In August 2021, everyone who showed up was again dragged around by the police and the Investigative Committee where they once again were warned of the strike and its consequences”, – Aleksandr explained.
“Everyone is scared after the repression”
Pavel Magidov was one of the active participants in the rally at BMZ. A criminal case was also opened against him, and he was put on the wanted list. However, he managed to leave for Russia which he is a citizen of. Together with his 14-year-old son Ivan, who suffered badly from the police. That was the issue that angered Paul who “was not interested in politics before”.
“At first I was outraged by the fact that my son was beaten up. Then – after talking with the bosses, who implied that we are nobodies and have no rights. I just got cross. I had to leave after I went to strike on November 5. And the prospect of going to jail is not very good. Officers from the criminal investigation department came to me in Russia, summoned me to the Investigative Committee and the prosecutor’s office. But Russia does not betray its citizens who are persecuted in other countries for political reasons. So, I am at liberty. At first it was difficult for me to start from scratch. But now it is a sin to complain”, – said Pavel.
He says that the protest activity at BMZ died down because people faced reprisals – some workers were jailed, some – fired. Many of the plant’s most active workers were forced to go abroad.
“Those who stayed either “shifted their ground” or went underground”, – says a former BMZ worker.