Vladimir Goncharik: Liquidation of independent trade unions is a political mistake

    Leaders and activists of the BKDP are in prisons. Independent trade unions have been liquidated. What will be the consequences of this?

    The former head of the FPB (The Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus), 2001 presidential candidate Vladimir Goncharik, considers the liquidation of independent trade unions a big mistake:

    – From the point of view of common sense, this is a completely ill-conceived step. The liquidation of trade unions will give one more reason to assess Belarus as a non-democratic state. Nothing good can be expected from this.

    It is clear that the purge of the political and social field is taking place. But what will it lead to?

    As far as I understand, the leaders of the independent trade unions are charged with receiving foreign aid. It is not in itself a criminal offence; a failure to register the aid with the Department of Humanitarian Aid looks like an administrative offense, and in no way can result in such harsh measures.

    – Will the FPB be able to perform the functions of independent trade unions? After all, the latter had not only the function of social protection, but also a kind of lightning rod.

    – The Federation of Trade Unions and independent trade unions have never been competitors. Naturally, in quantitative terms, the FPB is many times larger; it also fulfills its functions, although not to the full extent. At one time, when I was the head of the Federation, I heard accusations of political engagement. But now the FPB is fully involved in the political struggle, and its leader even headed Lukashenko’s election campaign team.

    The liquidated trade unions did not actually engage in anti-state activities. Criticism of the actions of the authorities attracted much more attention from the people to their side, and if there had been no pressure on them, the independent unions would have been much more numerous.

    – Did the state have at least one pro from the liquidation of objectionable organizations?

    – Only cons. As I said, this is a political mistake. Big political mistake. We must always remember that a holy place is never empty: new structures, underground or semi-underground, will certainly appear in their place. The experience of Russia also testifies to this.

    The main task of trade unions is to protect the rights of citizens in the field of labour. How did the independent unions interfere with that? Any criticism of the political vertical is now perceived as extremism, terrorism. What kind of terrorists are they? What did they organize in 2020?

    The authorities are trying to make everyone think along the same lines. But there can be no single opinion; now discontent is driven into the kitchens – and this is already a dangerous symptom.

    – Is it possible to compare the case, in which the leaders of the REP were convicted for tax evasion, with the current “trade unions case”?

    – The scale is incomparable: in the first case, the situation was more of a personal nature, but now the issue is more serious – purge. Four organizations were liquidated plus the BKDP, which united them. The most powerful is the Belarusian Independent Trade Union of Miners, however, it did not hold large-scale actions, did not organize strikes. And in the old days, the miners went on strike and went to Minsk. By the way, the former director of the potash plant personally thanked me, the chairman of the FPB, for the strike in the early 90s: due to it, the enterprise was able to undergo technical re-equipment.

    – All trade unions were members of influential international trade unions, Aliaksandr Yarashuk is the Vice President of the ILO. How will foreign colleagues react to the current situation?

    – They are already reacting, and rather harshly.

    The actions of the authorities may lead to the introduction of paragraph 33 against Belarus. At the last meeting of the ILO did not consider this issue, but now, when the situation has deteriorated sharply, this issue may arise. And this means that the sanctions will increase even more. No matter how optimistic the rhetoric is, sanctions primarily hit on ordinary people. GDP decreases, inflation rises, prices rise. Enterprises are still afloat, some of them, as far as I know, even work in three shifts – they fulfill orders from Russia. So far, the Belarusian industry is supported by the Russian market. However, all the technologies are located in the West, and not in Russia, even China borrowed its technologies from the West.

    By the way, the liquidated trade unions opposed the imposition of sanctions.

    Now we can only say one thing: let’s have less rhetoric but take more concrete actions, restore relations with the West. In what way this will be done is the concern of politicians.