In August 2020, workers joined the fight against the Lukashenka regime. They formed strike committees at large enterprises of Belarus, which went out to protest actions, announced going on strike until their fulfiling their demands for an end to violence and a recount of votes in the elections. The illegitimate government responded with large-scale repressions: workers were imprisoned, tortured, and punished with terms of imprisonment. However, brave people continued to put pressure on the Lukashenka regime. This week in “Our House” is dedicated to the strike committees. Today you will know what is happening inside them now.
The first strike at the country’s largest enterprise, “Belaruskali” in Soligorsk, became known on August 17, 2020. Before that, the factory workers published an appeal in the city’s social media group and said they could not stay away from the lawlessness, obscurantism and terror against the civilian population. The strike lasted two days: on August 17, 120 people did not go to work, on the 18th – already 671. On August 20, 2020, the director of Belaruskali, Ivan Golovaty, went to court and announced no strike was at the enterprise. On September 12, 2020, the strike at Belaruskali was declared illegal.
In more than a year, more than 120 Belaruskali workers have been fired for their political views. In total, the workers of the enterprise who opposed the Lukashenka regime were given almost three years of the arrest. Administrative and criminal cases were opened against more than 80 employees of the company. However, this did not stop the miners: they continued to announce joining the strike, receive fines, a day of arrest and eventually leave the country to save themselves and their children from persecution. The strikers sold their cars, pawned valuables and lived on savings, but they were in no hurry to go to work for the Lukashenka regime again. After all, it is now dangerous for life on “Belaruskali”.
On October 22, 2021, a rigger, Mikhail Novik, got injured by a piece of rock from the roof at the mine. The man suffered fractures of his ribs, and his lung was also punctured. On October 25, 2021, an employee got crushed by a wheel at the enterprise. The man got into the hospital in Soligorsk. The strike committee of Belaruskali stated that the leadership is trying by all means to fulfil its obligations under contracts before the start of US sanctions — December 8, 2021. Far from new equipment is worn out, but no one can say how much it will last.
There is a terrifying situation with coronavirus on Belaruskali right now. “The Soligorsk central hospital is choking from the influx of patients. At the moment, a little more than 600 employees of “Belaruskali” are on sick leave with a confirmed diagnosis of coronavirus. At the moment, working meetings are being held at mines and factories of mine administrations,” it was reported in the Telegram channel of the strike committee on October 10, 2021.
On August 9, 2021, the United States updated the sanctions imposed against Belarus, and “Belaruskali” was on the list. Because of this, from December 2021, Lithuania will stop the transportation of Belaruskali products through its country. It may become a problem for those countries that are still cooperating with our potash plant. In addition, the Norwegian company Yara has promised to revise the terms of cooperation with Belaruskali. However, the illegitimate president said: the suspension of cargo delivery through Europe is not a problem because Russia has already offered to take part in transit.
On August 19, 2020, employees of “Grodno Azot” went on strike. Almost 1.5 thousand people were on strike at the enterprise, but the press service refuted it. Nevertheless, the plant’s activists collected signatures for the strike, and it became clear that workers supported this decision and expressed distrust of Alexander Lukashenko. The plant was going to be stopped within a few hours. The company’s employees went to the Grodno tobacco factory, which was also going to protest and then to the city centre. The protest continued on August 25, 2020 – then 28 “Grodno Azot” employees were detained in Grodno when walking down the street. Everyone was without flags and posters, did not shout slogans.
In September 2020, several industrial incidents occurred at the enterprise. In the ammonia-3 workshop, due to the level control sensor failure, the synthesis section stopped. In the urea-4 workshop, problems were in the equipment operation of the synthesis department. On September 19, 2020, the ammonia-3 workshop stopped – the direct-acting pressure regulator of the lubrication system of the turbocharger unit pos. At the end of the month, dozens of workers decided to quit the factory.
The strike continued on October 26, 2020. But forces suppressed it, and later the management stated that the company was operating normally. And Lukashenka spoke in favour of firing striking workers – they were replaced by workers from the reserve and other regions of the country. Because of this or not, “Grodno Azot” ended 2020 with a net loss of 85 million rubles. The company’s exports decreased by 18% compared to 2019.
In April 2021, the United States resumed sanctions against “Grodno Azot”, and on August 9, 2021, the plant’s general director, Igor Lyashenko, got into the list of specially designated citizens and blocked persons. In 2021, workshops and equipment were shut down many times at the plant. And the workers of the enterprise expressed dissatisfaction with the difficult working conditions, the rude attitude of the management, the dismissal of qualified personnel and the reduction of salaries. In September 2021, detentions began at the plant. First, members of the strike committee Andrei Pogerilo and Vladimir Zhuravko were detained. Grigory Ruban, the equipment repair master of the Ammonia-3 workshop, Dmitry Ilyushenko, the shift master of the Ammonia-3 workshop, and Alexey Sidor, the machinist of the pumping units of the Carbamide-2 workshop, were also detained. Then the deputy chairman of the primary organization of the independent trade union Valentin Terenevich was detained. The next day, his wife was arrested. Sergei Shelest, who worked as an apparatchik of the Ammonia-3 workshop, was also taken into custody.
Minsk Tractor Plant workers protested on August 13, 2020. They held a meeting on the territory and put forward political demands. The factory workers demanded to stop detaining civilians and violence by the security forces, release detained during the protests, hold fair re-elections and release political prisoners. On August 14, 2020, it became known that MTP had practically stopped working. On August 19, 2020, Minsk residents came to the plant to support the protesting people. And the very next day, the head of the strike committee, Sergei Dylevsky, was summoned to the Investigative Committee. On October 5, 2020, MTP employees stated that the state trade unions did not protect their rights to the money collected from employees but put pressure on them. The factory workers called on everyone to leave the state trade unions and join the independent ones.
In 2020, the plant’s profit decreased by 12 times. By December 2020, the plant owed 835 million rubles on short-term loans and 416 million on long-term loans. In 2021, incidents at MTP became more frequent. On April 3, 2021, there was a fire here. On April 9, 2021, the plant warehouse was on fire – there was a fire of oil in the preservation bath at the site of preservation and packaging. In May, a fire broke out at the enterprise again. Deposits in the duct of the precision steel casting workshop caught fire. Another fire occurred on August 19, 2021 – deposits caught fire in the ventilation box, and oil flared up, spilling over an area of 10 square meters. In addition, MTP lacks personnel. The current employees of the plant are promised a bonus for assistance in hiring new workers.
Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant became famous after August 17, 2020, when workers shouted “Go away!” to Lukashenka, who came out to speak to them. Thousands of demonstrators gathered at the plant entrance that day, demanding the resignation of the illegitimate president. A video on which Lukashenka rushed to the workers, noticing that they were filming him, and shouted: “Put down the phone!” On the same day, human rights activists reported the detention of Andrei Sudas, a worker at the enterprise. On August 24, 2020, the chairman of the MWTP strike committee, Alexander Lavrinovich, was detained by the plant’s security service. He said that he came to the plant after hours to conduct a survey of workers about the strike. He managed to collect several dozen votes before the plant’s management stopped his activities. On August 26, 2020, he received ten days of arrest.
MWTP, like other enterprises, lost revenue and profit in comparison with 2019. The plant’s revenue was reduced by 12.3% last year to 280.56 million rubles. The sales cost lowered by 6.9% to 209.26 million rubles. Profit fell by 43.3%. The number of employees also was decreased by 307 people. According to reports in some media, due to the low workload of the MWTP, it begins to collect toll-free car sets of MAP buses.
Employees of the Minsk Automobile Plant joined the strike on August 13, 2020. They demanded the resignation of Lukashenka and the holding of new elections. Some of the company’s employees went to the management of the plant, but there were few of them. On August 17, 2020, a letter supporting Lukashenka appeared on the MAP website. And on August 20, 2020, it became known about the detention of the head of the MAP strike committee, Evgeny Bokhvalov. On August 24, 2020, members of the Coordinating Council were detained at the plant entrance.
MAP, like other plants, lost a lot of specialists – only 19 out of 50 young employees remained at the plant. On December 15, 2020, 31-year-old MAP welder Yuri Karnilovich was detained. He got accused of insulting Yuri Karaev in a comment on a video on the UCP-TV YouTube channel. Yuri Karnilovich got sentenced to three years of restriction of freedom. On August 6, 2021, Alexander Shimanovich, a 31-year-old process engineer at the enterprise, was sentenced to two years of restriction of liberty without being sent to an open-type correctional institution. According to the case file, the man insulted the assistant prosecutor Alina Kasyanchik, known for her cruel sentences.
Now MAP is also drowning in debt. In short-term loans, the plant owes more than 1 billion rubles – in 2019, it was 342 million less. The plant owes 487 million in long-term loans. Because of the sanctions, other countries do not want to cooperate with the company. For example, Ukrainian Lviv and Mykolaiv refused Belarusian buses for their cities.
In the hot August 2020, the regional centres but also enterprises in regional centres went on strike. On August 17, 2020, at Belarusian Metallurgical Plant in Zhlobin, a crowd of employees and other people gathered near the buildings of the plant manager. The road for technological transport was blocked in protest. In November 2020, the police began detaining activists. On November 23, Igor Povarov, a member of the Independent Trade Union, a repair mechanic at BMP, was detained and placed under arrest. Then, two more employees were taken into custody: Evgeny Hovar and Alexander Bobrov. In February 2021, each of them got three years of imprisonment in a general regime colony. However, on September 17, 2021, Alexander and Evgeny were pardoned.
In March 2021, three more factory workers got under trial: Viktor Shmigelsky, Ilya Patrushev and Andrei Shevchuk. They got detained on November 17, 2020, at the enterprise entrance. They got accused of participating in an unauthorized protest and violence against police officers. The guys kicked riot shields. In August 2021, two more workers of the plant, Jan Stetsenko and Andrei Parkhamovich, who participated in the protests on August 9, 2020, were sentenced to two years in prison. Jan was sentenced to two years of imprisonment in a general regime colony, Andrey – to two years of restriction of freedom without referral to an open-type correctional institution.
A new wave of detentions at the BMP swept in September 2021 – from September 21 to September 23, activists of the workers’ movement were detained in Belarus. Among the 13 detainees were BMP employees Alexander Gashnikov, Dmitry Eliseev and former employee Svetlana Zyl. Now all of them are under arrest in the status of political prisoners.
The plant, like other striking enterprises, is forced to deal with debts. BMP owes 3.8 billion rubles on short-term loans, which is a billion more than in previous earlier. The plant owes another 1.2 billion in long-term loans – 164 million more than a year earlier. The company has fewer employees – by 277 people. Due to the care of professionals, industrial accidents constantly occur at the plant.
On August 17, 2020, the “Naftan” employees in Novopolotsk went to a rally on the territory of the enterprise. The petroleum products sales department head, Olga Britikova, announced demands to the plant management and government. She demanded the resignation of Lukashenka and the CEC, the release of all political prisoners and the investigation of all cases of violence against protesters. The plant’s staff also demanded the resignation of the head of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, Mikhail Orda, for participating in political campaigning for Lukashenka during the election campaign. On October 7, 2020, “Naftan” employees issued an appeal and told which country they wanted to live in and work in. In it, they criticized the illegitimate president.
After that, a wave of dismissals swept through the enterprise, and Belarusians began to hear about emergencies on it much more often. In January 2021, hydrogen-containing gas caught fire at “Naftan” due to the depressurization of the supply pipeline. In May 2021, reports appeared in the media that major Russian oil companies had stopped supplying oil to “Naftan”. But the press service of the enterprise reported that it was operating normally. At the end of September 2021, a delayed coking unit caught fire at “Naftan”.
During the year of the strike, the police repeatedly detained employees of the enterprise for political reasons. On August 11, 2021, 36-year-old Sergey Khvostenok was sentenced to 15 days of arrest for a white-red-white bumper sticker on a car. And on September 21, 2021, security forces raided the office of the primary organization of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union on Naftan. The search took place at the chairman of the organization Olga Britikova. On September 26, 2021, a former Naftan legal adviser, Alexander Kapshul, was detained in Russia, whom Russian security forces handed over to the Belarusian KGB. On September 27, “Naftan” design engineer Alexander Bolonkin was detained at his workplace. He was the deputy chairman of the primary organization of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union of Naftan Employees.
Even though many workers are now in the status of political prisoners, we are sure that they do not regret speaking out against Lukashenka. These brave people sincerely wanted to see their country free, democratic, European – and for this, they ended up behind bars. But we hope that after our victory, the strikers who left will return to their native enterprises. Strikers who are now in prisons will help turn unprofitable factories into profitable industrial complexes that Belarus of the future will be proud of.