24 October 2021, Sunday, 22:26
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“We Hit Authorities In Sore Spot”

“We Hit Authorities In Sore Spot”

A powerful interview with a Minsk Tractor Plant worker.

The leader of the Belarusian Workers' Association Siarhei Dyleuski answered the questions of Alexander Rykov, the author of the YouTube channel BalaganOFF.

- Siarhei, you have worked at the Minsk Tractor Plant for 16 years. How did it happen that a pro-striker, who changed his outlook after 16 years of work at the same company, appeared in your family dynasty? When did you experience this change of heart and when did this wave bring you to the public sphere?

- You know, the most important thing is that I just stopped watching TV at some point. But seriously, in fact, my parents prompted me to make important fateful decisions for myself. Because I, just like them, who worked all their lives at one plant, somehow managed to build a house for themselves with the help of loans, I saw that nothing was changing. It has become the norm for employees of state-owned enterprises to struggle for existence. All the time, there is not enough money, not enough time, because you need to earn extra money. there was a constant sense of austerity. I have a moral that I have to work to live, but I don't have to live to work. It's a huge difference.

- How has the level of wages changed over 16 years?

- At some point, we received about $ 2,000. But it was the peak exactly before the global economic crisis, 2009-2010. We worked well and earned good money. There were sales markets. But when the dollar and euro jumped in Belarus, the salary dropped to $ 500 or even less literally over the weekend. Belarus already lives worse than Ukraine!

Neighbors, far abroad, all were able to get out of this crisis, and we are marking time. On pieces of paper, salaries seem to be growing, but in reality, nothing has changed since that moment. During my life, I have seen three denominations in Belarus. If converted to the level before the first denomination, then my salary would be in the trillions. At least this fact speaks of how bad everything is in the country: first, they add zeros, then they remove them. So it was all the time at the plant.

- I have been following the agenda of Belarus for a year. And I remember that there was already an announcement of a general strike, something grandiose should have already happened. Why it did not work out then, and what conclusions did you personally draw from this first experience? Or you didn't announce it?

- No, it was not me who announced the first strike. The first strike was spontaneous back in August. Then there was the People's Ultimatum from the headquarters of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya on October 26, which was supported by very few people. The most important and only mistake was that, in August and October, absolutely no preparatory work was carried out, neither in terms of campaigning nor in terms of working with people on the ground.

- As far as I understand, in order for the All-Belarusian strike to succeed, there must be unity of the nation. How can this be achieved?

- By giving people faith in what we can do and justifying it. It is not true to say "let's go on strike," the government will leave, and everything will be great at once tomorrow: we will earn millions, there will be rivers of milk and banks of jelly. I always say that when the regime leaves, then the biggest and most difficult work in the history of modern Belarus will begin. We all have to raise the country's economy from its knees. The situation is this: we give people faith, we give the perspective that we can change everything if we start to act.

- And how to fight for the minds of people? Are we going on strike to improve our financial condition or to remove the dictator who has bullied Belarusians for 26 years? What should be the main thing in the mind of a worker? What is he going on strike for?

- For the future, his future. To resist propaganda, we need to provide undeniable facts. If we give any idea, if we say "go on strike today, so that your child can live normally in a free country tomorrow," then we must substantiate the reasons: why, if you go on strike, you will live normally tomorrow. It is necessary to constantly talk, to be in live contact with people. During the day, for example, I give interviews, talk to journalists, watch comments in the evening, and respond to people with constructive criticism. And if I'm not understood, then I conclude that I didn't make myself clear to the person, and tomorrow I will try to make it clearer and easier for him. The main thing is to influence the minds of people; if you have nothing to hide and if you are really telling the truth, really in fact, then it is very easy to fight propaganda.

- Going back a little bit. How then was the unprepared ultimatum crushed by force, by repression, or was there no cohesion among the labor collectives? What has played a negative role more?

- Both, because there was no cohesion. Really few people came out. At the moment, based on experience, I am firmly convinced that what I am doing is right. I managed to form a strong and powerful team, ready for decision-making and responsibility, ready to plan further actions. Accordingly, with this team, a plan of concrete actions and steps has already been developed to implement the strike as safely as possible for workers.

- Can a strike start if some enterprise becomes the key one? For example, if Belaruskali goes on strike, can others join it? Or is there the idea that the whole country should go on strike in one day?

- There are actually many options. Ideally, the whole country should stand up. But if at some point, for example, Belaruskali stops working before the conditional "day X," then this will be the same "day X." A chain reaction will simply begin. Our task is to prepare people so that it would be possible to stop the whole country at once upon a call so that all the factories would stop working. This is our most important and key goal.

- To stop them, and you don't have to say the names of the factories for security reasons, you need to have a connection with them. In fact, the strike movement is acquiring a certain partisan aspect.

- It does not acquire a partisan appearance, this is a partisan war. This is literally partisan resistance.

- Then it is logically impossible to reach out to the masses. Because if you have a connection with one, then he is afraid to say something to someone else, because it may be a traitor. How then can the masses be influenced?

- For this, there are independent media. As never before, we must work as a common coalition and set a common agenda. We already have tremendous influence and tremendous opposition to state propaganda. We have achieved that not a single living soul believes the words of propaganda that are carried from the TV dumpster. Moreover, even the journalists and reporters who broadcast do not believe in propaganda. This is our great merit.

In the same way, we can influence people who are not pure assets, those who doubt, the bulk of people who are ready to support a protest if it starts. The task of the media and activists is to spread information among those who do not read or search for information on YouTube because we also need to count on these people. These people think in the same way as we do and they hate this power in the same way. But for some reason, they do not receive information via the Internet, for example, due to their age or the specifics of their work.

- Should this strike be among the working class or should businesses join it?

- Everyone should join.

- Then [on October 26, ed.], the business joined in very strongly, and, after that, the authorities responded: "We'll burn it out with hollow iron."

- That’s why I’m saying that businesses can join the nationwide strike in other ways. Businesses can go on vacation. Any business leader with a small staff of 10-15 people can gather his team for a meeting and say: "For the sake of freedom of Belarus, let's go on vacation, say, for a month." Or simply on quarantine due to the coronavirus. This is permitted by law. Taxes do not go to the state, the organization is idle, but there is money to pay salaries. It's the same strike.

- I also read that there are two strike movements: BOR and Rabochy Rukh. Do you somehow coordinate with each other, go in parallel, or are enterprises divided between you?

- In fact, we work absolutely in parallel. We have the same goals, but maybe different ways of achieving goals. And you shouldn't treat the Belarusian Association of Workers and Rabochy Rukh as competing organizations. Because both our work and the work of RR are aimed at protecting the rights of workers. This is a trade union. We have assumed the functions and responsibilities of an independent trade union. Taking into account the fact that there are no independent trade unions, truly independent, two organizations were created. And I will immediately answer the question about unification and parallel work. There should be no monopoly trade union organizations in Belarus. We are not FPB. FPB is a pro-government trade union. And there is no alternative. And this union is not working to defend workers' rights. Therefore, I believe that there should be as many trade union organizations as possible.

- And what is happening with large enterprises in general? Are all workers satisfied with their wages? Is the salary falling? What's inside large enterprises? We are not talking about those enterprises that are under sanctions.

- You know, a lot of people were hooked by the sanctions. It is not customary to talk about this in state propaganda, but the general public knows about the sanctions on Belaruskali, Hrodna Azot, Khimvolokno, etc. Few people know about the same BelAZ, with which they refused to cooperate directly on the supply of engines. That is, sanctions play an important role. For some smaller enterprises, Western partners refused to cooperate already as a vaccination against sanctions. The partners refuse to cooperate even before the sanctions come into force so as not to fall under secondary sanctions.

All this gives its impact, affects. There are interruptions in the supply of raw materials. Plus, there is an absolute disregard for the equipment that people work on. This leads to savings on salaries. People's dissatisfaction is growing. The saddest thing is that the number of accidents at enterprises is increasing significantly. Due to equipment malfunction and due to general fatigue of people, workers suffer, get injured, and die.

- Yes, I read today that about 360 people died in six months.

- At my enterprise there was a case: a foreman died a couple of weeks ago right at work, he was jammed into the machine. According to the results of the check, on paper, the equipment only recently underwent reconstruction, but in fact it did not happen. The paperwork was carried out, the money was spent, and the equipment remained in a deplorable state. And it’s the same everywhere.

- How effective is the Italian strike? The format of sabotage, where “we work only according to the rules, a step to the left, a step to the right - we will not do it.” Or is it now all under pressure and on paper at enterprises, and no one pays attention?

- It is unlikely that it will work out exactly according to the instructions. Because the management does not give a damn about these papers, instructions. Roughly speaking, if a person refuses to do something other than their task, for example, they put them in charge of a machine to which they have no access, then for far-fetched reasons the person is immediately fired. A person who is trying to work according to instructions is being punished, humiliated, and morally pressured. And the format of the Italian strike is very effective. The volume of production has decreased, the problems of enterprises have increased. And this is also the merit of this format.

- Do workers now have more in their heads - the politics “we want changes in the country” or the economy “I want a salary of $ 100 more”?

- The situation is as follows: we came to the question of the reasons for the pre-strike state. We have finally come to the conclusion that in the minds of the workers, politics has mixed with economics. People want a higher salary for themselves in order to somehow feed their family, but they understand that this is impossible without political changes. This is the most important thing, and it is very good. People begin to think and compare cause and effect.

- The word “trigger” has probably become popular among Belarusians. It seems that Belarusians lack triggers. There is a question: “What trigger do workers need to have a general strike?”

- I really do not like this word “trigger”. On Monday [Aug 30, edit.] there was a trigger, a pre-strike state was declared. Prepare for a strike. If another death is needed for the trigger, then we are not on our way. Honestly, frankly. We are starting a pre-strike state. I announced publicly that a strike was being prepared. What else is needed, I do not know.

- And what does “pre-strike state” mean? Tell us in simple terms. What are we preparing for and how?

- In simple terms, this is the last warning to the regime. We have announced mobilization. The workers begin to stock up on food, prepare a financial cushion to start a strike painlessly for themselves. This is a message both to the regime and to us: get ready, all mobilize.

- How long will this state last?

- I'm counting on a month.

- Is a strike possible without large enterprises?

- That’s an interesting question. Is it possible “to be called people” if workers of small enterprises go on strike, but large ones do not? This is more of an ethical issue. Theoretically possible. Smaller businesses can stop and declare their desire to go on strike. In practice, I am not sure that they have enough conscience [not to strike - edit.].

- Should employees of the trolleybus or tram depot, for example, join the strike? Conventionally, transport workers.

- If transport workers also join the strike, it will be very good. This completely paralyzes the work in the country.

- Does anyone work with these people?

- Yes. They work with everyone: with railway workers, with vehicle fleets, with everyone.

- BOR, Coordination Council, headquarters of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Do you sync your work with them? Or are you with them, but on your own?

- We support Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, but BOR is independent. We are independent.

- Is it necessary for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to come out and say: “we are declaring a pre-strike state”?

- I would really like that. This will first of all show that she personally and her headquarters stand together with the workers, supports them and is ready to fight for their rights.

- But you haven't discussed this topic yet?

- I cannot discuss all the details of our idea. I cannot come and say: “Mrs. Tsikhanouskaya, write down the message to the workers.” She must make this decision on her own: with the workers or not.

- Questions from people. I have already asked some of them. How, for example, are the people in the enterprises set up now? What is more: depression, apathy, or workers clench their fists and are ready for something?

- There are different degrees of acceptance in psychology. Anger, aggression, bargaining, and so on. Probably, all the stages have already been passed, and people are at the stage of accepting that something needs to be changed, and people are finally getting ready for action.

- The question, as I understand it, is from propaganda. On what money will the strikers live?

- We have already mentioned what to do. And I have already partially answered this question. Prepare your financial cushion. If there is a completely extreme situation, then we will always find funds to support the workers. We've always done it.

- Then not a person led by ideas, but a lazy person will join you.

- I understand. There are such risks. But even if a lazy person joins, it means that the lazy person will not work at the machine.

- He is already lazy, he does not work at the machine (laughs).

- So he won't, he won't come to work (laughs).

- How to organize a strike without the presence of trade unions there? Most workers may not be aware of it.

- The answer is obvious: if we recall the same Polish “Solidarity”, then the strike that led to the round table was formed not by official trade unions. No Solidarity organizations were registered. These were ordinary activists. As well as we have it: dead, non-working trade unions, and there are living people and living activists who unite other activists around them. And it grows like a snowball. And why trade unions then?

- Does BOR coordinate its actions with the plans of other initiatives: “Pieramoha” and “Supraciu”?

- Yes, we are in contact. To be clear, I would never declare anything without notifying other structures. It is impossible to act without coordination of actions.

- If people give in to the calls for a strike, but at the last moment they won't come out. What to do then? Is there a plan B?

- Yes, there is a plan B. It is being worked out with active people in the field.

- No specifics. How many people and how many businesses are willing to go on strike?

- Those who cooperate with us are about 20 factories. This is not counting the data from the Rabochy Rukh.

- Don't you think that you first need to concentrate on working with one very large plant, and then work with all the others? Should there be a “leader” of the strike?

- Must be in every enterprise. It is dangerous to concentrate on working on one enterprise alone, because the regime will concentrate on suppressing that enterprise. We are working, but what kind of work I cannot say because of security reasons.

- What is your current activity at the Tsikhanouskaya headquarters?

- We have a certain corporate ethics, but we work independently of the headquarters of Tikhanovskaya. I work for the Belarusian Workers' Union.

- 4 days have passed since the announcement of the pre-strike state. What happened during these days?

- There are already the first signs that something is starting to change. Our mail is inundated with messages and more positives. New enterprises and assets appeared, which began to join us. People began to become more active. Propaganda has also intensified, which is also encouraging. This means that we hit their sore spot. They are most afraid of the strike. We are heading in the right direction and we will win.

- Siarhei, thank you for the interview. I wish all your plans to come true. You and your performance were supported by all the media resources that only exist. Good luck!