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Entries / Trade Unions (general article)

Trade Unions (general article)

Categories / Social Life/Social Organizations and Unions

TRADE UNIONS, mass organisations that unite wage workers and salary workers to protect their economic rights and professional interests in the sphere of production, service and culture. In Russia trade unions were preceded by strike committees, mutual aid funds, workers' associations, etc. Striving to prevent the increase of social strain, the authorities tried to establish a legal workers' union under the aegis of the Ministry for Internal Affairs. In St. Petersburg this organisation was the Assembly of Russian Factory and Plant Workers of the City of St. Petersburg (formed in 1903) that was headed by priest G.A. Gapon. Later on, the trade union movement developed mainly under the influence of revolutionary ideas and was controlled by the opposition. In the course of the Revolution of 1905-07, professional political associations of teachers, engineers and technicians, doctors, pharmacists, journalists and writers, etc. were formed, and in the spring of 1905 these formed the Union of Unions. At the same time, workers' trade unions of Putilovsky Plant, Obukhovsky Plant, Semyannikovsky Plant and other plants of St. Petersburg emerged. In the autumn of 1905 trade unions of the capital took part in the creation of the Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Deputies (including 54 representatives from 16 trade unions). During the election to the Second Duma Petersburg trade unions supported revolutionary parties. After the defeat of the Revolution, a recession of the trade union movement started, the number of trade unions decreased considerably. During World War I of 1914-18 the authorities liquidated fifteen trade unions in Petrograd that united about 20,000 workers. After the February Revolution of 1917, the mass establishment of trade unions was launched: by the end of March 1917 over 40 trade unions, uniting 250,000 people, were formed; their work was co-ordinated by the Central Bureau of Trade Unions. Trade unions of the Russian capital promoted the idea of workers' control over the production process, achieved the establishment of an eight-hour working day and influenced directly the political situation in the city. In July 1917 in Petrograd the Third All-Russian Conference of Trade Unions was held, where the All-Russian Centre for the Trade Union Movement and the All-Russian Central Soviet of Trade Unions (VTsSPS) was formed. In the summer - autumn of 1917 the Bolsheviks' influence on Petrograd trade unions increased rapidly, by that time trade unions numbered 590,000 people. The largest trade unions were the unions of metal-workers (about 200,000 members), textile-workers (32,000) and woodworkers (20,500), etc. In October 1917 the trade unions of the Russian capital played an important role in the Bolsheviks' victory and the establishment of Soviet power. At the same time, trade unions opposed the formation of a one-party dictatorship. The central administration of Railwaymen (All-Russian Executive Committee of the Union of Railwaymen) functioning in the capital urged the Bolsheviks and other Socialists to sit down at the negotiating table and form a coalition socialist government, but this appeal was not responded to. In March 1918 the movement of factories and plants' representatives was launched in the city, they struggled for the democratisation of the Soviet regime. With the purpose of consolidating their control over the trade union movement, the Bolsheviks at the First All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions (January 1918) attempted to governmentalise the trade unions. Under Military Communism, trade unions gradually became a part of the economic structure, totally controlled by the Bolshevist Party, union membership became compulsory for workers. During the Civil War trade unions took part in regulating working conditions, production setting and distribution of provisions. In August-September 1918 Petrograd trade unions sent to villages 69 food brigades of over 7,300 people. The Petrograd Soviet of Trade Unions established the Committee for Red Army Assistance. In April - May 1918 trade unions mobilised about 6,500 Petrograd workers for the army. Later trade unions were also involved in mobilisations for the defence against A.I. Denikin, A.V. Kolchak and N.N. Yudenich. Famine, unemployment and mobilisations lead to the depopulation of proletariat. In January 1918 trade unions of the city numbered 500,000 people, and in December 1920 - only 200,000. The adoption of the New Economic Policy is connected with the discussion on trade unions. This decision was adopted at the Tenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party (of Bolsheviks) (March 1921). The New Economic Policy was accompanied by the enlargement of trade unions' rights: they were given the functions of labour protection and industrial regulations, compulsory trade union membership were abolished, etc. The rapid growth of a number of trade unions was registered: in 1923 they united 430,000 people, in 1932 – 1.5 million. In the 1920s trade unions were often engaged in workers' protests and strikes (including those at state enterprises). The participation of trade unions activists in strikes at Putilovsky Plant, Metallichesky Plant and a number of other enterprises of the city is of note. In the late 1920s - early 1930s the trade unions were finally brought under the control of the Party and Soviet authorities. The crushing defeat of the new opposition (1925) and right-wing deviations in the party (1929) were accompanied by the large-scale purge of the city trade unions' leaders. In 1934 the conclusion of labour contracts was ceased, and the considerable curtail in the rights of trade unions to protect economic interests of workers took place. At the same time in 1933 trade unions were given functions of state social insurance administration and state supervision of observance of labour legislation. In 1934 they were entrusted with the establishment of the primary Workers' and Peasants' inspections at enterprises and social control supervision of shops, canteens and workers' supply departments. In 1937 the last element of workers' control - the so-called triangles, when leaders of party and trade union organisations of the enterprise took part in management decision making along with the director were eliminated (in this way trade unions subtly lost the possibility to influence the development of the enterprise). Leningrad trade unions played an important role in the reconstruction of the national economy, in the development of the udarniks' practice (high performance movement) and Socialist competitions. The whole country knew the names of Leningrad workers P.N. Slobodchikov, N.S. Smetanin and others. When the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45 broke out, Leningrad trade unions took part in organising the evacuation the equipment of Leningrad industrial enterprises from the front lines to quieter regions of the country, in the forming of people's volunteer militias and defence production. Trade unions contributed significantly to the post-war reconstruction of industry and infrastructure in Leningrad, which was launched already in 1944. On the initiative of trade unions' activists, city workers started Socialist emulation for the pre-term implementation of the plan of industrial reconstruction and output growth. As a result, already in the first year of the plan of Leningrad reconstruction industrial enterprises produced some 126.5 % of the expected output. In 1947 the practice of concluding collective agreements was restored, the rights of trade unions in the sphere of working and living conditions of workers were expanded. In 1948 Leningrad trade unions numbered over 1.2 million people; in 1957 the membership grew to two million. After Stalin's death (1953) the role of trade unions in the city’s industrial and social life became more prominent as well as in the process of the democratisation of Soviet society. According to the Regulation of Labour Disputes Procedure (1957), the new Labour Code of the USSR (1970) and other documents, local departments of trade unions acquired the right to take part in the settlement of conflicts between workers and administrations of enterprises, to influence the politics of city authorities in the sphere of labour and the organisation of working and living conditions of workers and employees. Leningrad trade unions played a considerable part in the development of pre-school institutions, health care facilities, culture, tourism, sport and social insurance. Foremost workers N.E. Kolin (Izhorsky Plant), A.V. Chuev (Baltysky Plant) and A.A. Gritskevich (Sevkabel) gained fame throughout the Soviet Union. In the second half of the 1980s during perestroika trade unions contributed greatly to the development of the protest movement, simultaneously the first independent trade unions emerged. At the same time, a crisis in the trade union movement took shape, which was revealed in the reduction of the role of trade unions and their membership decreased from 3,800,000 (1986) to 3,700,000 (1990). From the early 1990s trade unions underwent a most contradictory stage of their development. They had to balance on the razor-edge of workers' protest of the final decade of the 20th century. Workers' organisations of Metallichesky Plant and other enterprises of the city actively asserted rights of wage workers in the 1990s. With the adoption of the new labour code in 2001, the legal base of trade unions' functioning was changed. Along with it, on the modern phase of its development, the trade union movement has not become a significant political force, and failed to overcome the inner disunity between independent and official trade unions, which were members of Russian Federation of Independent Trade Unions.

References: История рабочего класса Ленинграда. Л., 1963; Петроградский совет профессиональных союзов в 1917 г.: Протоколы и материалы. СПб., 1997; Михайлов Н. В. Совет безработных и рабочие Петербурга в 1906-1907 гг. СПб., 1998; Трудовые конфликты в Советской России, 1918-1929 гг. М., 1998; Чураков Д. О. Русская революция и рабочее самоуправление, 1917. М., 1998; Питерские рабочие и диктатура пролетариата. Октябрь 1917-1929: Экон. конфликты и полит. протест: Сб. док. СПб., 2000; Рабочий класс в процессах модернизации России: ист. опыт. М., 2001; Кацва А. Социально-трудовые конфликты в современной России: Истоки, проблемы и особенности. СПб., 2002; Октябрьская революция и фабзавкомы: Материалы по истории фабрич.-завод. комитетов. СПб., 2002.

D. O. Churakov.

Chuev Alexey Vasilievich
Denikin Anton Ivanovich
Gapon Georgy Apollonovich
Gritskevich А.А.
Kolchak Alexander Vasilievich
Kolin N.E.
Slobodchikov P.N.
Smetanin Nikolay Stepanovich
Stalin (real name Dzhugashvili) Iosif Vissarionovich
Yudenich Nikolay Nikolaevich

The subject Index
Ministry of Internal Affairs
Assembly of Russian Factory and Plant Workers of St. Petersburg
Revolution of 1905-07
Kirovsky Plant
Obukhovsky Plant
Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Deputies
February Revolution of 1917
Leningrad Metallurgic Plant (LMP)
Izhora Plants
Baltic Shipyard and Machine-Building Plant
Northern Cable, the factory