Strikers Step Up Demand For Gorbachev's Ouster
MIKHAIL GORBACHEV has been wined and dined in Tokyo, but a different sort of reception awaits the Soviet leader when he returns home this weekend. Labor unrest is spreading across the Soviet Union, this week among industrial workers in the Ukraine, next week perhaps in a general strike across Russia. Political demands, including the resignation of the government, are prominent in every strike action.
At the same time, anti-Gorbachev rumblings inside the Communist Party are growing. Party organizations around the country are planning to turn the planned plenary meeting of the party Central Committee on April 24 into a forum for attack on Mr. Gorbachev, who is party leader.
The strike wave continues to be led by the militant miners, about 300,000 of whom have stopped work since the beginning of March, demanding the ouster of the government. The government claims that huge losses, including of steel and energy production, are rippling through the economy as a result of the strike.
Despite a report Wednesday that one large mine returned to work, the strike is holding. The independent daily Kuranty reports 82 mines and 14 mine-related enterprises in the Ukrainian Donbas region are on strike. In the Russian Kuzbass, in the northern Urals, and on Sakhalin Island, 131 mines and related enterprises are shut down. The Raspadskaya pit in Siberia resumed work only after the mine was shifted from central government control to the jurisdiction of the Russian government, led by Boris Yeltsin .
In Kiev in the Ukraine, miners and other workers protested last Sunday. A number of active-duty soldiers attended, the Soviet government daily Izvestia said.
At a larger rally on April 16, miners from all over the Ukraine set up a republican strike committee. They demanded dissolution of the Soviet and Ukrainian parliaments and dissolution of Communist Party cells in factories and in all military, KGB (secret police), and police units. They called for nationalizing party property.
On the same day, "warning" strikes took place across Kiev, led by municipal transport workers. A senior executive at a major Kiev industrial plant said antigovernment feelings became deeply entrenched after price hikes were introduced this month. Demands to oust Gorbachev are voiced not only by workers, he reports, but also by party apparatus officials at the district and regional level.
In Byelorussia, where workers staged a general strike last week, tense talks are taking place between the strike committee and the republican government. The committee is planning to resume strikes on April 23 if its basic demands, which include new parliamentary elections, are not met. Students are organizing strike committees to join the workers.
In Russia, the leadership of the federation of Russian independent trade unions has called for a warning strike on April 26 to press economic demands and back the miners. On April 16, representatives of workers at the giant Kirov factory in Leningrad met to draft a list of political demands similar to those of the miners and to plan a strike. Miners representatives attended, said the Postfactum news agency report.
The Soviet parliament, meanwhile, is considering an amendment to the labor law which would ban "political strikes." It is expected to be adopted next week. But without massive use of armed force, it is difficult to see how that law could be enforced. At this point, only Mr. Yeltsin has the authority to call workers back to work. Speaking at a Wednesday press conference in Paris, he said he opposed strike bans.
The Communist Party daily Pravda attacked the strike committees in a front-page editorial Wednesday, calling them "unconstitutional." But the party ranks seem to have little taste for taking on the workers. Instead, they are focusing on Gorbachev. Party leaders from major cities, meeting in Smolensk on April 15, issued an appeal that accused Gorbachev of "undermining the authority of the party and the peoples' confidence in it." They demanded that the party leadership be called to account at the coming plenum for its mistakes.
Similar calls have been issued by the Kiev party committee, by the Leningrad party committee, by the Byelorussian Communist Party, and others, sparking rumors that a move to oust Gorbachev as party leader is under way.