Russia: Dockworker leader stabbed and beaten

LabourStart report

Mikhail Chesalin

On Thursday June 7, Mikhail Chesalin, the chairman of the local Dockers Union of Russia in Kaliningrad, was savagely stabbed and beaten outside the union office. An unknown number of assailants attacked Chesalin when he got out of his car at 10:30am local time, stabbing him numerous times in the spine, and beating him severely about the head. He was left lying face-down, unconscious, in a pool of blood.

Chesalin's colleagues believe that the attack was orchestrated by Vladimir Kalinichenko, the General Director of the Sea Commercial Port where the dockworkers' union is currently running an organizing campaign. The union has been in a bitter fight with Kalinichenko for ten years, after Kalinichenko made it his personal goal to destroy the union following their 1997 strike – their battle, and the workers determination has become a symbol of Russia’s young, struggling independent trade union movement. Since April, the union has been conducting an unprecedented organizing drive among the workers in the Kaliningrad port to change a miserly and arbitrary wage system, and win respect and a voice on the job. Kalinichenko has tried to break up every union event by sending his personal "security" forces, together with local thugs, to spy on and intimidate workers.

Mikhail Chesalin is known throughout the region, country, and world, as one of Russia's foremost defenders of workers' rights – the dockworkers' case has received the attention of the ILO, the European Court for Human Rights, and most of all the attention of Kaliningrad residents, who voted for Chesalin when he ran directly against Kalinichenko in 2006 – with 13 times less money, Chesalin received four times the votes of Kalinichenko to be elected as a deputy to the regional parliament. In that sense this attack is not only on free trade unionism, but on an independent governmental representative.

For 12 years, the Dockers Union of Russia, with a vigorous and committed membership, and under Chesalin's dedicated and principled leadership, has stood for fairness and dignity for Sea Commercial Port workers. For that, union members have lost their jobs, their livelihoods, and their families, but they are free men. For the first time in this battle, the Port has crossed the line to violence, and attempted to silence a great leader of workers. We, Chesalin’s union members and colleagues, call on our brothers and sisters around the world to raise their voices, and their considerable strength and solidarity, to communicate to Russian employers and the Russian government that an injury to one is an injury to all, that this threat to justice here is a threat to justice everywhere, and that workers around the world will not stand by as their brothers and sisters are denied basic rights.

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