Trade unionist Valentin Urusov is proof that in Russia it’s still possible to be imprisoned in the 21st century equivalent of the gulag for standing up for worker rights on the job. An electrical fitter at an ore-processing mill owned by the diamond mining company Alrosa, Urusov has spent more than four years of a six-year term in a penal colony in Yakutia in far northern Russia.
Described by friends as an intelligent and persuasive leader, Urusov, in June 2008, formed the Profsvoboda trade union, affiliated with the Russian Metalworkers Trade Union. Profsvoboda sought to represent workers at the Udachny Pipe Diamond Mine, where workers toil in brutal cold in an open diamond pit just outside the Arctic circle.
Days after the union was founded, workers in one of the mine’s vehicle depots, dissatisfied with low pay and working conditions, announced a hunger strike. Alrosa refused to meet with them and instead unleashed a crackdown against trade union activists. When workers responded by preparing for a large-scale protest rally, Urusov was detained on suspicion of narcotics possession. The company’s deputy director for economic security was “coincidentally” present when the drugs were allegedly found on Urusov, enabling the deputy director to serve as an official witness, which is required under Russian law during police searches.
This is an excerpt of Global Unions Urge Release of Imprisoned Russian Trade Unionist, by the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center. Read the rest.