VIENNA – Trade union leaders in Volgograd plan to use retired KGB and FSB officers to seek work in non-unionized firms in order to gather intelligence about whether managers are treating their workers according to the law and then help organize union groups within firms where there are problems.
In the current issue of “NG – Regiony,” Andrei Sirenko outlines the plans of the Volgograd oblast unions: These intelligence service veterans will first seek employment in particular plants and factories as ordinary workers and then, under that cover, gather intelligence about conditions there.
Such a step is needed, union leaders there say, because “it is no secret that many employers especially in small and medium-sized businesses are not allowing the creation of unions.” And up to now, they regularly violate the rights of workers in a variety of ways that unfortunately business owners find it easy to conceal.
Vyacheslav Kobozev, the head of that oblast’s trade union council, told the newspaper that such a system builds on ideas already being implemented in Western Europe. There, he said, unions have already created special schools and training center to prepare “’trade union intelligence officers.’”
The Volgograd unions, Kobozev continued, also hope to use “the experience of the veterans of the special services and above all the KGB for training their own ‘agents’” – and all of this in the name of promoting democracy and the rights of Russian workers.
“Today,” he said, “people are learning to live in a democratic society. …Workers are beginning to feel more confident about themselves. If owners and managers do not want to face spontaneous protests or massive suits, they must not oppose the creation of new trade union organizations.”
But the involvement of former KGB or FSB officers in such efforts could backfire, leading some business owners to see unionization as reflecting not just a measure designed to defend the rights of workers but as a lever that some government agencies might be inclined to use against them.
And consequently, it is perhaps no surprise that union leaders in Moscow were careful to distance themselves from this Volgograd program. Vladimir Korneyev, a senior official at the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, told “NG – Regiony” that he was hearing about such an arrangement for the first time.
There has been no discussion of such a plan at the federal level, he said, and that as far as he was aware, the use of former KGB or FSB officers for union organizing was “a purely local idea” of the Volgograd union leaders.
Unions hope to use KGB veterans to organize Russian firms