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From: "Marina Kalashnikova" <machinegun@online.ru>
Subject: story on Irene Stevenson
Date: Thu, 30 Jan 2003

Dear David:

Let me offer for the JRL readers the following article (translated into English), which came out in Novye Izvestiya on January 29, 2003. Regards,

Marina Kalashnikova

"In the Place of Meany will be Sweeney"
Novye Izvestiia
29 January 2003

At one time, the legendary trade union boss George Meany, who headed the American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Unions (AFL-CIO) for a quarter of a century, had a lot of bad blood with Soviet leaders. He sharply criticized the totalitarian regime, which kept its own workers down trodden, and demanded the introduction of various sanctions against the USSR.

Today Moscow is creeping once again towards a risky stand-off with the association of American trade unions. For almost a month, AFL-CIO leaders have been trying to receive an explanation for the expulsion from Russia of Irene Stevenson, head of the American Center for Labor Solidarity. The US Embassy in Moscow informed distressed leaders of Russian trade unions, who work closely with Irene, that "negotiations are difficult and so far they have led to anything." At the insistence of Russian trade unions, several State Duma deputies appealed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for an explanation. Instead of receiving comprehensive answers, they were referred to article 27 of the federal law on exiting and entering, which foresees not issuing visas to people who pose a threat to Russian national security. Evidently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not prepared to provide cover for KGB arbitrariness, however that is not moving the problem any closer to resolution. Its arbitrary nature is supported by the fact that the Russian authorities renewed Ms. Stevenson's year-long, multi-entry work visa only a short time before she left for the Christmas holidays. Having lost the "logic" behind the exile and the confusing allusions made by the Russians, on 17 January AFL-CIO President John Sweeney issued a public statement.

In his statement, he underscores that "the reason for Russia's decision remains unclear. They have not offered further explanation about how the work of the Solidarity Center poses such a threat." Mr. Sweeney cites the important work that the Solidarity Center, under Irene Stevenson's leadership, has done to protect Russian workers' rights. Likewise he recommends that the Russian government "honor the requests from Russian trade unions to allow Stevenson to return to her home in Russia and continue her work with Russia's working families and unions."

In response - silence. Subsequently, AFL-CIO leadership evidently reached the conclusion that the only a political decision by the Russian president could successfully override secret instructions of the Russian special services. On 21 January, John Sweeney sent an official letter to Vladimir Putin.

On behalf of the 13 million workers in the AFL-CIO, he requested that the Russian president personally intervene in order to resolve this issue. Once again Sweeney explained that the official explanation for the denied entry "is vague, arbitrary and contradicts [Stevenson's] exemplary behavior while a resident of Russia". Stating that Stevenson could not possibly be considered a security threat to the Russian Federation, Sweeney asked Putin to help "to restore Irene's visa and residency status so she may continue her unique contributions to solidarity between Russian and American workers".

Commenting on the situation, President of the Russian Confederation of Labor (KTR) Aleksandr Shepel was very direct: "This is an one more example of stupidity. The Solidarity Center conducts a very useful education program. The problem is that in Russia, no one has any need for organized labor". As for the air traffic controllers' successful protest on the eve of the new year, which some people have associated with advice from the Solidarity Center, Shepel considers this precedent to be very important to the trade union movement. He sharply criticized the Novosibirsk court decision that forbids hunger strikes as a means for workers to protect their rights. His prognosis: "They forbid going on hunger strikes - people will find other means. Officers of the Northern Fleet took their own lives in the face of their desperation. The situation in country has reached a crisis - people are protesting."

State Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin, who is conducting his own investigation, has focused on the "deep political nature" of the refusal to allow several foreign civic and religious activists into Russia. In his inquiry to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and FSB Chief Nikolai Patrushev, he qualifies the refusal to allow Stevenson's entry as possibly tied to infighting between various Russian trade union associations.

The leadership of the largest Russian trade union federation admitted that Stevenson was very critical of the new Russian Labor Code, because it corresponds too closely to the interests of Russian oligarchs, who have a negative reputation in the West, especially among trade unions. However, this leadership categorically refutes any proposed ties between this criticism and the American trade union activist's deportation. "With full responsibility, I can say that this is false", stated International Secretary of the Russian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR) Evgenii Sidorov. He labeled as "insinuations" claims that "FNPR actively participated in the organization of actions against Stevenson". However, he did not exclude the possibility that among other trade unions "there could be some dissatisfaction with her activities", for instance among those centers "that did not receive American grants for an education program". "Today there are provocateurs in the Russian trade union movement; it is fully possible that they wrote a series of compromising reports", Sidorov added.

One way or another, trade union leaders evaluate the situation negatively. "We consider it to be an unfriendly act in regards to our partners in the AFL-CIO, which together with the Russian trade unions are affiliated to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions", said Shepel. International secretary of the All-Russian Confederation of Labor (VKT) Boris Kravchenko insists that "It isn't right to send a person who has done nothing wrong out of the country with no justification, simply referring to secret internal instructions. If we allow this, we demonstrate to all that we live in a country where there is no rule of law". He considers resolution will come only through a political decision on her return, as "the decision to exile her was decided was based on politics."

It is not in Moscow's interests to interfere with international labor solidarity, and even less in its interests to try the patience of the American trade unions. The voice of American trade unions, for instance, could provide the deciding arguments on issues such as licensing imports of Russian goods, for example steel. Not long ago, the dispute concerning the import of Russian steel into the USA was resolved in a positive manner due to the fact that trade unions "agreed" to the official information about production costs. Such issues are key in the exceedingly difficult negotiations that are currently underway over Russia's accession to the WTO. To date, the USA has declared its support of the Kremlin's and relevant oligarchs' desire to join this organization. However, as has been demonstrated in practice, without the agreement of the international trade union movement, no number of "Grefs" or "Davoses" will help.

Among the major Russian trade union associations, these facts are well known and determine their interaction with government. Leaving their differences aside, the leaders of FNPR, VKT, and KTR came together to express their common interest in Irene Stevenson's return to her job. On 23 January, they sent a letter to Mikhail Kasyanov, Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov, and State Duma Chair Gennady Seleznev. In this letter they emphasized the importance of cooperation between the Russian trade union associations and the AFL-CIO within the framework of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, which unites 158.5 million members in 150 countries. FNPR, VKT and KTR, on behalf of 90% of the Russian trade union movement, called on the powers-that-be to "to heed the opinion of the Russian trade union movement and reconsider the decision to forbid Irene Stevenson entry to Russia."

One must add that the letter's authors are determined. Aleksandr Shepel said, that they all hope that the situation will be resolved in a positive manner, however they are prepared to take "further steps" if need be. It seems that the Russian president has already formed a personal opinion of such incidents. At the most recent State Council meeting, he recommended bureaucrats of all levels to stop "taking part in manic spy-mania". The Russian special services have good reasons to come to their senses.

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