Belarus: The Power of Workers

Protest in Minsk, Belarus. Credit: Homoatrox, licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0 (source)

The people of Belarus are showing the power they have, and the potential for even greater social change.

Since August 9, President Aleksandr Lukashenko has been under siege by the people of Belarus, who are demanding his departure from power. He has been president since the office was established in 1994. He claims to have received 80 percent of the vote this year. The opposition says that’s ridiculous.

After initial small protests, the government cracked down, arresting thousands, and beating and torturing others. From August 13th on, a truly mass movement has developed. Some protests have included hundreds of thousands, and the police and military have temporarily stood down, even releasing many of those detained.

But unlike some protest movements made up of mostly students, in this case workers have started taking action in their workplaces. Thousands of workers at major tractor and automobile factories have struck, some holding factory-wide meetings. They struck not only for pay, even though their salaries are barely enough to meet their needs. These were workplace strikes with political purposes. They struck to protest the state’s repression and to show solidarity with the protests, demanding a new and fair election.

As one striker at a state-owned construction company said, “Why am I not going back to work? I simply cannot forget what has happened. I cannot. I saw ten police officers beat up one person. I cannot forget that.”

These strikes have forced management to threaten workers, doing everything possible to force workers back to work. Because they – the business owners and the political leadership – know that if workers stop working, then they cannot continue to rule.

While this struggle seems to be nowhere near over, the working class of Belarus is showing us the potential power that we have. Workers in Belarus, the United States, and other countries ALL have power, IF we choose to organize and use it. The working people of Belarus are giving us just a taste of the possibilities.