Russia in 2017: the number of protests is growing

 

The Centre for Economic and Political Reforms continues monitoring of protest actions across the country. We have summed up the monitoring of protests and labour conflicts for the second quarter of 2017 and for the first six months of 2017 as a whole.

The protest explosions that occurred on March 26 and June 12 became as a natural result in the conditions of the high social tension that has developed by this point in time. This factor also explains the surge in protest activity in Moscow, where, against the background of the preparations for the adoption of the bill on renovation (a program for the resettlement of tenants of houses built in the Soviet era into new modern houses), a wave of protests from the townspeople swept into a mass rally on Sakharov Avenue on May 14, 2017.

Throughout 2016 and early 2017 protest activity in the country was high. At the same time, most protest actions are not protests that have an explicitly political nature (i.e. with demands for changing the political system, changing the country’s leadership etc.), but rather the actions related to a wide range of specific problems affecting local communities. Most often, protest actions are caused by the following problems: unpaid salaries, demands by defrauded depositors and co-investors to fulfil obligations or return their invested money, dissatisfaction with the construction activities not approved by local residents. A separate type of protest comes from entrepreneurs who are dissatisfied with the regulations of their businesses.

Considering labour protests and the ones related to specific socio-economic problems, one must bear in mind that, over time, they often become politicized and oriented towards more general demands. This is so because the authorities disregard the problems and/or oppose the protesters. People involved in protest actions over a particular issue often conclude that their problem is generated by systemic contradictions (corruption, abuse of power, etc.). As a consequence, they begin to put forward more general demands, often of a political nature. At first, they demand the resignation of local and regional officials, then they begin to call for a fight against corruption at all government levels and make claims even to the federal authorities.

A wide geography of protests on March 26 and June 12 quite reflects the situation with high social tension in various regions of the country; meanwhile, the rally against the renovation program in Moscow, which was held on Sakharov Avenue on May 14, according to various estimates gathered from 15 to 50 thousand citizens. It has become a vivid indicator of the general discontent and distrust of Muscovites with the policy of the Moscow mayor’s office, which in fact refuses to have any constructive dialogue with residents on multiple acute social issues.

Furthermore, low standards of living and its deterioration have an inevitable effect on social tension in the country provoking protest moods.

Over the last two years there has been a constant deterioration in living standards and a rise in prices and tariffs. Real disposable money incomes of the population are falling. According to official statistics, in 2014, they fell by 0.7%, in 2015 – by 3.2%, in 2016 – by 5.9%. In the first quarter of 2017, a reduction was registered again – by 0.2% compared to the corresponding period of the previous year.

The number of people with incomes below the subsistence level is constantly growing. In 2014, there were 16.1 million such Russians, which is 0.6 million more than in 2013; in 2015 – 19.5 million people; in 2016 – 19.8 million people, in January-March 2017 – 22 million people.

The fall in the standard of living, a large number of unresolved problems on the ground, the gradual politicisation of the disaffected – all these led to today’s situation of increasing the level of social tension that manifested itself in a large number of protests in the first quarter of 2017 and in the growth of the number of protests in the second quarter.

In total, in the first half of 2017, as many as 662 protests were recorded, of which 372 were associated with some socio-economic issues (except for labour protests), 244 were political protests (including anti-corruption protests on March 26 and June 12), and 46 were labour protests.

Thus, the main protests during this period, taking into account the numerous actions on March 26 and June 12, are still grassroots protests related to some particular social and economic problems of the population.

In the second quarter of 2017, compared with the first quarter, the number of protests increased from 284 to 378, and protests were recorded in almost all regions of the country (more than 90% of the regions). Protests of defrauded co-investors and investors in housing construction, as well as rallies against the increase in utility tariffs and against the Platon system were held in many regions of the country, and in some regions they were held repeatedly. Some labour protests in 2017 were recorded in more than half of the country’s regions; meanwhile, significant labour conflicts (i.e., including the cases when the conflict did not lead to an active protest of workers) were noted practically in all regions.

In the second quarter of 2017, the CEPR also recorded 225 significant conflicts related to labour relations: 196 cases of delays and non-payment of salaries, 15 cases of mass layoffs, 12 cases of lower wages, and 2 cases of shifting to part-time work. Of them, 25 cases outgrew into some labour protests.

As opposed to the first quarter, an increase in the number of conflicts related to labour relations (in 48 cases, 177 were recorded in the first quarter), as well as labour protests (there were recorded 21 protests per 4 cases in the first quarter).

In the first half of 2017, as many as 402 significant conflicts related to labour relations were recorded, most of which were related to non-payment and salary delays. Of them, 46 cases outgrew into some labour protests. Most of the labour protests were also related to workers’ demands to pay off their wage arrears.

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