Topic 5. Labor Movements and the Repression of Labor in Company Towns of Russia

Read: Kulikov, Volodymyr. “Labor Movements and the Repression of Labor in Company Towns of Russia.” Working Paper. 2019.

One of the darkest aspects of industrial capitalism were labor conflicts. Labor movement took various forms from everyday resistance to collective violence. Accordingly, actors who aimed to repress the labor movement took into consideration each of these forms and reacted to them. The case presents the labor conflict between miners and the administration of the New Russia Company in Iuzovka (now in Donetsk city in Ukraine) in 1898. It demonstrates that the power of the enterprises was highly concentrated, but not unlimited. At the same time, the delusion of super-power made the administrators of enterprises reluctant to respond to the workers’ demands and enter into negotiations. Decision-makers were lacking enough power to suppress the labor movement and, at the same time, the labor movement failed to establish efficient communication channels to the decision-makers. This led to deadlocks and mutual violence during the labor conflicts and contributed to large-scale labor movements within the Russian Empire.

Questions for preparation:

1. Would it have been possible to prevent the conflict? Put yourself in the place of a strike leader/company executive: what would you do?
2. Can this struggle be considered as a political conflict? Justify your answer.
3. Did the employers and state authorities have a strategy to prevent labor movement in Russia, or did they rather respond to the actions of workers? How did the main anti-labor stakeholders cooperate and manage the conflicts of interest?
4. What does this case tell us about the peculiarities of the labor conflicts in late Tsarist Russia?
5. What does this case tell us about the nature of the relationships between business and the state in late Tsarist Russia?