Note on the Trade Union at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology

We have started the international campaign on LabourStart web-site, where you can exhibit your support and send your message to the MIPT administration. Below we give more details on the current situation in English, the petition in Russian is also open to sign.

The main trade union organization in Russian education at all levels is the Education and Science Employees’ Union, which is affiliated with the Federation of Independent Trade Union of Russia. Both are largely unreformed holdovers from the Soviet era: They include administrative personnel in their ranks and act in practice as an arm of the administration. Besides keeping out independent trade unions, their other main function, apart from rubber-stamping collective agreements, is to administer the few remaining social benefits that membership allows.

University Solidarity, which organizes university non-administrative staff exclusively and whose charter excludes members of management from its ranks, was founded began in 2014 in response to the government’s neoliberal offensive (“new public administration” taken to the extreme) against university teaching staff: “optimization” through massive job cuts and impossible increases in the workload for those who remain; elimination of the electiveness of rectors, deans and department chairpersons and of any other elements of participation in running the university; introduction of “effective contracts”, in which the bonus part is larger than the guaranteed segment of the salary; the shift from five-year contracts, whose renewal had been virtually guaranteed, to one-year contracts; and much else along similar lines. Meanwhile, teachers’ salaries, which were supposed to reach double the average wage in their respective regions of Russia by 2018, still lag far behind the promised goal; rectors’ salaries, on the other hand, have taken off to reach truly astronomical levels.

University Solidarity was founded to fight against these policies, to organize the collective defense of university teachers’ interests, and to defend higher education in Russia against the government’s destructive policies.

Union activity in Russia face many obstacles: The absence of a strong tradition of independent organization; a labour code that strongly favours employers and makes legal strikes almost impossible; a corrupt judicial system that bends to those with power; severe limitations on public demonstrations.

Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, one of whose founders was Nobel-laurate physicist Peter Kapitza, was and remains one of Russia’s top universities for physics and mathematics. Its chapter of University Solidarity has been the national union’s strongest local organization. It has fought – with some success – for decent salaries, against inordinate increases in teaching loads and “effective contracts”, and for teachers’ participation in running the institution. It has also denounced the corruption that is prevalent among university administrations (as in government, of which the administration has become a part).

One of the union’s methods that has proved to some degree effective has been to publicly denounce the negative processes at work at MIPT. Hence the rector’s main complaint against Maxim Balashov: One should not air MIPT’s dirty laundry in public. The rector has subsequently denied that this was the reason Balashov did not win the competition. However, the recorded minutes of the meeting of the Academic Council, with its majority of administrators and other people directly dependent on the rector, make very clear that the activity of the union was the only argument put forward. Balashov’s academic qualifications, his teaching performance over the past years at MIPT, were not mentioned. Moreover, the person who “won” the competition is an eighty-year old individual, who is seemingly incapable of lecturing and his research activity over the past years falls far short of that of Balashov. Another individual is going to be hired additionally to substitute Balashov’s lectures.

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