Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 106

In the meantime, the threat of arenewal of last month’s miners’ strikes hangs over the government. DeputyPremier Boris Nemtsov did not mince his words yesterday when he addressed aplenary meeting of the coal miners’ union. It was his uncomfortable task totell the unionists that, in the present economic crisis, the governmentcannot give any branch of the economy as much money as it needs. But he saidthe government was counting on the coal industry to do its bit to make theindustry profitable. This will mean closing unprofitable pits, which theunions strongly oppose. (RTR, ORT, June 2)

Nemtsov’s main message yesterday was that, now that the majority of the coalminers have been privatized, it is no longer the federal government’s job topay miners’ wages. That is the job of the coal industry itself. Nemtsovacknowledged that the industry faces serious problems due to the shortage ofcash in circulation in Russia, as a result of which only 17 percent of coalcompanies’ income is paid in the form of “live money,” that is, hard cashrather than promissory notes and barter goods. This problem is thegovernment’s responsibility, Nemtsov said. The government knows it will haveto take “tough measures” to overcome it. He surprised the unionists bysaying that the government fully supports the calls of miners in Yakutia andKrasnoyarsk, center of last month’s strikes, to refuse to deliver coal tocustomers who do not pay their bills. Nemtsov said this was far more likelyto bring results than blocking the railways, as miners did during the recentstrikes. That does harm to the whole region and holds the entire country atransom, Nemtsov said, but it does not hit at the real offenders: specificpower stations not paying for specific coal deliveries.

Meanwhile, problems are mounting for the government in other sectors of theeconomy. Yesterday, union leaders representing Russia’s doctors and nurseswarned that their workers will strike at the beginning of September if thegovernment does not take steps now to pay wage arrears. (RTR, June 2) TheCommunist Party is also keeping up the pressure: It has postponed the launchof its campaign for Yeltsin’s impeachment, which was originally supposed tostart yesterday, but only for one week. The Duma debate is now scheduled forJune 9.