The Ukrainian government’s resolve to implement serious economic reforms in 1996 may be put to a severe test February 1, when Donbass coal miners plan to launch a general strike. Union leader Viktor Derzhak announced the strike action yesterday in Kiev, saying miners would not return to the pits until their demands were met. Among their most serious grievances are "chronic" nonpayment of wages and arrears for coal deliveries. The state’s current outstanding debt to the industry is said to total 78 trillion karbovantsi. Derzhak said cessation of state subsidies this year had driven up the price of domestic coal, perversely causing the government to purchase 20 million tons (worth $520 million) from cheaper foreign producers. The union leader complained that a current IMF project to restructure Ukraine’s mining industry and close unprofitable pits had only aggravated the situation because the financial assistance said to be involved had not materialized. In supporting statements, a Communist-leaning parliamentarian yesterday claimed that unions representing the machine-building and military industrial sectors, plagued by similar social problems, are prepared to put down their tools in solidarity. (12) The specter of labor unrest and its potentially expensive consequences could not come at a worse time for Ukraine, under pressure from international lenders to pursue market reforms aggressively this year. Should the state placate the miners, however, other, equally distressed workers might be encouraged to emulate the miners’ example and thus usher in protracted instability.
Lukashenko Steps Up Offensive Against Media.