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Support for Putin's regime dips over major attacks on state pensions
Rob Jones, Socialist Alternative (CWI Russia)
The day Russia unexpectedly won its first game in the football World Cup tournament the government announced a major attack on the pension age, first established decades ago - currently 55 years for women and 60 years for men.
Immediately after his re-election in March, Putin declared that one of the tasks of his term would be to increase the male retirement age to 63. But when the government announced its plans, it proposed that men would now retire at 67 and women at 63.
Anger was immediate. The small Confederation of Independent Trade Unions launched a petition against the reform, which within days gathered over two million signatures.
Such was the feeling that the official state trade union con-federation and even a few isolated deputies from the ruling 'United Russia' party spoke out against the reforms. This did not, of course, prevent deputies from the trade union voting for the reform in the state Duma (parliament).
Opinion polls indicate that 90% of the population are against the reforms and significant numbers say they are prepared to actively protest. Notably many of those protesting are young. They chant: "We will not live till our pension!"
If this reform goes through, Russian pensioners will have one of the highest retirement ages and lowest life expectancy rates in Europe. They will receive just 40% of previous earnings, when in most countries the elderly get over 60%.
This is on top of the fact that average wages in Russia are among the lowest in Europe. In addition, business pays practically no tax and the single-rate 13% income tax means the rich pay almost nothing to help support the poorest in society.
The government argues that while, in the past, there were three or four working people to support every pensioner, now there are less than two. The real reason for the crisis is that the wealth accumulated during the Soviet Union was robbed during the restoration of capitalism.
When the global financial crisis hit Russia in 2008 the government stopped paying its share of the pension fund to bail out the banks. To add insult to injury, the government claim that people now live longer. But the average life expectancy for males in Russia is about 70 years, which is a good decade less than that in Western Europe.
Putin declared in a 40-minute TV broadcast that he "didn't like" any of the possible reforms and announced he would "only increase" the pension age to 65 and 60. This was presented as a softening of the position, but it is actually higher that the 63 years Putin proposed last May!
Rather than dissipating the anger, his speech seems to have only increased it, and a wave of further demonstrations spread across the country.
Although the official 'opposition' parties - the Communists and 'Just Russia' - voted against the reforms in parliament, these parties are incapable of mobilising. Rather than have a united demonstration against the attack on pensions, the communists declared that they would have a separate demonstration to build support for their candidate in the 9 September Moscow mayoral election.
The independent trade unions formed a bloc with Just Russia, whose leader had welcomed Putin's proposals! In their speeches, Just Russia members blamed immigrants, the unemployed and those workers whose employers pay them wages in envelopes to avoid taxes. Most significantly, both parties attracted people to their protests by paying them. This angered those genuine protesters who want to see a mass protest develop.
Socialist Alternative (CWI Russia) organised actively against the reforms, arguing for a united campaign, controlled by elected action committees, to demand no increase in the pension age, an end to cuts in health and welfare budgets, and that wages and pensions be increased to a decent level.
Pension funds should be state financed and under the democratic control of elected committees of workers and pensioners. Extra finance should be raised by proper taxes on the banks, big business and the rich.
This should be linked to the struggle to fundamentally change society, to end the rule of the capitalist oligarchs and for a democratic socialist society that plans the economy to serve the needs of the majority.
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