As we know, during the 2001 presidential election a part of labor unions elite, previously loyal to A. Lukashenko, tried to play against him. Although the attempt failed, that was enough for the authorities to understand the potential force of the largest public organization of the country and how efficient a skillful application of such potential could be.

Shortly after the election the authorities launched a directed policy with regard to the Belarusian Federation of Labor Unions to put it under total control. The introduction of a new procedure to collect labor-union dues, the replacement of V. Goncharik with F. Vitko under the pressure of authorities and then the latter with L. Kozik, the dismissal of A. Starikevich, the editor of Belarusky Chas periodical, the dismissal of A. Yaroshuk, the leader of agricultural labor unions – are the most `expressive stages of that policy.
Today we could state that the ultimate goal has almost been achieved. The BFLU is no longer a headache for the authorities, and the restoration of the old procedure of collecting dues through accounts departments is a proof of it. Earlier the Constitutional Court found its abolition legal.
We shall admit that the “sweeping up” in the BFLU ranks caused no wide resonance among labor union masses. International organizations protested threatening with sanctions for violating the procedure of personnel changes, opposition politicians expressed solidarity, independent press provided a detailed coverage of what was going on. But labor union “masses” remained silent.
What is the reason for such a passive attitude? In fact, on the example of the BFLU the authorities worked through a scenario of taking non-state structures under control if their activity do not suit them. Obviously, after the given precedent such scenario could successfully be used against any other organization.
Last February IISEPS predicted a possible split of the BFLU, a part of which could turn into free labor unions, the rest – “yellow” labor unions. Today the reality is a bit different: the entire BFLU is put under control, although we shall not exclude an exodus of industrial labor unions, the leadership of which does not want to be an instrument of promoting policy of state authorities. So far the BFLU has failed to become a real factor of public-political life. The gap between the democratic leaders of the BFLU and the apathy of labor union masses, and dependence of grass root organizations on the administration proved too big.
The fact that the BFLU “sweeping up” was quite calm could probably be explained by a low public respect for labor unions. Only 21% of the respondents say they trust the BFLU structures, whereas almost twofold more people distrust them. At the same time, 27.5% of the respondents trust free and independent labor unions, and 34.0% distrust them.
In the background of other state and public institutions labor unions look not so bad, leaving behind the government, political parties, KGB, the Central Election Commission and the National Assembly. Independent labor unions are placed higher if we have a look at the dynamics of the level of trust over the last 5 years (See Table 1). The number of those who trust them has jumped almost twofold (of those who distrust – only by 7%).

Table 1. Dynamics of trust to labor unions, %

Variant of answer
Labor unions of the BFLU
– trust
– distrust
Independent and free labor unions
– trust
– distrust
The figures of the BFLU are more modest. But it could hardly count on a better place. Over the ten years of Belarus’ independence the BFLU labor unions have failed to adjust to the changes that take place. They are no longer driving belts of the USSR Communist Party, since the latter ceased its existence, but they have not become true advocates of workers’ interests. And they have to pay for it.
Considering the attitude of these two groups (those who trust free labor unions and labor unions of the BFLU), it turns out that less than two thirds (61.2%) of the former group simultaneously trust labor union of the BFLU, whereas 80% of the latter group trust free and independent labor unions. That is a further proof of the fact that free and independent labor unions enjoy a wider authority with those who are not dissatisfied with labor unions.
In fact, A. Lukashenko’s supporters see labor unions in a more positive light than his opponents, both the BFLU and free labor unions: 30.9% of the president’s supporters say they trust labor unions of the BFLU, and 26.4% — free labor unions (distrust – 31.1% and 25.0%, respectively). A. Lukashenko’s opponents are more skeptical – only 14.6% of them trust the BFLU labor unions (4fold more of them distrust labor unions) and 30.6% trust free and independent labor unions (42.6% distrust them).
Of course, Belarusians have their own vision of the latest events within the BFLU and the place and role of labor unions in our life. The replacement of F. Vitko with L. Kozik was carried out without ceremony and simply could not win the sympathy of the population. A little more than one fourth of the respondents accept the replacement and consider labor unions’ support of the presidential policy necessary. At the same time half of the respondents believe labor unions shall not support the policy of the president if it does not correspond to workers’ interests (See Table 2).

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question “Recently F. Vitko, head of the Federation of Labor Unions, who criticized the current social-economic course, has been replaced with L. Kozik, deputy head of the Presidential Administration, who, as many believe, would ensure labor unions’ support t A. Lukashenko’s policy. Some people agree with this replacement, others disagree. What do you think about it?”, %

Variant of answer
All respondents
A. Lukashenko’s supporters
A. Lukashenko’s opponents
I agree: labor unions shall support the policy of the president, if it corresponds to workers’ interests
I disagree: labor unions shall not support the policy of the president, if it does not corresponds to workers’ interests
The respondents having different attitude towards the latest reshuffling in the BFLU live in similar conditions (both groups face backpays equally), but their political and economic views are absolutely different. So, for example, the majority of the respondents who think labor unions shall support the policy of the president rather (30.7%) or partially (41.4%) satisfied with A. Lukashenko’s ruling. Their opponents see his activity in a different light: 2.2% and 16.4%, respectively. Being satisfied with the present (almost half is confident the country develops in the right direction), the first group is optimistic about the future (41.9% say the economic situation in the country will improve, 4fold less respondents say it will deteriorate). They link the future to the name of the present head of state (at the presidential election 84.3% voted for A. Lukashenko, 59.1% are ready to support him again, and 43.6% support the abolition of the Constitutional norm of two presidential terms).
On the contrary, the second group emphasizes that the country develops in a wrong direction (72.2%), prospects for an improvement of the economic situation seem rather vague (4.9% – it will improve, 50.9% – it will deteriorate). At the presidential election they voted more actively for V. Goncharik (33.9%) than for A. Lukashenko (25.4%), they are negative about the Constitutional norm of two presidential terms (78.3%) and are less ready (8.2%) to support him at a new presidential election (compare: S. Gaidukevich received 10.6%).
Summing it up we shall note that although the authorities managed to take the BFLU under control, its present condition, authority with the society, efficiency, etc., raise serious doubts about its usage as an effective instrument of promoting interests of the authorities.