Siberian teachers vote for strike over poverty pay

December 15, 1995

University teachers in Siberia were due to strike today in what had been planned as Russia-wide protests against poverty-level wages and poor funding for state education.

Professors and lecturers in seven of the largest university cities in Siberia, including Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Vladivostock and Irkutsk, voted overwhelming in favour of two days of industrial action on the eve of Sunday's general election, to highlight the crisis in the sector.

But despite scandalously low wages - most university teachers earn no more than 450,000 roubles a month (Pounds 60) - and the widespread lack of funds for publishing academic research papers or purchasing domestic and overseas journals, secret ballots throughout most of Russia's 500 universities and higher education colleges failed to secure a majority in favour of industrial action.

Russian law demands that two-thirds of votes cast in a strike ballot must be in favour of it for action to take place. Only in Siberian universities did enough professors and lecturers vote in favour to trigger action. They were joined by primary and secondary school-teachers from the Volga River region.

Yuri Jerusalimsky, a historian from Yaroslavsky University in Yaroslavl, north of Moscow, said that although 70 per cent of the votes cast in his department backed the strike, the university-wide ballot narrowly failed to reach the two-thirds majority required.

The professors' union would be sending a message of solidarity to the strikers in Siberia and the Volga, he said. "The strike ballot reflects the anger university staff feel about low wages and grants for lecturers and students and the lack of money to support the publication of research findings and for attending conferences and academic seminars," he said.

Many academics now routinely paid for their own publications and conference expenses, he said, adding that funds for these activities at his university had not been available since last February.

The extent of the rot in university funding and chronic lack of capital maintenance - leaving most universities with crumbling buildings and out-dated equipment - is increasingly sapping morale.

With this weekend's elections to the state Duma, the lower house of the federal parliament, to be followed next year by presidential elections, further industrial action should be expected, Mr Jerusalimsky said.

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