Russian Unemployment Rising, Fast

Russian unemployment is growing fast, especially in Moscow.  Mikhail Nagaitsev, the chairman of the Moscow Federation of Labor Unions, reported on Ekho Moskvy that during the holiday period the number of people registering for unemployment doubled.  Now there are about 290,000 unemployed in Moscow compared to 56,500 a year ago. Some statisticians are saying that unemployment is perhaps higher that the official 6.6 percent.  According to a survey conduced by FOM, only one percent of Russians register as unemployed when the lose their job making the overall figure probably closer to 7.5 percent.  If correct, that would put the number of unemployed in Russia at 6 million out of 76 million people of working age.  Experts believe that social unrest tends to occur when unemployed surpasses the 10 percent mark.  With officials admitting that joblessness in Russia might increase by 2.1 to 2.2 million people in 2009, that 10 percent mark is inching closer and closer. Couple this with another FOM survey which finds that every fifth Russian not only expects an increase in labor strikes, but are also willing to participate in them and the situation is looking more ominous.

Unemployed, disgruntled Russians might not need to worry too much longer. Walmart has made some serious steps for entering the Russian market.  It’s cheap goods, enormous stores, and abundant service jobs will certain ally the frustrations of any downtrodden public.  But as anyone from small town America knows that box store on the hill is a temple of false gods.  Walmart is cancer to small businesses, acid to the idyllic downtown Main Street, and a snake oil cure for disparity.  Walmart may have branded itself as that blue vested, smiley faced cornucopia of consumerism, but its real face is a low wage and viciously anti-union substitute for the loss of well paid jobs.  I urge Russians to beware.

But Walmart’s penetration into the Russian sales and labor market is still a while off.  In the meantime something is needed to get a grip on any future public disorder.  Perhaps this is why a few Duma members have gotten together and proposed a new law titled “On the participation of citizens in the defense of social order.” Bad economic times tend to mean not only an increased possibility of social protest, but also a guaranteed rise in street crime. Like their  Soviet predecessors, the militias will mostly concentrate their energies on preventing everyday, low level criminal activity. They will certainly have their hands full.  In the last year, Russia has seen an 10-15 percent increase in street crime.  This includes 1.7 million acts of minor hooliganism, 2 million incidences of public drinking, and about 4 million detentions for public drunkenness.

The lawmakers hope to stem the tide of these growing instances of public disorder by adding to the already existing 214,000 militiamen among the 363,000 law enforcement personnel. The law gives citizens three ways to help maintain social order.  A person can assist or collaborate with police organs. He could also suggest proposals to the police on issues of maintaining social order. Or interested citizens could form their own “independent groups in their place of residence” which will give them the right to use physical force and armed defense if necessary.  There’s just one problem: Where is the money going to come from?

Perhaps an even more important concern is how these militias will ultimately be used.  As Valerii Vorchchev, a member of the expert council on the Commission of Human Rights of the Russian Federation, told Kommersant, the economic crisis raises the possibility that these militias with be used “together with OMON to disperse protests just like as in Soviet times when they along with the police cut the pants and heads of stilyagi.” The only thing is that in times of economic unrest, those good militiamen might not be all that eager to help the cops bust up a mob of justifiably angry citizens.  Especially when their ranks will most likely consist of bowling ball shaped babas more concerned with repelling local teenage punks whose real crime is luring their granddaughters to evenings of hard drink and quick sex.