Vostochny Workers Go on Hunger Strike Over Back Wages

Vladimir Putin reviews a map showing the plan for the Vostochny spaceport. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office)
Vladimir Putin reviews a map showing the plan for the Vostochny spaceport. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office)

Pity the poor workers at Vostochny.

They’re out there in the Russian Far East, in the middle of nowhere, trying to construct a massive new spaceport and an entire city to support it. There’s not enough people to do the work, the winter weather is horrible, and their employers have allegedly embezzled money while falling months behind on wage payments.

Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin has decreed the first launch will take place from the new spaceport in December no matter. Deputy Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin — a great admirer of Josef Stalin — monitors the work via webcam in between regular visits. He recently threatened the rip the heads off anyone who steals funds or slows the project down.

Pressure? Oh, no pressure. What makes you say that?

It’s little wonder that workers are fed up. Two dozen went on a hunger strike, while another 100 workers also struck over back wages, according to Russian media.

Apparently, the strike was short lived. Rogozin has tweeted that he spoke by phone to the workers, who have agreed to end their hunger strike. The deputy prime minister said he would deal with the company officials responsible for failing to pay their wages.

[Update: Rogozin has fired the former head of Dalspetsstroy, Dmitry Savin, who is had earlier been demoted to deputy head of Dalspetsstroy,]

The project has continued to fall behind schedule. Recent photos of the construction site have raised questions about whether it will be possible to safely meet Putin’s end of the year deadline. Even if they do, it’s unclear what the impact will be on completing construction as planned in 2018.

Rogozin has taken personal control of the project. It’s his job to oversee the defense and space sectors. He recently fired the head of the general contractor over the delays. The previous holder of that position was arrested for alleged embezzlement.

It’s not entirely clear what Rogozin brings to the task other than his powerful position and his tendency to publicly berate people. Does he understand how to oversee a massive construction project? Or the complexities of launching rockets and running a new spaceport? Given the safety issues involved, the last think you want to do is to rush into a launch at an unfinished spaceport to satisfy some arbitrary deadline.

Then again, the deadline is from Putin. So, Rogozin’s going to do everything in his power to meet it. If he can’t, it won’t be for lack of effort in his part. He will be able to blame others.

Whether the deadline makes any sense is another matter. Russia has a long-term lease on the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which ended up in newly independent Kazakhstan after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia wants to reduce its dependence on the spaceport. However, there do not appear to be any serious threat to that agreement.

Completing a single launch from an unfinished spaceport by the end of the year doesn’t do much to reduce Russian dependence on Baikonur. The launch will probably divert resources from completing other parts of the spaceport and the supporting city. Overall progress could be slowed down.

Meanwhile, the project is short of workers. Reports indicate that students have been transported to the construction to assist with the work. There are reportedly plans to send another group there soon. Spring break Vostochny! How much fun is that, huh?

Perhaps that is a bit harsh. The students might be grateful for the work and pay that goes with it. (Providing their employees pay them on time.) One thing that seems clear is that students aren’t really a long-term solution to Vostochny’s labor problems.

Building a spaceport is difficult enough, especially in such a remote location. The project is further hampered by Russia’s culture of corruption, if the government’s claims about embezzlement are true. Officials have estimated that 20 percent of the money spent in the defense industry is lost through fraud and waste. It’s not known what the figures are in the construction industry, but it is a sector prone to corruption.

So, what will the rest of the year bring? Will they meet their December deadline? What will Putin do if his decree is not met? Will Rogozin actually tear someone’s head off?

It will be interesting to see what happens.

  • windbourne

    Who believes that the companies are the ones not paying?
    I am sure that putin is back in the old USSR mode of simply not paying corporations or ppl what they are owed.

  • justchaz

    Someone need stop editorializing and just be an aggregator. Period. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Charles Lurio

    Free student labor? They should be proud for walking in the footsteps of Soviet solidarity!

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    With the Russians it’s not time to start worrying when then stop eating, it’s when they stop drinking it all goes to hell. As the Russians say, in such situations there are optimists, and pessimists. The pessimist says, “Things can get no worse than they are now.”, the optimist says, “Oh yes, things can get much worse.”. No doubut some of those on strike might find themselves taking vacation in Ukraine if they don’t watch themselves.

  • Kapitalist

    Russians are crybabies. They grew up with expectations that the government will nurture them. When it doesn’t, they refuse to work. And the government fights back by not paying them. This war has no winner and no end.

  • windbourne

    I hate to point this out, but what exactly do you think that westerners would do if they were not paid? They would go to court. However, when the gov is the one not paying you and the gov controls the courts, I would have to say that they have no other choices.

  • Charles Lurio

    AKA they pretend to pay us, we pretend to work.

  • joe tusgadaro

    It’s Doug’s site, he could do stories with hand puppets if he liked.
    He is not forcing us to be here.

  • Kapitalist

    They could work for free, as they used to. Their salary was to not get a beating. And for some newly printed toy rouble paper pieces which couldn’t buy anything. The US is very near that situation too now, when the dollar suddenly becomes worthless and all banks suddenly go bankrupt at once, eliminating whatever anyone has been fooled to believe he owned on some account.

  • Valerij Gilinskij

    I invite you to work for free. Gruel and bunks I will ensure.

    And, yes, I – Russian.

  • justchaz

    You are not making useful sense. Doug would rather it be the site of millions more. His editorializing frequently fails him that he would be better off doing less of it to achieve his bigger goal. Many do not come back because of it. You, though, are thinking sandpits and game ball ownership.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Gawsh, maybe that’s why people organize into unions. Funny, we are so fast to ID the failings of the unions but gloss over the failings of management. I’d much rather live in a society where 2 people work and 3 supervise and everyone is getting paid over working in Siberia with no pay. It’s not only the workers suffering, but their families. My glib statements aside, it’s sad to see that yet again, somebody’s space program’s not paying the labor again.

  • justchaz

    “The US is very near that situation too now, when the dollar suddenly becomes worthless and all banks suddenly go bankrupt at once…”

    The fallacy of your initial comment notwithstanding, you reply and expect to be taken seriously when you say something like this. It is so disappointing the eagerness to reach for bluster rather than the humility of learning before attempting to speak on subjects.

  • Aegis Maelstrom

    Well, maybe that’s why the governments in authoritarian states do not allow you to establish and operate independent trade unions.

    Certainly, in “real socialism” a.k.a. “communist” countries you had state-controlled trade unions which were used to exploit and control the labour. Running an independent trade union was a different story.

    Of course official propaganda had a tough time to “explain” people why they don’t need an independent organization and this was precisely the way how the Eastern Bloc collapsed: people of Poland demanded an independent trade union (called “Solidarnoล›ฤ‡” = Solidarity). What happened next were some minor stepbacks and then introduction of martial law and tanks on the streets.However, this demand and organization lived further and changed the system in 1989-1990. The rest of the bloc quickly followed.

    Similar stories can be told about right wing juntas and other kleptocracies all over the world.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    In case you hadn’t noticed unions aren’t doing very well here either. Just as the Communists convinced the workers of the 20th cen they don’t need no unions to protect themselves from management, our management has convinced us that we don’t need no stinking unions either. …

    What? the people of Eastern Europe delivered the death blow to the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe? No! We ALL know it was Ronald Regan’s manly persona and deep deficit spending ….. Right? ๐Ÿ™‚ From what what we are saying here, folks here might think we’re working for the other side. Most people live in a political 1 bit integer universe. My side, your side, right and wrong. You show signs of living in a universe of at least single precision floating point numbers. You’re highly suspect. You keep talking in shades of gray or color, and by golly, you’ll be put on a list.

  • Aegis Maelstrom

    Do not worry, even the people of Poland were promptly persuaded that all we need are Deregulation, Lowered Taxation, Foreign Investment (deregulated and not really taxed) and Deindustrialization. One should be elastic and not overly demanding. And who needs trade unions in the free market, promised for free by the economic hitmen, I mean experts, from the land of the free? ๐Ÿ™‚

    Nowadays more and more people wake up, seeing that something went wrong. The capital DOES have nationality, who would have thought. All countries are equal, but some of them are more equal than others. Small business was to be created as a foundation of economy – but the progress and high gains are achieved by large corporations. Demographics in Europe are grim and in U.S. are cured with desperate immigration. The returns on labour are pretty stagnant (or lowering in U.S.) but the returns on capital are soaring and disparities skyrocket.

    But yes, we cannot overload citizens with dark facts. They need more “infotainment”, soap dramas in politics and a preferably two party system. =)

    P.S. Nice to meet you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Poland is doing pretty well. A lot of the specialty end mills, lathe cutters, and even two of the gliders I fly are made there. Give it a few more decades and they’ll be there with Germany. They’re investing in themselves. I can’t say I’ve seen any political or economic system that can run open loop and take care of itself off of internal checks and balances. Leadership works too hard to turn off checks and balances, and the followers work to hard to believe in their leadership. If I were to propose a political and economic system, I’d propose no system but at least this. Maintain a balance of forces within your system. Distribute power. Be weary of a separation of interests of the leadership from their subjects. When the well being of the leadership is no longer tied to their subjects, they’ll stop investing in them. When you see that, you’re in trouble.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Then you know firsthand the expression “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.” ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Michael J. Listner

    It’s called an internship. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Kapitalist

    If I were forced to work on building a rocket, I’d make sure it explodes on the launch pad. And I’d consider ending my life meaningfully by murdering my boss, if I ever get close enough to him. That’s the kind of loyalty that exists in a government, as opposed to the mutual individual freedom on a market.

  • Kapitalist

    It is often claimed that the Russian government has financial problems, and that this influences its space program. Well, the US gov has much more serious financial problems. You’ll be surprised when it suddenly becomes apparent to you that you cannot withdraw any money from what you were fooled to believe were “your” account, and that the money anyway cannot buy anything. Hyperinflation is the logical conclusion of the governmental fiat money, fractional reserve banking systems and the abolishment of the interest rate. They simply print money out of nothing, and who wouldn’t who could? The root of the problem is that the government is allowed to do so. Hyperinflation has happened many times in many governments, and it is building up in the US now.

  • Aegis Maelstrom

    No, hyperinflation is not a logical conclusion of the governmental fiat money. If you don’t believe, be that nice and make a simple window test (that is, instead of running fantasies, take a look through the window).

    Disclaimer no. 1: too many times I saw someone in the Internet complaining on “fractional reserve banking”, just to they are some chap with no proper economic background and understanding what the banking is and what the modern needs are, Further keywords in the bull_ bingo are: money creation, Hayek, gold.

    FYI: banking as we know it is founded on the principle of fractional reserve.

    Disclaimer no. 2: no, I do not like the crazy “sub-prime” “collateralized” bonds market neither; some machinations went far, far beyond the control.

  • Valerij Gilinskij

    Of course, I know.
    I can speak at length about the cosmodrome “East”, but I have limited my knowledge of English.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Far superior to my Russian. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Kapitalist

    Doesn’t increased supply lower the marginal price of that supplied? Of course it does! When the US government creates trillions of dollars out of nothing, they hyperinflate the dollar. The process is not smooth, the dollar will one day suddenly become worthless. When the rest of the world no longer accept paying the US gov dollar inflation tax, the only use a dollar can have in this world is for Americans to pay their tax. All dollars in the whole world will come raining down on the US, and this grotesque oversupply will by hyperinflationary and no one will want to offer anything at all in exchange for a worthless dollar. This “adjustment” in the payment system will cause most enterprises to cease operations. They will have no income and no way to pay for supplies or labor. I hope that they will start using bitcoin or Mexican pesetas or something instead, so that millions don’t have to die because of the sudden disruption of production of essential stuff like energy, food, transport.

    Gold is unfortunately not an option because no one in the US owns any gold and no one knows what gold is.

  • Matt

    It does not look as fake. I hope that observable stupidity represents not the average todays’ population in USA.