The Soviet workers have spectacularly re-entered the political stage. On July 10 the coal miners of Mezhdurechensk went on strike with a series of demands ranging from a more plentiful supply of consumer goods to greater autonomy in the management of their affairs. The strike spread to fifteen mining towns, paralyzing the entire Kuznetsk Basin in western Siberia. By then the strikers, having raised political demands, wanted to talk with somebody higher up: Nikolai Ryzhkov, the Prime Minister.
In some respects, this strike is reminiscent of the celebrated Polish stoppage of nine years ago. Like the Poles, the Soviet strikers have the full backing of the local population. They, too, have added to their soap-and-sausage demands a series of political postulates, attacking privilege and asking for local party elections and speedy constitutional changes recognizing the full right to strike. As at Gdansk, the strike committee has taken care to preserve discipline.
But there is a basic difference. Unlike the case of Poland, the Communist Party and the press have so far greeted the strike with a degree of sympathy. Sovetskaya Rossiya, the usually conservative daily, went as far as to suggest that perestroika has been hitherto "a revolution from above, but now they are lending it a hand from below." It is too early to say how far the strike, now spreading to the Donets Basin in the Ukraine, will go, what echo it will have throughout the working class and what the official reaction will be. But one thing is already obvious. The Soviet intelligentsia, which viewed the labor movement with contempt and tended to treat perestroika as its private preserve, will have to revise its judgment. The workers want to be actors in their own drama. Seventy-two years after the Revolution, they may well again become the mainspring of Soviet history.