Workers protest a crisis-shortened four day work week and pay cuts at a Ford plant in Russia (Photo by: The St. Petersburg Times)
In case you hadn't noticed, Russia's culture, whether the subject is politics or business, doesn't always mesh as nicely with the traditions of the West as one might suppose. The recent arrests of gay rights demonstrators in Moscow--they say they were denied any kind of demonstration permit--illustrate a continuing difference in traditions of free speech on public issues. Regardless of their stance on any given issue, such as gay rights, almost all Americans and Europeans support the right to peaceful protest. In the economic realm, the same is true. However, in the case of a demonstration in Russia against Ford Motor Co., there was no official objection to the protest demonstration, but one does wonder what really was being protested.
In the U.S., it is commonplace for companies under financial pressure to cut back employment or, in certain circumstances, to reduce the work week in order to conform to production reductions. If the company lacks orders for cars, it can't afford to build them, can it? But the work week cut still must seem novel to Russians who are more used to a general social contract that accepts low wages in return for security. In the old days of the U.S.S.R., companies just kept making products, often regardless of market acceptance. It was one reason socialism failed.
There is no lack of economic demonstrations, or strikes, for that matter, in the West; and that is not my interest in the Ford Russia situation. Rather, I am just contrasting the apparent expectations that exist in worker populations. Americans usually don't try to force a company to keep producing when it lacks sales.
Of course, we do have the very recent tradition of simply bailing out failing auto companies. Maybe Russia should adopt that cultural innovation. The trouble is, Ford isn't willing to take a bailout in the U.S. and probably wouldn't want the government's "help" in Russia, either. And, to its credit, the Kremlin doesn't seem to be inclined to fund such a bailout, either.