Soviet Coal Strike Closes Mines in 4 New Areas

Times Staff Writer

Some striking Soviet coal miners returned to their jobs Thursday after winning major concessions from the government, but new shutdowns were reported in four previously unaffected areas as some of the most serious labor unrest here since the 1920s placed increasing pressure on the country's ailing economy.

Most of the miners in Siberia's Kuznets Basin, where the trouble started 11 days ago, were expected to be back at work today after a top Communist Party official signed a 35-point agreement granting higher pay, an immediate increase in supplies of food and consumer goods, and improvements in living and working conditions.

A member of the strike committee, Boris Krivets, said in a telephone interview from Kemerovo that the pact includes specific deadlines for reaching longer-term goals and an understanding that if the government fails to adhere to the timetable, the miners will go off the job again.

35 More Closures

Meanwhile, the Soviet news media reported that new strikes had shut down at least 35 more mines Wednesday and Thursday as the unrest spread to additional regions of the country. The new strikers' demands reportedly were similar to those of their colleagues in Siberia and the Donets Basin of the Ukraine, where shutdowns started last weekend.

The newly closed mines included 14 in the important Karaganda coal basin of northern Kazakhstan; nine of 13 in Vorkuta, which is part of the Pechora coal basin in the far north; all 11 in Pavlograd, near Dnepropetrovsk in the Ukraine, and the largest in the Don River region at Rostov-on-Don.

A member of the strike committee at Makeyevka in the Donets Basin said by telephone that an agreement had been reached with a government commission to end the strikes there as of Thursday evening. But the situation remained unclear. The evening television news reported 100 pits still closed well past the deadline. The night before, 70 of the Donets Basin's 120 mines had been reported on strike.

What is clear is that the strikes are having an increasingly acute impact on the general economy.

"They've lost an awful lot of coal," said one Western analyst who has been following the situation, "and in a taut economy, even a day's loss of production is a lot because there is so little slack in the system. Any time deliveries get disrupted, it is felt almost immediately."

Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev said in an unscheduled address to Parliament on Wednesday that more than 1 million tons of production had been lost already.

"This loss cannot be recouped," he said, adding that the spread of the unrest could have "very far-reaching economic, social and political consequences."

Others estimate that the strikes have cost up to 6 million tons of production--three full days' output at the average rate. Soviet television said the strikes in the Donets Basin alone were costing about 5 million rubles a day, $8 million at the official exchange rate.

State television reported Wednesday from the Donets city of Yenakiyevo that steel and chemical plants were "on the verge of stoppage" for lack of coal.

Despite Gorbachev's warnings that the spreading labor unrest could seriously undermine his reform program, some analysts questioned whether it will be possible to hold the line in view of the news media's widespread and generally sympathetic coverage.

"Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week," the Western analyst said, "but I find it very difficult to believe that it's not going to happen in other industries."

The newspaper Sovietskaya Rossiya reported Thursday that strikes or work slowdowns had already occurred in Kuznets Basin industries not directly related to coal production.

It is not clear how the authorities could satisfy the demands of all this country's unhappy workers in view of the growing budget deficit, runaway inflation and chronic shortages of food, housing and consumer goods.

Soviet television quoted miners at Rostov-on-Don as saying that poor living conditions in the region were the main reason for their strike. People there are limited to seven ounces of butter and seven ounces of soap a month.

The 35-point Siberian agreement pledges significantly increased supplies of meat, butter, sugar, tea, leather shoes, furniture and cars in the Kuznets mining region, according to news reports and strike committee officials.

Independent observers were skeptical that the government could fulfill such a pledge without further depriving some other part of the country. However, Gorbachev told a meeting of regional party officials last week that the government has set aside an additional 10 billion rubles (about $16 billion) to import consumer goods.

The agreement also calls for improved shift and regional pay premiums, more economic autonomy for the mines and improved pensions. Authorities said they will not punish strike leaders and that miners will receive full wages for the time they have been off the job.

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