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Georgian railway workers end hunger strike

4 September 2017
The railway workers (Trade Unions' Photo)

Railway workers and trade unionists have ended their hunger strike after 18 days. They were demanding the resignation of the leadership of the state-owned Georgian Railway company; none of their demands were met.

Protesters called an end to the strike on 1 September but swore to continue the fight in court.

They are suing police for preventing them from setting up a tent on the pavement in front of Georgian Railway’s headquarters in Tbilisi. After a number of supporters joined the strikers, 10 were arrested on 24 August.

All ten, including members of left-wing student group Auditorium 115, were released soon after. Tbilisi City Court will decide on 8 September whether to fine them.

‘We have stopped the strike after being met with 18 days of ignorance from the state’, Vitali Giorgadze, head of the New Trade Union of Railway Workers, said after announcing their decision in front of Georgia Railway’s headquarters.

According to the New Trade Union, the health of several strikers had deteriorated, forcing them to end the strike.

Two railway workers from the town of Gurjaani in eastern Georgia launched the hunger strike on 15 August after Georgian Railway decided to move their jobs. According to the strikers, they were not offered reimbursement for travel to the new location or accommodation there.

Georgian Railway has denied this, claiming they were planning to cover all the costs and called the protests ‘politically motivated’. However, the company did not meet directly with protesters.

The accusation prompted recriminations from the New Trade Union, with Giorgadze saying the strike was not politically motivated, and that it was Georgian Railway who had ‘politicised a labour dispute’.

Trade union elections

The strike came weeks before elections for a new head of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC), an umbrella group of several of the country’s largest unions.

Irakli Petriashvili, who is finishing his third term as Chair of GTUC, has headed the confederation for 12 years. He was elected for a third term in 2013 with the support of 150 of 164 delegates.

Petriashvili is planning to run again, but his main opponent, Davit Okitashvili, president of the Chamber of Culture, who represent a number of Georgian cultural institutions at home and abroad, has sworn to remove Petriashvili from power, calling him a ‘dictator’.

Giorgadze rallied in support of Petriashvili outside Georgian Railway on 1 September, saying ‘we must get together to save the only independent institution’.

The election is set for 15 September.

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