DONETSK, U.S.S.R., JULY 11 -- Miners went on strike in this dusty coal basin today, leading a nationwide protest by at least 300,000 mine workers who are calling for the Soviet government to resign because of economic mismanagement.
The one-day strike underscored Soviet workers' growing discontent with sagging living conditions across the nation and with the ruling Communist Party's apparent inability to reverse the trend of economic decline. The miners also are protesting Moscow's failure to carry out earlier promises of higher living standards and worker self-management in the coal fields.
The strike drew more than 100,000 participants here and a larger number in the Kuzbass region of Siberia, the country's other main coal-producing area, according to official estimates.
Nationwide, it appeared to affect one-third to one-half of all Soviet miners. About 40 of 121 Donetsk-area mines were shut down, a local party official said, but he added that some may have simply been closed for repairs. In Kemerovo, heart of the vast Kuzbass coal basin, 66 of 110 mines voted to strike, news reports said.
Kremlin officials declined to respond directly to the strikers' demands. With the 28th Communist Party Congress taking place in the Soviet capital, party leaders appeared to brush off the work stoppage.
"We are getting information every day, we are maintaining dialogue with the people," President Mikhail Gorbachev told the congress today, "and those who have instigated the strike have not achieved their goals." Gorbachev last week appealed to the miners not to strike.
The most notable aspect of the day of protests throughout this economically depressed region was the degree of hostility shown by the miners toward the Soviet leadership. Banners everywhere advocated that the government be ousted, that the KGB secret police be abolished, and that senior officials in Moscow step down in shame.
Speaker after speaker expressed antagonism toward the party and its platform. Anatoly Krachenko, sitting with his miner's hat in his hands, watched a rally in the Donbass coal basin town of Makeevka. "The Communist Party has promised us everything and let us live in squalor," he said. "It should step aside and let us have a multi-party system now."
The hostility results mainly from a greater politicization of the miners' movement and disappointment at the failure of the party to meet demands made in a long strike a year ago, according to Yuri Bolderev, one of the leaders of the Donetsk-based strike. "We really thought that there would be some serious attempt to respond to our demands last year," he said. "But there wasn't. So now our demands are becoming more stringent, and our patience is wearing thinner."
Demands in the three-week strike a year ago included salary increases, better housing and food supplies, and the miners' right to manage their own mines independently. Some of the pleas were met, including pay raises and, more recently, longer vacations. But miners here complain that their living standards have dropped since last year's strike.
Today's strike, unlike last year's, is largely political.
Besides resignation of the government, strikers demand nationalization of all party-owned property and depoliticization of the KGB and army. In addition, the miners' congress voted to recommend that Communist Party committees in all mines be disbanded, a procedure that began this week in Donetsk.
Last week, the party congress passed a resolution asking the miners not to strike. At the same time, it turned down their demands.
In statements broadcast late last week, both Gorbachev and Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov said attempts were being made to work with the miners and that this was not the best time for a strike. In a news conference here today, regional party secretary Yevgeni Mironov echoed their statements. "I have sympathy with the miners' cause," he said, "but the list of demands they made last year was too long to fulfill in such a short period of time."
There are signs that Moscow attempted to head off the strike. Last week, for instance, an extension in vacations was announced. On the eve of the strike, a party official from the Ukraine flew to Moscow to sign an agreement for 4.5 billion rubles in new housing in the Donbass region, a local party official said today.
In Donetsk, 3,000 to 5,000 strikers demonstrated from early morning until dusk. They listened to speeches and hoisted banners in the central square in front of the regional Communist Party office.
The banners were mostly anti-party. "There's no future for the people with the Communist Party," said one. "Toward a bright future -- without the Communist Party," said another. "The party is bankrupt," said a third.
Donbass-basin miners complain of emerging from 2,000 feet below the ground to find no meat or vegetables in the stores.
"I have been waiting for an apartment for 12 years," said miner Alexander Gorensky. "My daughter was 6 when I went on the waiting list, and now she's about to get married."
In Donetsk there is no cheese, fresh meat or vegetables in stores. Drivers commonly wait three to five hours for gasoline.
"With conditions like that," Gorensky said, "how could we not strike?"