While President Mikhail Gorbachev watched a glum May Day parade in Moscow Wednesday, his chief rival, Boris Yeltsin, was in Siberia signing an agreement bringing coal mines under his jurisdiction in an effort to end a nearly 9-week-old strike.
Gorbachev got only perfunctory applause from the workers marching in Red Square, but in Novokuznetsk about 10,000 Siberians cheered Yeltsin, the leader of the Russian Federation, as he signed the pact taking Kuzbass coal mines under his republic's authority, the Russian Information Agency reported.The agreement also would permit the mines to keep 80 percent of their hard currency instead of the 6 percent now allowed by the Soviet central ministries, the news agency said.
Yeltsin said he hoped this could give the miners the economic independence they have clamored for and end a strike that erupted March 1 and shut down at least one-fourth of the nation's coal mines.
The miners have from the very beginning backed Yeltsin's earlier calls for Gorbachev to resign and hand power to the Council of Federation, which represents the nation's 15 republics.
"This is a historic decree," Yeltsin said of the pact to bring the miners under Russian control. "A big step has been made, and it was well worth coming to Novokuznetsk and to stay for May 1 here just for this, because this is a document of the solidarity of the working people of Russia.
"This decree acknowledges the demands of the miners and defines our relations. The decree is fully approved by the strike committee and leadership of your region. As for (stopping) the strikes, decide yourself," Yeltsin said, finishing with a flourish.
This contrasted with Yeltsin's decision last week to sign a joint appeal, along with eight other republic leaders and Gorbachev, that the miners end their strike as a way to keep the Soviet economy from collapsing further.
Yeltsin has spent three days with miners in Siberia. His decision to spend May Day holiday with the unhappy miners was another master political stroke, showing him to be far more mobile than Gorbachev, who although he travels widely abroad rarely sees Soviets outside of the capital.