President Mikhail Gorbachev is banning strikes in key industries but offering workers more of the profits in an effort to prevent economic chaos he says could throw millions of Soviets out of work.
Gorbachev announced the ban Thursday after his prime minister revealed some details of an "anti-crisis program" that aims to mesh the Kremlin's reforms with those of the republics to halt further economic and political collapse.Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov said 13 of the Soviet Union's 15 republics had agreed to the new anti-crisis program. Independence-minded Estonia and Georgia boycotted the negotiations.
"The situation calls for special measures," Gorbachev said in a statement reported Thursday night by the main television evening news program "Vremya" and the state news agency Tass.
Gorbachev, using emergency powers granted him by the national legislature, threatened criminal proceedings against those who instigate strikes in the coal, oil, natural gas, chemical and petrochemical industries.
It was unclear how Gorbachev could enforce the order, or whether it could prevent a planned walkout by air traffic controllers next week.
Gorbachev's anti-strike order repeated an element of the April 23 deal that allows enterprises in key sectors to sell 10 percent of their production on world markets, retaining the hard currency profits.
Currently, the central government owns major enterprises and controls their sales and profits.
The reform measures are the latest attempt to halt the collapse of the Soviet economy, which has been hit by rising costs, declining production, shortages of many basic consumer goods and strikes. Coal miners this month ended their two-month walkout which the government said idled many factories.
There is no shortage of bad news about the Soviet economy and prospects for recovery.
In Washington, the Central Intelligence Agency told Congress the Soviet economy is likely to become "radically worse" this year, especially if Gorbachev does not speed the transition from a centrally planned to a market economy.
Gorbachev released economic statistics that in some ways were more alarming than those reported to Congress by CIA analysts.
Tass quoted Gorbachev saying the Soviet equivalent of Gross National Product has dropped 10 percent, and that strikes and other economic disruptions "threaten to stop thousands of enterprises, which will have to lay off millions of people."
Specifics of the latest "anti-crisis" plan would be released Monday, apparently when Pavlov addresses the Supreme Soviet, said his deputy, Vladimir Shcherbakov.
Pavlov said a key element was closer economic cooperation with Europe that "should be linked with our ability to supply energy. This will serve as the locomotive that will draw our economy toward Western economies," he said.
Estonia said the plan was unrealistic. Ukrainian Prime Minister Vitold Fokin said the plan "displays quite a few flaws and drawbacks," although his government agreed to it.
"There is nothing novel about it. It is just another attempt to tackle problems without caring for republican sovereignty," Fokin said in a report Friday by the independent Interfax news agency.
The Ukrainian prime minister, returning from the economic talks in Moscow, complained Gorbachev was trying to bypass the republican governments and "have denationalization and privatization proceed exclusively under the control of Moscow ministries and other government agencies."
All 15 Soviet republics have declared some form of independence or sovereignty from the Kremlin. Gorbachev sought to arrest the process by cutting a deal April 23 with Russian leader Boris Yeltsin and eight other republics.
Under the "nine-plus-one agreement," the republics would sign Gorbachev's proposed Union Treaty that preserves the Soviet Union. Gorbachev would transfer control over most of the nation's industrial and natural resources to the republics.
Estonian officials complained Gorbachev was demanding $302 million as Estonia's contribution to the Soviet budget.
"We have no intention of paying the sum," Estonian President Edgar Savisaar told the Estonian news agency ETA.
The anti-crisis plan calls for republics signing Gorbachev's proposed new Union Treaty to have a common financial and taxation system, ETA reported. Republics that refuse to sign would be forced to pay hard currency for goods produced by other republics.