by Martin Ralph, International Socialist League
Over a thousand representatives from international finance institutions, and imperialist governments convened in London on June 21-22, 2023, for the Ukraine Recovery Conference (URC 2023), jointly hosted by the UK and Ukraine. Reconstruction costs are estimated at $411 billion and rising.
For the USA and EU agenda, the reconstruction project is a useful disguise for their real agenda of privatisation, deregulation, and labour rights ‘reform’. All of this has been the intention and the major task of Ukrainian governments for many years. The URC23 is a plan for a different type of invasion, of the foreign multi-nationals under the guidance of the EU and NATO.
While reconstruction has to take place, the working class, which has played an immense role in fighting the Russian invasion will have to fight for their independence and control of the reconstruction process.
The URC23 aimed to emphasise the role of the private sector and discuss further reforms necessary to attract investment and meet EU accession standards. The EU has announced a $50bn investment aid to Ukraine with BlackRock, the private equity company, and the USA bank JPMorgan Chase. But public money will also be used to help the multinationals maximise their profits from the Ukrainian workers.
The UK government, led by Boris Johnson, has been involved in these conferences since 2017 no doubt discussing privatising public services and restricting trade union and civil rights. Ukrainian labour law reforms – to destroy trade unions’ rights – have been a central issue in discussions with international institutions.
The Ukrainian government aims to continue implementing labour reforms and focusing on areas such as pensions, education, healthcare, land and agriculture. The discussions also revolve around Ukraine’s potential accession to the European Union, primarily benefitting multinational corporations and their profits.
However, the key to reconstruction that will benefit workers, small farmers and the Ukrainian people lies in strengthening the independence of the working class, not only after the war but in the present. The Ukrainian working class and its independent unions struggle, with arms in and, for national liberation against the Russian invasion, and will not passively accept the exploitation of the country’s resources and labour by multinational corporations, the USA and the EU.
Western imperialist powers want the Ukrainian economy to be a special economic zone for their interests and not those of Putin’s Russia. They want public money to cover any potential losses for private capital investments. The bosses want a Ukraine free of trade unions, economic regulations and any other major obstacles to profitable investments by Western capital in alliance with former Ukrainian oligarchs.
Nearly 500 global businesses from 42 countries worth more than $5.2 trillion and 21 sectors have already signed the Ukraine Business Compact, pledging to support Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction.
“Another Ukraine is Possible” – But Which One?
Because of great concern by labour movement activists over the purpose of URC23, the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign (USC) held a conference on 17 June called “Another Ukraine is Possible: help workers fight for a just reconstruction”.
There were Ukrainian and UK social activists and academics, trade unionists and Labour MPs present. Sponsors included Another Europe is Possible, the miners’ union NUM and the train driver’s union ASLEF. The Deputy General Secretary of PCS (public sector state workers) also attended in an official capacity.
USC explained that the URC23 had “a vision taking shape of a recovery in the interests of big business with the danger of corporate elites exploiting a war-damaged economy… Ukraine doesn’t need to return to the exploitation of oligarchs – another Ukraine, and another world, are possible.” 
At the USC conference the right and left parliamentary Labour Party tendencies were represented by Alex Sobel MP, Shadow Minister for Nature, and John McDonnell. Both expressed support for an alternative reconstruction plan but neither set out the centrality of the working class in repelling the invasion and rebuilding an independent Ukraine.
This is consistent with Starmer’s indications that a future Labour government would not remove the Tory anti-trade union laws, restore the right to protest and stop the attacks on immigrants. Starmer has said they want to go much further than Tony Blair did, who lied to parliament in order to invade Iraq. The Labour leadership would not adopt a workers’ and socialist outlook at home or internationally to help Ukraine, or any other country facing external aggression. They will help the EU and the multinationals. The Labour ‘left’ is impotent, reeling with the blows inflicted by the Starmer-controlled party machinery at all levels. They now do more service to Starmer by remaining inside the party acting as a punchbag, demonstrating his reliability to the ruling class as he prepares for government.
As we say above the central role in reconstructing Ukraine – to defend its independence – has to be the working class and its democratic, independent and fighting organisations. So, there is a direct connection between winning the war and reconstruction.
Why? Because the task today is to crush and expel Putin’s troops. Without the total reappropriation of Ukraine’s territory, especially the occupied areas in the East so rich in natural and industrial resources, there are no material means for a real reconstruction, just the legitimation of Putin’s colonization of Ukraine. But also, because the working-class forces active in the resistance are those who can also counter the EU and IMF attempts to take over their country.
When we talk about reconstruction, the aims of the multi-nationals and their governments are not the Ukrainian working-class ones, and those of the many ethnic minorities like the Tatars, unemployed people, small farmers, the veterans’ movement, precarious workers and the millions of refugees both inside and outside the country.
As has been said about imperialism in the current military conflict in Ukraine, “…the war in Ukraine is the most obvious touchpoint to understand the acceleration of the disintegration of the old order of world imperialism. The fight for independence in Ukraine is threatened every day by the desires of imperialist powers to win control. The future of Ukraine is in the hands of the Ukrainian working class, which is massively resisting the occupation, and in those of its real allies: workers all over the world who are opposing the Russian invasion and NATO’s aims in the war.”
Thus, when at the USC conference left Labour (John McDonnell) and right Labour tendencies (Sir Kier Starmer’s Cabinet was represented) expressed support for an alternative reconstruction plan, different projects are confused in this “alternative”, and British workers, as well as the rest of workers all over the world must clarify the independent, grassroots and working-class nature of the necessary reconstruction efforts that must set the foundations of an alternative economic model. But this is not what Starmer is willing to fight for, neither in Ukraine nor in the UK, as he has already indicated that a future Labour government would not remove the Tory reforms against the trade unions, immigrants and rights of protest. The British Labour leadership will not adopt a workers’ and socialist outlook to help Ukraine. They will help, in one way or another, the EU and the multi-nationals while they keep toying around with narratives of an “alternative” reconstruction.
For workers’ control
As the fascist Axis was defeated in the second world war, the working class was determined not to return to the 1930s and formed a mass movement in many countries. The working class and organised labour took the road of mass mobilisation and revolution in many countries. Even in Britain, the working class refused to give up its arms until they were sure great changes to benefit them were going to take place. Imperialism managed to keep control, but only because of the treachery of Stalin, Stalinism and reformism in Europe and across the world.
We do not think that an armed working class that has given so much to fight the Russian invasion will not retire into silence in any future situation. International solidarity and action with the Ukrainian working class, poor people, small farmers and all the oppressed will remain of paramount importance. There is a world struggle that needs deepening and linking up against all the big powers, including those that do their dirty work such as the Wagner group in the Ukraine, Sudan and the Central African Republic.
The struggle for land and water
President Zelenskyy pushed through legislation to create a ‘land market’ which was highly unpopular with the Ukrainian people. It is a very controversial reform. The drive by foreign investors and Ukrainian oligarchs to buy and control land is a great threat. The war has amplified this with inflation causing deeper hunger and hardship for the workers, the poor and those working the land.
Known as the ‘breadbasket of Europe’, Ukraine is covered by an enormous area of fertile farmland. This has been dominated by big business since the breakup of the Soviet Union. In order to obtain a $5 billion loan from the IMF, Zelenskyy’s introduced a law on land ownership in 2020 that takes the wealth from the land further from the reach of those who till the land.
We say that food production must be for the benefit of the Ukrainian people. And today this also applies to water resources, which the Zelensky administration is trying to privatize. Small farmers must be supported with cheap state loans and grants, cheap Ukrainian equipment and technology. That can only be accomplished by workers’ and small farmers’ committees. Only if the Ukrainians are properly fed should the export of food be allowed.
There are many examples of Ukrainian workers taking many initiatives and fighting like lions and lionesses in the army and in the struggle to maintain factories, run hospitals and schools in terrible conditions. The instinctive and elemental drive of the working class to rebuild society on workers’ lines with workers’ control – which is a necessary step to building a Socialist society – has been necessary to survive. The rebuilding of the factories and Ukrainian society as a whole has to be part of a plan to meet the needs of the Ukrainian people, not the multinationals.
Rebuild and extend health services
There are an enormous number of people who are injured by the war, including people with disabilities, with PTSD. And this means more hospitals. We need more medical and psychological help. Protection is needed for those who have been affected by the war, for the veterans and for the civilians alike.
A plan of public works
Millions of Ukrainians fled from the war. More than 5 million Ukrainians have left the country, according to U.N. statistics. Millions of Ukrainians are living in other parts of Ukraine after Russia’s full-scale invasion. Many can’t find enough work. The plan for reconstruction must include a national plan of public works to solve the scourge of unemployment and to rebuild Ukraine.
A public works plan will have to have a mass house-building programme to re-home those who have lost their homes as a result of Russian aggression, and those who wish to return.
The Plan must also include how the environment is protected to help the workers and people of Ukraine. A plan of public works could rebuild the Kahoka dam, cities, infrastructure, hospitals and schools.
But these plans can only be worked out inside the mass movement and workers organisations, they have gone through the bitter experience of the horror of war and organised in the workplaces, neighbourhoods and in the army and can transform a broken economy for their benefit. The working class must strive to lead the process. Only workers’ control and a workers’ government can face the problems created by the Russian invasion and the IMF and all related institutions.
According to a report of 21 June in the Guardian newspaper, “Russia has already killed or injured over 22,000 Ukrainian civilians, destroyed and damaged 1,500 hospitals, hit 10% of the education infrastructure and 50% of energy infrastructure; 2.4 million people have had their homes damaged or destroyed. Because of the Russian army’s actions, about 30% of Ukraine’s territory may be contaminated with mines and shells. That is an area roughly the size of Great Britain. The scale of destruction is unlike anything Europe has seen since the second world war.”
The Russian oligarchs live in many countries and cities in Europe and the USA. Their wealth must be seized as a means of paying for the war effort and help build a plan of public works under workers’ control of public services and industry.
Build international solidarity
There is a great amount of international support for Ukraine and the working class. We call for workers, young people and trade unionists to unite around common demands:
- Humanitarian aid for the Ukrainian people
- Arms for Ukraine to defeat Putin’s invasion!
- No to attacks on trade-union, social and civil rights!
- For the cancellation of ALL Ukrainian international debt
- For a post-war workers’ reconstruction to meet working class needs, with nationalizations of land, natural resources, banks and industrial corporations under workers’ control, a plan of public works and fully funded social services.
We should fight for a programme that would be a great inspiration across the world to defend a free, independent Ukraine and continue building support for such a Ukraine in the future.