By Florence Oppen
Originally published by Workers’ Voice
The Ukrainian people are facing a ruthless invasion of their country by the Russian army. As of April 7, 1,611 civilian deaths have been recorded, with 2,227 injured, according to Ukrainian authorities. There are 4 million externally displaced, over 2 million have fled to Poland, and there are numerous reports of war crimes by the Russian army against the Ukrainian people.
Unions and other working-class organizations in Ukraine and neighboring countries are engaged in struggle to resist and defeat the Russian military. The independent miners union of Kryvyi Rih is one of them. As union President Yuri Petrovich Samoilov, recently stated: “All the hardships and scarcities of the war have fallen on the shoulders of the working people. We badly need international support from workers all over the world. We need weapons, protective equipment, ammunition, medicine.”
Union of Independent Mineworkers of Kryvyi Rih is an independent union in the eastern region of Ukraine, which is deeply involved in solidarity efforts with workers who are displaced or wounded as well as military resistance to the Russian occupation. This union has a long history of organizing for better wages and workers’ rights, and was part of decisive strike actions against the Arcelor-Mittal multinational in 2018. It is part of a NGO that articulates a broader network of social movements and labor activists called Social Movement (Sotsіalnyi Rukh, SR) in Ukraine, which emerged from the popular Maiden mobilizations of 2013-2014. This network and the independent unions associated with it are independent of the Zelensky government and have been fighting austerity measures against workers before the invasion.
The Social Movement states: “Most of us are involved in independent trade-union movement, including the Independent Trade Union of Miners, the Free Trade Union of Railway Workers (parts of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine), and some militant factions of Federation of Trade Unions (our activists were among the organizers of the Construction and Building Materials Workers’ Union and helped to establish its offshoot, the Crane Operators’ Union). Some members have been active in different leftist organizations (Organization of Marxists, socialist organization ‘Left Opposition,’ student union ‘Direct Action,’ Social Alternative, etc.); for others, Sotsіalnyi Rukh delivered the first experience of political participation. Besides workers’ unions, Sotsіalnyi Rukh activists have extensive experience in various social movements: student, human rights, feminist, ecological, anti-fascist / anti-racist, LGBTQ+, and others.”
Independent working-class activities have been the target of mercenaries hired by employers and far-right groups operating in Ukraine. Today they are mobilizing for broad working-class solidarity and trying to unite the Ukrainian people. An independent working-class perspective is the means of escaping the conditions of war and economic domination. This perspective, as Social Movement explains, expands the interests of the Ukrainian working class: “We offer defending our common class interests against the Ukrainian, Russian, and Western capitalists rather than geopolitical nonsense and artificial separation by competing nationalisms and imperialisms.”
Here in the U.S., we must stand in direct solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine as independent unions are doing all over the world, as is the case with CSP-Conlutas in Brazil and Solidaires in France, which have collected funds and material goods and are sending convoys of material aid directly to Ukrainian union workers. As the Solidaires union explains: “Our solidarity has always been international because we know that in times of war it is the people, the workers, who are the victims, and that we can also be victims here tomorrow. We have expressed this internationalist solidarity on many other occasions. Today, Ukraine is under military attack.” Other countries have recently joined the labor solidarity efforts, as in Costa Rica and Colombia. Therefore, we ask all those in the United States interested in helping with these key solidarity efforts to contact us.
Let’s build the alternative to imperialist sanctions and “diplomatic solutions”
Many workers and union activists in the U.S. want to give material support for the Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion. Many believe that Biden has the best interests of the Ukrainian people in mind when he pushes through hard economic sanctions against Russia. In fact, NATO is amassing greater numbers of troops in Eastern Europe and is rearming itself. We have recently explained that Biden’s “aid” to Ukraine is seeking strategic advantage over Russia, a regional power and economic competitor in the energy sector.
There are growing sectors of the labor movement that are expressing a desire to build independent working-class solidarity directly with the Ukrainian people. Workers and labor sectors want to support the Ukrainian resistance without giving any support to NATO, U.S. and EU imperialist aims in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Economic sanctions will cause greater harm to the working class. This solidarity, to be truly effective, must rely first on workers’ self-activity, and abandon any hope that a “diplomatic solution” negotiated by capitalist governments (Russian, Ukrainian, or U.S.) will deliver the kind of peace and freedom Ukrainians need.
Some sectors of the Ukrainian working class, such as Social Movement, are showing us the way forward to defeat the Russian aggression with their calls to develop the independent class struggle everywhere against all imperialisms. In Ukraine, the center of the polarization, there’s an urgent need to strengthen and widen the resistance, which is demoralizing the ranks of the Russian troops. In Russia it means to persist in antiwar efforts against Putin’s imperialist aggression, and in the U.S. and EU it means mobilizing our unions and community organizations to actively welcome and aid the refugees, and aiding politically and materially the efforts from below in Ukraine to defeat the Russian army, while explicitly opposing any U.S. imperialist intervention.
Our solidarity is with Ukrainian workers in the resistance
The situation for Ukrainian workers and unions today is extremely dire. Unions and working-class organizations have issued repeated calls for material aid with the resistance efforts to defeat the Russian troops, be it food, medicines and arms and protective equipment for the militias to defeat the Russian invasion. They have also called for the condonement of the Ukrainian foreign debt.
Yuri Petrovich Samoilov explained that in Ukraine “workers actively participate in the war for the independence of Ukraine against Russian imperialism. The unions host refugees at their headquarters, participate in the Territorial Defense Brigades and the Armed Forces of Ukraine.” Vitaliy Dudin, a leader from Social Movement, recently said that sectors of workers are forming their own units within the Territorial Defense Brigades that are in charge of protecting cities: “Some Social Movement activists, as well as many trade-union members, have joined the TD as volunteers. It is worth mentioning that dozens of anarchists and socialists have formed their own unit within the TD, called the Resistance Committee.”
The Zelensky government had been implementing anti-labor measures and supporting the foreign theft of Ukrainian land before the invasion began, and shamefully, continued to do so during the invasion. On March 15, in the middle of the war, Zelensky started implementing a neoliberal labor reform long demanded by the bosses. The measure increases the workweek to 60 hours, gives power to employers to transfer workers to war zones and to easily fire workers with no cause, attacks union representation rights, and allows a delay in wage payments so that workers will keep ensuring profits for corporations in Ukraine during the war. This is why we must support all efforts of the Ukrainian working-class organizations to build up their political and self-defense organizations independent of the government and its generals.
In fact, the COSOLES (Committee of Solidarity with Sectors in Conflict) network in Colombia, composed of four regional unions) which is participating in the solidarity campaign, emphasized this aspect: “The support to the resistance of the Ukrainian workers and people against the Russian aggression is not, and cannot be a support to the Ukrainian state, regime and government. The current Ukrainian government of Zelensky has been an instrument of the different imperialist forces, agent and ally of active fascist processes and tools, not only in the Ukrainian territory; it is one of the main [agents] responsible for the hardships and divisions that the Ukrainians suffer today and, also, for pursuing and arranging the accession to NATO and the European Union that, the only thing that will bring, will be more hunger and repression for the workers and the people.”
In the U.S., working-class people and labor unions must follow the example of our French, Brazilian, Colombian, and Costa Rican fellow union brothers and sisters. We must express our direct solidarity and aid to Ukrainian workers independently from the Biden administration, which supports the interests of U.S. corporations. We need to materially and politically aid organized labor in Ukraine to force the retreat of the Russian army and to repeal the attacks they suffer from their own neoliberal government.
Activists will collect donations for Ukraine at Bella’s Bartok concert on April 16.
Workers’ Voice members are organizing to collect donations in their workplaces and unions. We are setting up tables on college campuses and in our communities. Branches around the country are setting goals for how much our new organization can collect over the period of one month. On April 16, our members, alongside antiwar activists in Connecticut, will be collecting donations at the Bella’s Bartok concert.
If you’d like to make a contribution, venmo @WVCT1. We also ask all those in the United States interested in helping with these key solidarity efforts to contact us.
Photo: A delegation from the British National Union of Miners meets with members of the Social Movement in Kyiv on Feb. 23, the day before the Russian invasion. (NUM photo)