Ukraine: bogus ‘anti-imperialism’ serves the Kremlin

September 28, 2022

I gave a talk at an on-line event on the war in Ukraine, arranged by the Future of the Left group on Monday. The meeting was shorter than planned, due to technical problems. Only two of the advertised speakers made it: Richard Sakwa, emeritus professor of Russian and European politics at Kent university, and me. Sakwa focused on the western powers’ failure to uphold principles of sovereign internationalism in the post-cold-war period, and concluded by opposing military aid to Ukraine. Against that, I put the case for supporting Ukrainian resistance as a matter of internationalist principle. I said that I think such discussions should continue. Here’s a recording of the session. Simon Pirani.

Here is a text, based on my talk. It is aimed mainly at the bogus “anti imperialism” widespread in the left, and among Future of the Left’s supporters, rather than at anything Sakwa said.

Thanks for inviting me to join the panel. It’s worth reflecting on what good panels like this, or gatherings like this, can possibly do. As a socialist, I believe that effective change is caused by the labour movement and social movements acting independently of the state. So I will say what I think the labour movement could or should do, and what people here could or should do, rather than declaiming principles with no reference to implementation. 

My main point is that we should build solidarity with Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression. That is rejected by some people in the labour movement, and I think we have to find ways of discussing these differences on life and death issues.

Character of the Russian war  

Russia is a weakened empire desperately trying to restore its imperial status. It emerged from the break-up of the Soviet Union as an economically subordinate power, supplying the world capitalist economy with raw materials and pumping oligarchs’ wealth into the world financial system. Under Putin, since 2000, it has sought to make up for economic weakness by military means.

In the second Chechen war, Russia pulverised Chechnya and its population, rather than allow aspirations for national autonomy or independence to take root. Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, and intervened in Syria in 2015, to support a dictator who drowned citizens in blood rather than allow them any democratic freedoms.

Read the rest of this entry »

UK trade unions make ‘solidarity with Ukraine’ call

April 7, 2022

UK trade unions will demonstrate in London on Saturday, calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.

“We send solidarity to the trade unionists of Ukraine who have been engaged in humanitarian assistance and resistance to the invasion”, the organisers say. “We will support in whatever way we can the brave people demonstrating in Russia for an end to the war.

Please download and share

“We call on the UK government to welcome refugees seeking to come to the UK without imposing any restrictions.”

The demonstration, which assembles at Parliament Square in London at 12.0 noon, is backed by the GMB general union, one of the UK’s largest, as well as unions representing civil servants (PCS), rail workers (ASLEF), communication workers (CWU), bakers and food workers (BFAWU) and mine workers (NUM).

The three main Ukrainian union federations, and two rail workers’ unions, have also declared support for the event.

The Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine has appealed to trades unionists internationally to call on governments to send military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

“The bombing of hospitals and homes, executions, atrocities and rapes are part of Russian inhumane tactics”, Mykhailo Volynets, the confederation’s chair, wrote. “Russian forces continue to purposefully destroy the people of Ukraine and do not stop even at the time of the negotiation talks.

Read the rest of this entry »

War in Ukraine: reflections and proposals for internationalist union action

March 31, 2022

From the Solidaires Union web site. These notes from the Solidaires Union bureau set out its approach to building solidarity with Ukrainian working-class resistance to Russian military aggression. They are a useful starting point for discussion. Please copy and circulate

This statement is based on the assessment made during the Solidaires national board meeting in March, the contributions of our member organizations, the work of our international commission, and inter-union exchanges both nationally, through the inter-union CGT/FSU/Solidaires, and internationally, through the International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggles. All of this has also been fuelled by the exchanges and reflections held within larger unitary frameworks in which we take part.[1]

Beyond producing assessments and analyses, union commitment is about action. The following proposals are based on the international work that Solidaires has been doing for years and are expressed in the initiatives, connections and publications of recent days. They aim to respond – on the basis of concrete actions and not useless polemics – to the sectarianism displayed by some statements from other trade union organisations, and especially to the hypocrisy of government and employers’ declarations.

Protest against the Russian army’s kidnapping of the deputy mayor of Enerhodar, 20 March. From Ukrainska Pravda

The introductory statement to the debate of the national board the 9th March recalled the position of the Solidaires union from the first day of the war (actually even before the start of this war, since all that follows is part of the tradition and practice of internationalist unionism that we
try to implement):

□ The immediate withdrawal of Russian troops – the right of peoples to self-determination – the need for an immediate ceasefire and for building a negotiated peace – supporting people fighting against war, especially in countries at war – the dignified and massive reception of all refugees, regardless of their origin, and the fight against all inequalities and discrimination – taking part, on our own terms,  in mobilisations and demonstrations for peace – (joint) participation in the initiatives of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, such as the “union convoy” which aims to provide Ukrainian workers with relief supplies – denouncing nationalism and capitalism as the causes of war – internationalism, as an alternative to nationalism – fighting to end tax havens – the urgency of an ecological transition towards the end of the massive use of fossil fuels.

It is Russian power, Putin’s regime, which bears the responsibility for this war. We must start by acknowledging this. This is, after the annexation of Crimea, a new imperialist military intervention by a dictatorial regime that severely represses (or even crushes) popular movements, including the independent labour movement (Ukraine, Belarus and, most recently, Kazakhstan).

This acknowledgement does not detract from the fact that we have long been involved in collectives and initiatives calling for the dissolution of NATO. There is no reason to question this commitment, as it is one of our roles as an organisation in a NATO member country. However, the demand to dissolve NATO should not be used as an argument aimed – deliberately or not – at “equalising” responsibilities for what is happening in Ukraine.

Read the rest of this entry »

French trade unions plan workers’ convoy to Ukraine

March 29, 2022

Solidaires, a French trade union confederation, is organising a convoy to take aid to workers’ organisations in Ukraine.

“We know that the real victims of war are the people, the working people”, a statement from Solidaires says. It is Ukrainian workers who are under attack today, but “it could be us tomorrow”.

Solidaires is appealing for cash donations from union organisations to buy whatever Ukrainian union organisations need. A list of necessaries – from medical equipment to bulletproof vests – is being drawn up by activists in Kyiv, mainly from affiliates of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (CFTUU) and the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FTUU).

Solidaires is a syndicalist union grouping, also known as Solidaires Unitaires Démocratiques (SUD), with strong links to anti-capitalist movements.

Ukraine: international solidarity. Union convoy – appeal for donations

Solidaires is made up of federations of national, local and regional unions; it was formed in 2003 but has roots going much former back. It began with strong organisations among postal and telecoms workers in particular, but is also very active in the health care, education, transportation and other sectors.

=

Trade union convoys for the working people of Ukraine

Statement by Solidaires – please copy and circulate. (French original here.)

The Solidaires union is taking part in the organisation of union aid convoys for Ukraine. We are working on this project together with other trade unions organisations in France and with the International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggle.

Why union aid convoys?

Read the rest of this entry »

Worker activists call for solidarity against war

March 3, 2022

A statement by the Global Labour Institute Network, published yesterday, calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian military forces from Ukrainian territory and for solidarity against war

The full-scale invasion of Ukrainian territory by Russian military forces on 24 February 2022 has unleashed a murderous war at the centre of Europe. Not only soldiers on both sides, but also peaceful civilians, will die. War is turning into a nightmare the lives of those on whose land it is being waged. In these conditions, trade unions and other organisations of working people can not stand on the sidelines or act as neutral observers. We must do everything we can to bring an end to the military aggression, to war, as soon as possible.

Anti-war protest in St Petersburg yesterday. A Reuters photo from the Kyiv Post twitter feed

The Ukrainian people, in defending their independence and freedom, need solidarity in practice. The subordination of Ukraine to Putin’s authoritarian regime, or its proxies, would destroy democratic institutions, including the workers’ movement – as has already happened over the last eight years in the Russian-controlled puppet Donetsk and Luhansk “peoples’ republics”.

The Russian state propaganda machine’s claim, that the invasion’s aim is to “liberate” Ukraine, which is supposedly ruled by “drug addicts and neo-Nazis”, is a cynical lie. In contrast, it is true that Putin and his party “Yedinaya Rossia” have friendly relations with extreme right wing parties in Europe and worldwide. Just as deceitful are the spurious justifications of the attack on the grounds that a threat to Russia’s security lurks on Ukrainian territory.

The Kremlin’s real aim is to seize territory from Ukraine, which Putin and his henchmen have declared to be an artificial construct put in place by the Bolsheviks. Slogans about “the struggle with Nazism” are a cover for an attempt to conquer “living space” for “the Russian world” and restoration of the Russian empire. Just as in the 20th century the international workers’ movement defended the Spanish republic from fascism, and supported resistance to totalitarian dictatorships, so today it must defend democratic Ukraine!

The current war is not a conflict of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples. War has been unleashed by the dictatorial regime that rules in Moscow, under which the whole Russian people is suffering. Continuing the traditions of Russian tsarism and Stalinism, preaching archaic imperial ideology, this regime hates Ukraine not only for its aspiration to independence but also for its revolutionary traditions.

Read the rest of this entry »

The “republics” Putin is fighting for

March 3, 2022

The Donbas statelets have intimidated organised labour and political dissidents and presided over a collapse in living standards, writes Simon Pirani

Vera Yastrebova, a Donetsk lawyer and labour movement activist, reported on social media on 26 February that mothers and wives in the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” were desperately seeking ways to protect their menfolk from compulsory mobilization in the now-unfolding war.

“They call and say that the men are being taken from the [coal] mines and sent straight to the front, even though they have no military experience”, Yastrebova wrote.

Earlier in the week, activists in Ukrainian government-controlled territory had heard from their comrades in the “republics” that, since their militia had not conscripted sufficient soldiers, the over-55s were being called up.

Such realities stand in bleak contrast to the Kremlin’s rhetoric about the statelets as bastions of opposition to a “Nazi” regime.

March 2018: a march on international women’s day in Lisichansk. The flags said, “we need to fight for our rights”

The areas, known in Russian as DNR and LNR, comprise the eastern part of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions respectively; the western parts have since 2014 remained under Ukrainian government control. Despite the “people’s republic” name they have routinely intimidated organised labour and political dissidents, institutionalized violence and trampled on human rights. They have also presided over the collapse of industry and a catastrophic fall in living standards.

The harsh conditions normalized since these statelets were founded in 2014 are not an exact guide to how Russian-supported forces, or Russia itself, might administer other parts of Ukraine if they take them over by force. But the misery heaped on the population of these “people’s republics” across the last eight years does give some indications.

Here I shall focus first on the preparations for president Vladimir Putin’s announcement on 21 February that Russia recognises the “republics,” followed on 24 February by the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. I then outline how the “republics”’ economies, politics and labour movements have changed since their creation eight years ago.

=

The run-up to recognition

By the end of the 2014-15 war in eastern Ukraine, extreme Russian nationalists’ aspirations to establish the state of Novorossiya, comprising Ukraine’s six south-eastern regions, had been abandoned. Putin had referred to the idea in speeches in 2014, but then shelved it. The two “people’s republics” were to remain separate from each other, and from Russia.

Read the rest of this entry »

Kazakhstan, ten years after the Zhanaozen massacre: oil workers’ fight to organise goes on

December 15, 2021

Ten years after police massacred striking oil workers at Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, human rights organisations and trades unionists are demanding an international inquiry into the killings.

Even now, the number of victims is unknown. State officials admit that 16 were killed and 64 injured on 16 December 2011 – but campaigners say there were dozens, perhaps hundreds, more.

The initial killings, by police who fired into a peaceful, unarmed crowd, were followed by a three-day reign of terror in Zhanaozen, in the oil-rich Mangistau province in western Kazakhstan, and nearby villages.

Defendants at the 2012 trial of Zhanaozen protesters

The torture and sexual violence used against detainees should also be investigated by an independent international commission, campaigners say.

Although a handful of police officers were tried for “exceeding their powers”, and a detention centre boss briefly jailed, the Kazakh government has refused to say who ordered the shootings.

The Zhanaozen shootings ended an eight-month strike by the town’s oil workers, one of the largest industrial actions ever in the post-Soviet countries.

Oil workers and their families had demanded better pay and conditions, and the right to organise independent trade unions, at Ozenmunaigaz, a production subsidiary of the national oil company Kazmunaigaz, and contracting firms.

Read the rest of this entry »

Iran oil workers’ strike: a spectre haunting neoliberalism

July 16, 2021

More than 60,000 Iranian oil workers have joined a strike for better pay and contracts – the biggest such action since the general strike of 1978-79 that helped toppled the Shah’s regime.

The stoppage is supported by teachers, pensioners, and families seeking justice for their relatives killed during the big wave of protests in November 2019.

The protest began on 19 June, the day after the elections won by the conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who takes over as president next month.

The Iranian oil industry is dominated by the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company. But in recent years it has employed a host of contractors – many owned and controlled by state officials and their relatives – who have slashed pay levels and undermined working conditions.

Striking workers at a refinery, late June

The Strike Organisation Council for Oil Contract Workers, that has been set up during the action, is reported to have said that the workers’ main demand is higher wages, and added:

We will no longer tolerate poverty, insecurity, discrimination, inequality and deprivation of our basic human rights. Given the skyrocketing cost of expenses, the [monthly] wages of workers should not be less than 12 million tomans ($491).

The strikers are demanding the elimination of temporary contracts, an end to the use of contract companies and the recognition of the right to form independent unions, according to other reports.

The strike is supported both by contract employees and by skilled workers in less precarious jobs, according to interviews published by the Kayhan Life media outlet.

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: