Many of us are worried about what is happening with friends and comrades in Ukraine as the scale of devastation inflicted by Russia’s army increases as does the human toll. The World Health Organisation has confirmed that schools and hospitals have been hit and medical workers killed.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has warned of the serious dangers arising from the Russian occupation of the largest nuclear power station in Europe – Zaporizhzhia. Workers, members of EPSU/PSI affiliate the nuclear power workers’ trade union, now must take their orders from Russian commanders, a breach of the safety protocols which stress that workers should be able to carry out their duties without undue pressure. Fatigue, low morale, and lack of supplies are adding further to the risks. Our Ukrainian union colleagues across the public services are carrying on their work in unbearable circumstances. We met some of them online last week and shelling could be heard in the background of those calling from Kyiv.
The trade unions in Ukraine and those in the neighbouring countries are doing what they can to help refugees both internally and those that have fled the country. Many unions are making donations to the fund set up by the International Trade Union Confederation to which EPSU will be making its largest ever solidarity contribution. The European and global trade union movement has called for a day of action in solidarity with the Ukraine on 15 March. I hope many will join.
While Russian soldiers are being killed and wounded, workers and people in Russia are also suffering. The economy has been badly hit by sanctions while political freedoms are severely curtailed with the media no longer allowed to write freely about the situation. The radio station Ekho, TV channel Dozhd and several other outlets have closed or suspended their work. Protests are forbidden and protestors arrested, but many brave people continue to demonstrate and you can find their broadcasts calls on Telegram.
The FNPR, the Russian trade union confederation, has supported the government’s arguments for the invasion, including the call for de-nazification. Yes, Ukraine has a big problem with the extreme right Azov movement, for example. But Putin’s mates elsewhere in Europe include many extreme-right parties which have much more electoral support than those in Ukraine. Such total rubbish.. It is such a shame that the FNPR leadership resorts to evoking the fight of the Soviet Union against the Nazis in WWII to mobilise support for the invasion. The global union movement is reflecting on its response to this. The other, smaller Russian confederation, KTR, has taken a different approach, warning of the impact war is having on all workers.
This war stands in sharp contrast with the battles that have been waged against the COVID-19 pandemic. While I understand the gravity of the current situation and we will do what we can to support our Ukrainian comrades, it is disturbing to see the ease with which defence spending is being quickly increased in contrast to the piecemeal approach that has been taken to expenditure on health, social care and other public services
Why not call for demilitarisation in Ukraine but also in Russia and NATO countries and for more funds to go to improve welfare and prosperity for all ? Isn’t that what’s needed to bring peace closer rather than provoke a military arms race? While the Ukrainian people need assistance now to defend themselves against the invading and occupying army, what is our vision for the Ukraine, Russia, and Europe? Armed to the teeth for the next conflict? The European and international trade union movement can play a crucial role in advancing a Social Europe in and beyond the EU.
We should oppose oligarchs in Ukraine, Russia as well as the rest of Europe and their supporters, and aim for a democratic, egalitarian, feminist, green and free society with public services for all. We should also be fighting for respect for human rights, an end to racism and all forms of discrimination, for strong unions and bargaining rights to end exploitation of women and men, and bring down the borders between us. Can’t all these be part of our progressive programme ?
Now we stand with the Ukrainian workers and people in defending their workplaces, families and homes, their towns and cities. Tomorrow we are together for another, better Europe.