Ukrainian people have been subjected to a year of bombardment, terror, death and destruction by Vladimir Putin’s military and mercenary forces. This is the largest and longest war in Europe since 1945, Bosnia-Serbia in the early 1990s notwithstanding. It is imperative the labour movement acts in solidarity with the people of Ukraine to expel the occupying Russian imperial forces and secure national liberation.
In this issue, Pete Duncan provides an overview of the conflict and explains why appeasement of Putin or talk of peace now is no solution. This outlook is echoed by a range of Ukrainian activists from trade unions and by Christopher Ford and Mick Antoniw of the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign. They argue for military and humanitarian aid now to help turn the tide against Russian aggression and occupation. An early day motion launched by Labour’s Clive Lewis, with support from John McDonnell and others, argues for sending Ukraine all unused military equipment instead of the Government policy of selling off these armaments. The Ukrainians need more than warm words.
Of course we want peace, but not on terms accepting Russia’s occupation or land-grab. It must be a just peace respecting the territorial borders of the Ukraine.
Away from the hot war in Ukraine, Rishi Sunak’s Tories like to parrot that our high inflation is caused either by the war or by ‘irresponsible’ workers. New TUC general secretary Paul Nowak demolishes the argument that public sector wages cause price rises. He shows how workers have seen their incomes fall for the last 12 years and that we are now at breaking point. The Tories hide behind pay review bodies which they themselves control. Of course, they can offer more to help incomes at least keep pace with price inflation. They choose not to. Dave Toke highlights the enormous £30 billion profits of oil giants Shell and BP and gas giant Centrica, giving the lie to Tory arguments. Instead of constricting wages, impose serious windfall taxes and redistribute the income to freeze energy prices.
Maria Exall makes the case for Labour’s front bench to campaign vigorously for its New Deal for Workers and enhancement of trade union rights. Kate Osborne MP argues, as the winter of defiance enters the spring of sustained strikes, that we need to intensify campaigns to stop the Government introducing yet more draconian anti-union laws. Strikes show Britain is broken – particularly our public services, run down by years of austerity while the Government hides behind Covid and the Ukraine war to plead fiscal rectitude with further cuts to living standards. Ann Pettifor provides an economic counterblast to our government of millionaires who wring the same hands that clapped nurses, transport workers and other essential staff during Covid.
Dr John Puntis shows that of all our sick services, our NHS has been most weakened. He explains why years of neglect, failure to recruit, retain and train doctors, nurses, ambulance and ancillary staff, compounded by Brexit, have left the service teetering on the edge. Patients suffer, queues lengthen, staff burn out. No wonder nurses are taking strike action through the Royal College of Nursing for the first time in their 100-year-plus history. Meanwhile, private health providers are given open doors to move in. Karen Constantine highlights the dire predicament of maternity services, where midwives are overworked and undervalued and babies die unnecessarily.
Women face the brunt of much of this crisis. Apsana Begum MP stresses that the pandemic produced a rise in domestic abuse against women while support services like Women’s Aid struggle to provide sufficient support. Caitlin Barr reminds us that International Women’s Day should be both a time for celebration and also to organise against patriarchal oppression, particularly highlighted by the appalling sexual assaults perpetrated by police officers.
In reporting the recent Montreal COP15, Victor Anderson explains how biodiversity targets turn into lies as measures required to meet them are quietly shelved. Richard Lapper analyses the return of Lula da Silva to the presidency in Brazil. In the wake of Bolsonaro’s right-wing populist regime, this time round it will be harder for Lula to implement wealth redistribution or protect the Amazon rainforest, a key climate goal.
Democracy, social justice and internationalism should be at the heart of Labour’s offer to the people. Progress towards our socialist goals of equality and freedom from want and oppression would be manifest in a commitment to stronger links with Europe, to free movement as a basic human right and sanctuary to those fleeing war, repression and poverty. That is why, as Don Flynn argues, we should make no distinction between asylum provision for Ukrainians, Syrians, Afghans and others.
Labour’s front bench should also be in the front line with calls for military support for Ukraine. Of course, there are wars in Yemen, Sudan, occupied Palestine and many other parts of the world. We should be championing all the victims in these conflicts and providing asylum.
To beat this latest iteration of right-wing, narrow-minded, class-war Toryism, Labour needs unity allied with clear vision and progressive policies. The recent decision to bar ex-leader Jeremy Corbyn from standing again will do Labour no favours. It should be lifted. Opinion polls may look good, but without an army of enthusiastic supporters, campaigning will be weak and any successes built on quicksand. But Momentum and the Labour left should beware of backing any independent candidacy; this would be a suicide pact that would strengthen the Labour right further.