As millions of Ukrainians suffer power cuts, Alena Ivanova reports on a recent visit to Kyiv where, despite an imbalance between military and workers’ rights, the need for financial and moral support remains vital
The war in Ukraine continues to dominate headlines, with Ukraine’s counter-offensive and Putin’s nuclear threats especially prominent. While the focus is primarily on the extreme costs to human lives and the economy as a result of the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s labour movement is both fighting at the front and fighting to defend and extend rights and protections for all. As it struggles to continue to fund its military resistance, however, the Ukrainian government and parliament have passed and propose to pass emergency measures dramatically weakening employment rights and social provisions.
With rising inflation, energy insecurity and urgent need for more military and humanitarian support, Ukraine needs our solidarity more than ever. At the same time, global powers are already initiating discussions about reconstruction and pushing their agendas – but what kind of Ukraine are Ukrainians bravely fighting for?
In August this year I had the opportunity to visit Kyiv for the first time, as part of a small delegation organised by the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign. Our main task was to offer unconditional solidarity to comrades fighting for survival, as well as to meet with trade unions and left groups in Ukraine and discuss recent developments in the war, workers’ rights and the future reconstruction of Ukraine. This is a brief account of the visit and meetings we had with representatives of the labour movement.
Our starting point in discussions was the full involvement of the whole labour movement in the war effort. Trade unionists are fighting, volunteering for the defence force, assisting with evacuations, treating the wounded, providing humanitarian aid and are united in their aim to win. They need the political, moral and financial support of trade unions globally.
Beyond the frontlines, the economic situation on the ground is dire indeed. More than a third of workers have lost their employment, wages have dropped by 20% already, and inflation is at around 25%, with predictions it may reach 30% by the end of the year.
Russian forces continue to attack survival infrastructure, including heating supplies for citizens in various cities, and many worry that the winter ahead will be even more difficult with people plunged into poverty and with interrupted heating. At the same time, a third of all Ukrainians have been forced from their homes – 7.6 million people have now left the country and depend on patchy and varying support programmes across the world, with no indication of an end to their forced exile. There are over seven million people who are now internally displaced, meaning they are forced into temporary housing, mass shelters, rented accommodation whose cost is constantly increasing, or sharing with family or friends, leading to overcrowding and increased tensions within families.
In times of such a crisis, we could expect the Ukrainian government to put in place provisions for a streamlined wartime economy, take control of industrial production to provide for the needs of the military and the civilian population, and introduce measures to freeze spiralling costs for ordinary people. While social payments continue to be provided, there is not enough support for workers impacted by loss of income, or indeed for workers who are injured in the course of performing their employment. Rail unions and teachers unions, for example, report that the compensation their members and their families receive in case of accident or fatality while at work are much lower than those for soldiers. Instead, the government is forcing through sweeping reforms that decimate workers’ rights, prepare to cut social payments through reforms of insurance funds and adopt regressive tax cuts.
What’s more, trade unions and civil society are restricted in what they can do to oppose these measures due to martial law, and their capacity and resources are severely stretched with all the humanitarian support they are constantly providing to their members.
The government’s vision of an extreme liberalisation of the economy must not be used as an excuse to deny our comrades help, however. Indeed, it is our duty to take up their struggle and do what we can to put external pressure on Ukrainian authorities through international trade unions and our own political representatives to make sure workers’ rights, social justice and the wellbeing of ordinary people in Ukraine are prioritised in all future reconstruction plans.
But we must also not forget that the quickest way to end the suffering of millions is through immediate and full withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine’s territory. It is therefore imperative to ensure the Ukrainian resistance forces have the resources they need to achieve this; and in the present situation, as trade unionists, that means supporting our comrades financially as well as morally. Please join Ukraine Solidarity Campaign and find more ways you can help.