Julie Ward reports on trade union mobilisation against Putin’s war
Trade unions representing more than 2 million workers marched through the streets of London on 9th April to show their solidarity with Ukraine. This was the first time the trade union movement in the UK has taken up the cause of Ukraine during the current conflict. Supporting unions included GMB, ASLEF, NUM, TSSA, UCU, CWU, PCS and BFAWU. A number of top union officials spoke, with others sending strong messages of support.
In Ukraine, the demonstration was supported by the Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the Federation of Trade Unions along with the Independent Trade Union of Miners and the Free Trade Union of Railway Workers, who have been at the forefront of resisting Russia’s invasion. Sadly, railway workers were among the dead when a Russian missile attack on Kramatorsk railway station killed 52 people on 8th April.
The protesters gathered in Parliament Square and held a rally close to 10 Downing Street. Nadia Whittome, the UK’s youngest MP, marched at the front holding a ‘Labour Movement Solidarity with Ukraine’ banner. Next to her, also holding the banner, was 89-year-old human rights lawyer Margaret Owen.
Journalist Paul Mason said that many of the civilian victims of the Kramatorsk railway station attack were working class Ukrainians, reminding us that “it is the workers and the farmers who are victims of this war”.
Chris Kitchen, general secretary of the NUM, said his members were supporting the Ukrainian people so that they can reclaim their rights and country, adding: “We should be giving them assistance in military and humanitarian aid.”
John Moloney, PCS assistant general secretary, said the rally was an important physical demonstration of solidarity. This was echoed by CWU members who have raised funds to send two juggernauts of humanitarian aid.
Vicky Blake, UCU president, said that the war had disrupted the education of five-and-a-half million children. She affirmed support for educational unions in Ukraine and called for the withdrawal of Russian troops.
Barbara Plant, president of GMB, added: “We salute the brave Russians that stand against Putin’s Russia. Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes in fear of their lives and have gone to European countries. We need to provide them with a safe refuge, and the Tory government must show them that they are welcome.”
Nadia Whittome condemned Putin’s regime. “We are here today to tell the people of Ukraine that the labour movement stands with them against Putin’s unprovoked war. We stand with them in their struggle for democracy, for self-determination, to live their lives in peace. We’re also here today to support Russian anti-war protesters who risk jail and persecution for their actions, but they will go down in history as heroes.”
Whittome criticised Tory politicians for receiving huge sums of money from Russian oligarchs. She also demanded that refugees from Ukraine be made more welcome.
“We must commit to standing in solidarity with the Ukrainian people for the long haul, because I know that no matter how long it takes, Putin will lose this war. The Ukrainian people will not give up until they are free.”
Veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell said the war was a struggle between Ukrainian democracy and Russian fascism. “This is a people’s war where Russia must be defeated. Russia is led by a modern Führer and the FSB is like a modern Gestapo. I do not like war, but in this extreme circumstance arming Ukraine is the only moral thing to do.”
Pete Radcliff, who brought a coachload of supporters from Nottingham (including a Russian anti-war activist), said there was a serious crisis on the left of the British political spectrum. “We have people who believe that Russia is anti-imperialist. They forget the many wars conducted by Putin: Grozny in Chechnya, which was levelled, and in Syria, with the tyrant Assad, where he murdered up to 500,000 people. We know what Putin is about.
“The left and people in the labour movement need to realise that and act on it. This is not NATO’s war. This is Putin’s war, and anyone who propagates the lie that this is a war of NATO expansionism is doing Putin’s dirty work for him.”
Marko Bojcun, a retired Ukrainian university lecturer, called for the withdrawal of Russian forces and harsher sanctions. Meanwhile, Iryna from Siberia said she wanted a legitimate president, not a criminal. “Putin is openly saying that Ukraine is not a real nation. I want a real opposition in Russia, with freedom of speech, without fear of being arrested. I want them to go to Bucha and Mariupol and drop on their knees and apologise.”
Christopher Ford, organiser of Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, said: “We need to expropriate all Russian assets and oligarchic property to pay for the reconstruction of Ukraine. Ukraine must be provided with the arms necessary to liberate all of its territory. We must support a just peace and oppose any partition, which is a position of appeasement. Ukraine is one country, from Lviv to Luhansk, Crimea to Kharkiv.”
Mick Antoniw, a Labour and Co-operative Senedd member for Pontypridd, who was unable to attend, said: “This demonstration is a historic breakthrough. The fact it’s being supported by Ukrainian trade unions is the start of a whole new relationship.” Antoniw, the counsel general for Wales, who has Ukrainian heritage, added: “Russian trade unions should be kicked out of all international trade union organisations. They no longer operate freely, and the UK and European trade unions should now build up their alliance with Ukraine.”