The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 22      June 9, 2014

Workers across Ukraine back
national unity, sovereignty
(front page)
Miners in Krivyi Rih and other eastern cities have been organizing to defend Ukraine’s national sovereignty against pro-Russian-government separatist gangs as they also fight to advance their own class interests against bosses’ attacks on their living standards, working conditions and rights.

Meanwhile, on May 25 the country’s first presidential election took place since the popular overthrow of the pro-Moscow regime of President Viktor Yanukovych in February. Petro Poroshenko, billionaire owner of Roshen Chocolate, won a clear majority. He portrayed himself as a champion of Ukrainian sovereignty.

Following Moscow’s seizure of Crimea in March, the Russian government sent operatives into eastern Ukraine to lead occupations of government buildings and other provocations. But in the last few weeks leading up to the elections, the Russian government backed off threats to split the region off from Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin announced he would respect the results of the May 25 vote and began pulling Russian troops back from the Ukrainian border.

Among his first acts as president, Poroshenko on May 26 ordered attack helicopters and other military forces to repel separatist paramilitaries who were attempting to take over the Donetsk airport. Some 50 pro-Moscow separatists were killed; no deaths were reported among Ukrainian forces.

While many working people were inundated with a daily propaganda barrage from Russian media claiming the new government in Kiev was run by a “fascist junta,” they remained in their overwhelming majority committed to the unity of Ukraine. And they became increasingly repulsed by separatist armed thugs who, draping themselves with phrases and symbols from the Stalinist era, set up fiefdoms marked by kidnappings, beatings and torture.

While separatists took over a handful of buildings and amassed weapons, the actual business of running the region — including dispersing pension payments, managing water and fuel supplies and other services — continued to be administered by local Ukrainian government structures, which simply moved and functioned out of other facilities.

The Maidan protests — from the massive crowds in Kiev to similar actions from Donetsk to Lviv — energized working people all across the country, spurring political interest and activity.

One stark example of the power of the mobilizations is the impact on soccer fans. “Odessa was trailing Dynamo Kiev 4-0 in the semifinal of the Ukrainian Cup,” the May 24 Wall Street Journal reported, “but the usually partisan fans of the teams were coalescing around an issue entirely different from soccer: politics.”

“Fans have put aside their team rivalries and postgame skirmishes and coalesced into a national movement around a bigger idea: the unity of Ukraine,” the Journal said.

From Donetsk to Odessa, Kiev to Kharkiv, soccer fan clubs came together to join and organize defense squads for pro-Maidan rallies. At game halftime they joined in common chants for Ukrainian sovereignty.

Isolation, frictions roil separatists

As they become more and more isolated and demoralized, conflicts are cropping up among the hundreds of armed separatists who have seized some government offices and proclaimed — in a surreal caricature of the Stalinist Soviet Union — “people’s republics” in a dozen cities in eastern Ukraine.

Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the self-declared mayor of Slovyansk, a military center for separatist forces set in motion by Moscow, announced May 21 he no longer recognized the Donetsk People’s Republic. He threatened to send in his paramilitary forces to “restore order” there.

Poroshenko’s election, along with that of former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko as mayor of Kiev, has also led to increased pressure to close down the tent city that houses more than 1,000 remaining Maidan veterans in the central square in Kiev.

But many camped there intend to stay. “The revolution is not finished,” Ivan Stratyenko, one of the defense commanders on Maidan, told Reuters. We don’t want a state dominated by “leaders,” he said. “Maidan shows that people are starting to wake up.”

Miners fight for wages, sovereignty

Faced with soaring inflation and wage cuts by a Russian-based EVRAZ iron-ore mining company, miners in Krivyi Rih have been pressing demands for wages to be doubled, Yuriy Petrovych, leader of the city-wide Independent Trade Union of Miners there, told the Militant May 27.

“We’ve faced threats from company security forces, who told us our protests were a threat to the region,” Petrovych said. “But we have a strong self-defense organization, and we pushed them aside. We’re asking workers everywhere to get out the word about our fight.”

At the same time, a few hundred miners in the east, organized by the old, discredited miners union were bused into Donetsk May 27 to protest the Kiev government. The union dates back to before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and has kept aloof from the class struggle that has unfolded since.

In 1989 and throughout the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian miners mobilized strikes and marches across the country for higher pay, better safety protection and political independence from Moscow.

In 1990, they broke from the old union and set up the Independent Trade Union of Coal Miners of Ukraine. This union, along with a sister organization, the Independent Trade Union of Coal Miners of Donbass, has continued to mobilize miners to defend their wages and working conditions.

They have organized miners across eastern Ukraine to form self-defense units, like the one in Krivyi Rih, and to battle to defend workers from separatist gangs that have attacked union militants, attempted to shut mines down and sought to close down political space.  
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