Workers back united,
Face separatist provocations, capitalist offensive
Demonstration in defense of Ukrainian sovereignty in Kharkiv, Ukraine, June 1.
BY JOHN STUDER
Hundreds of demonstrators carrying block-long ribbons in the colors of the Ukrainian flag marched June 1 through Kharkiv, Ukraine, against attacks and provocations by pro-Russian-government separatists in parts of the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. At the same time, Ukrainian miners and other workers are fighting bosses — Russian and Ukrainian alike — for higher wages and better working conditions as they face impending layoffs and government cuts to pensions and other social expenditures.
While a new wave of separatist disruptions has been reinforced by new forces entering from Russia, infighting and divisions have grown among the various anti-Ukraine groups.
On May 29 the Vostok Battalion seized the Donetsk regional administration building from other separatist forces led by Denis Pushilin. The battalion “identified themselves as Russian citizens, with many saying they were from the Autonomous Republic of Chechnya,” reported the Kyiv Post.
The next day the building was under the control of Alexander Borodai, a former Russian consultant for an investment fund, who proclaimed himself “prime minister” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic.” Borodai is allied with Igor Strelkov, a former Russian military intelligence operative, who styles himself as the separatists’ military commander in the region around Slovyansk.
Before the recent shifts, “the authority of the alleged nation barely extend[ed] beyond their ten-story office tower and a few heavily armed checkpoints on roads leading into” Donetsk, the Associated Press reported May 21.
Since they moved in, the Vostok Battalion have sent squads into the city, setting up barricades and posts in heavily populated residential areas to deter assaults by Ukrainian military forces.
They have carried out selected operations against Ukrainian military positions, launching an attack June 2 against a border patrol station outside Luhansk, seeking to open the border to a heavier flow of armed recruits and heavy weapons. The same day a paramilitary detachment broke into the editorial offices of two Donetsk newspapers, Donbas and Vecherniy Donetsk, dragging away the editors.
More than 10,000 people have fled the region, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported May 30. Some 45 percent have gone to central Ukraine, another 26 percent to western Ukraine, and some to the south, Crimea or Russia.
For ‘united, independent Ukraine’
“The Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine is deeply concerned over the situation in the eastern part of Ukraine,” Mikhailo Volynets, chairman of the union federation, said in a May 19 statement, listing “the capture of administration buildings, terrorist activities followed by dozens of deaths of peaceful citizens, proclamation of their own rule, intimidation of local inhabitants, kidnappings, torture of pro-Ukrainian journalists, politicians, international observers, and simply workers.”
“Donbas is the coal mining region,” said Volynets. Continued disruptions or annexation by Moscow will lead to “closure of the mines, labor migration, devastation of coal mining towns and impoverishment of the population.”
“Therefore the miners of Ukraine stand up for the united and independent Ukraine,” he said. The miners and the confederation call for “solidarity with workers of Southern and Eastern regions of Ukraine.”
While most workers in the east favor a united Ukraine, polarization is growing.
“Ukraine is one country, and should stay as one country,” Lyudmila, a retired high school teacher, told AP, adding that she was afraid to give her full name for fear of separatist retaliation.
Though she still strongly backs national sovereignty, she also says she has no sympathy or confidence in the new government in Kiev.
Many workers agree. And some, influenced by the never-ending media barrage from Moscow — the only news broadcasts permitted by separatist commandos who seized control of towers in Donetsk and Luhansk — are drawn to support the separatists, looking for a way out of the chaos, uncertainty and hardship.
The new Ukrainian president elected May 25, Petro Poroshenko, is a multi-millionaire chocolate tycoon who capitalized on the looting of state property following the downfall of the Soviet Union and independence of Ukraine in 1991. The Poroshenko government plans to slash government expenditures to comply with conditions for International Monetary Fund loans and increase profitability on the backs of working people.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told the press last month that Greece — where official unemployment has topped 26 percent for the last year — would be a good model for what is coming in Ukraine.
The IMF itself expects the loan conditions it demands from the Ukrainian government will throw the country into deep recession, contracting by 5 percent over the rest of the year. Central to the plan is elimination of government social subsidies, especially for heating, and “suspension of unaffordable wage and pension increases.”
On May 29, the State Property Fund announced it will auction off 38 state-owned coal mines as part of the deal. These mines had received a nearly $1.8 billion state subsidy to stay open and working. This is more than 30 percent of the 120 functioning coal mines in the country. The most profitable mines were grabbed and privatized years earlier.
Miners and other workers have been resisting. Iron-ore miners in Krivyi Rih have organized marches and rallies fighting for doubling their wages, drawing support from area steelworkers and others.
“On May 23 we organized a solidarity rally for the Krivyi Rih miners,” Aleksei Oleksyevych, leader of the independent miners’ union in Dnepropetrovsk, told the Militant. “We organized a picket outside the EVRAZ offices here, saying ‘high salaries, the foundation of the unity of Ukraine.’”
Members of the miners union from four state-owned peat production companies — Cherkasytorf, Rozhnytorf, Rivnetorf and Volinjtorf — rallied outside the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry in Kiev May 30, protesting lack of work.
“‘The boss appointed new managers,’ Ludmyla Akymenko, a union activist at Chekasytorf, told the crowd,” reported the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine website. “We started getting minimum wages. There were no payments into our pension fund. They told us we would be working one hour a day.”
“An important industry like the peat industry must be developed, not destroyed,” said Volynets, addressing the rally. “The workers for the peat companies must have decent work conditions.”