In a rebirth of May Day in Ukraine, iron ore miners, steelworkers and their supporters marched and rallied May 1 in Kryvyi Rih, one of the main industrial centers in the country. The action was organized by the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine (NPGU), and its affiliates at the Sukha Balka and Kryvyi Rih Iron Ore Combine mines and the giant ArcelorMittal steel works. These unions have grown in the last couple of years through successful fightbacks against boss attacks. Yuri Samoilov, citywide head of the NPGU, led the demonstration.
“It’s very important for us to unite,” Samoilov told the rally. “I do believe in solidarity among workers in Kryvyi Rih, as well as in Ukraine and the whole world.” The action attracted members from a wide variety of unions.
The members of the union at the ArcelorMittal steel plant, which employs more than 20,000 workers, were a prominent contingent. They marched for safe working conditions, pay raises and job protection.
“Every one of us has the right to decent jobs and salaries,” Mykola Moriakov, chairman of the NPGU at ArcelorMittal, told the rally. “And a right to work in safe conditions.”
Negotiations on a new union contract should have started last year, but ArcelorMittal bosses have refused to bargain. The May Day rally was part of a series of actions by the unions to put pressure on the company, the largest steel producer in the world.
In mid-March workers mobilized to promote their demands — raise monthly wages to 1,000 euros ($1,200); put all mill buildings, structures, equipment and work rules under examination to enforce safety and sanitary conditions; stop cutting workers and outsourcing jobs; and for the company to cease attacks against union members.
The nine unions at the plant, including both the independent and the old government-run trade unions, organized an unprecedented special conference March 27 to coordinate the campaign for their demands. Three-quarters of the 400 conference delegates voted in favor of strike action if the company continued its refusal to bargain.
The month before, more than 12,000 workers signed an appeal to the bosses supporting their demands.
Workers held a “night action” May 3, occupying the company offices after negotiations failed to produce any results, Samoilov reported. The company then agreed to talks and a deal was reached May 6 to set up a “conciliation commission” to address the unions’ demands.
Over the past year and a half there have been protests, mine occupations and other actions demanding payments of wage arrears, raises and safer working conditions across Ukraine.