On the Picket Line

Ukraine rail workers fight for job safety

By Emma Johnson
July 9, 2018

Hundreds of rail workers turned out in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, June 14 when the Free Trade Union of Railway Workers of Ukraine (VPZU) called an open-ended action outside the offices of the state-owned Ukrainian Railway. Rail workers across the country are in a long-term fight for wage increases and improved safety on the job. The action was suspended June 21 when bosses agreed to meet and consider their demands.

The rail workers had previously mounted a monthlong protest starting May 14 against unsafe conditions, working strictly according to instructions. This led to the shutdown of depots across the country when drivers refused to work unsafe locomotives.

An inspection in the Lviv depot confirmed that every single locomotive needed repair. Most depots returned to a regular schedule after bosses agreed to set up special joint commissions with union members to inspect and repair all locomotives.

Engineers in the Kremenchuk depot resumed their work-to-rule action June 20. They refused management’s orders to take locomotives out of the depot after one of them caught fire during a test drive. Workers also protested the bosses’ refusal to do anything about unbearable working conditions. Temperatures in the cabin often rise to over 104 degrees in the summer.

The national VPZU supported the drivers and won new members during the fight, as the former state-controlled trade union sided with the company. Actions and strikes over the past year and half by shipyard workers, city transit operators, and miners in the coal, iron ore and uranium industries have wrested some concessions from the bosses and the government, and strengthened the independent trade union movement.