Ukraine miners sit in, strike in fight for pay, conditions

By John Studer
September 28, 2020

“There are over 200 miners striking and staying underground at four iron ore mines here. They’re demanding better wages and working conditions, better social benefits and an end to corruption by management that is siphoning off money that should be paid to miners,” Yurii Samoylov, chair of the Independent Union of Miners in Kryvyi Rih, told the Militant on Zoom Sept. 13.

The strike is highly popular in Kryvyi Rih, one of the key industrial cities in Ukraine and a stronghold of the independent unions there, he said. It is a center for iron ore mining and the steel industry and the miners union is the backbone of the labor movement there. Workers, as well as city officials, have been bringing food, water and dry clothes for those sitting-in in the pit.

“The Kryvyi Rih Iron Ore mining complex is owned by two of the richest men in Ukraine — Rinat Akhmetov and Ihor Kolomoisky — and they make big profits off the mine,” Samoylov said. “The idea that they can’t pay miners a decent wage and that their managers are siphoning off money into their own pockets makes miners angry.

“They also are refusing to maintain healthy conditions in the mines, which can mean the workers lose their right to early retirement and pension benefits,” he said. “They decided they had to go on strike.”

“In addition to those sitting in,” Samoylov said, “thousands of other miners are striking, carrying out daily protests at the mine office and in the city. Many of the protesters are women, either women miners or the wives of miners.

“Some of the workers in the mine and in the processing plant, many of whom are women, are still working,” he said. “But they’re carrying out what is called an Italian strike, that is, they’re working strictly to rule. Things are real slow.”

“The strike is getting well-known across the country. Three days ago Mikhailo Volynets, president of the miners union and of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions in Ukraine, came to join us, and his visit got coverage on television,” Samoylov said.

“The mine bosses do nothing to alleviate dangerous and unhealthy conditions in the mines,” he said. “That hasn’t changed since I used to work there. Conditions are damp, and there’s mold. It’s worse today because of coronavirus. Recently one worker at the mine died from the virus.”

The Ukraine miners — both the iron ore miners in Kryvyi Rih and coal miners across the country — have been joining protests in solidarity with workers in Belarus fighting to overturn the brutal government of Alexander Lukashenko. The confederation organized a demonstration outside the Belarus Embassy Sept. 9 against the violence being meted out to protesters and to demand the government end its arrests and persecution of miners and other union fighters.

“I know one of the leaders of the potash miners at the Belaruskali mine there, and he has been arrested,” Samoylov told the Militant. “They are facing a serious struggle and we back them 100%.”