Under cover of war, Kyiv attacks political rights, unions

By Vivian Sahner
April 11, 2022

Eleven Ukrainian political parties were suspended and barred from campaigning by President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government March 20 on trumped-up charges of having “links with Russia.” The majority are small left parties, like the social democratic Social Movement, but the ban also includes the Opposition Platform for Life, which placed second in recent elections and currently holds 44 seats in the 450-person Ukrainian parliament.

Like the permanent ban on the Communist Party of Ukraine imposed in 2015, these suspensions are part of a broader campaign by the capitalist rulers against the labor and political rights of working people.

The ban was adopted despite the fact almost every leader of these parties, including Opposition Platform for Life, condemns Russia’s invasion and backs the fight to defend Ukraine’s independence, raising doubts the suspensions will be lifted once the war is over.

“For Ukraine to win this war, two things will be needed: popular unity and international support. This ill-conceived decree risks jeopardizing both,” Vitaliy Dudin, head of the Social Movement, said after the ban. “It’s an unreasonable restriction on one of our most fundamental rights.”

Invoking his government’s declaration of martial law, Zelensky March 23 signed a new labor bill strengthening the powers of the bosses. Workers, including union members, can now be fired without notice or transferred to another job without consent. The maximum workweek was increased to 60 hours from 40 hours. Union contracts that set wages and working conditions can be suspended if bosses deem it necessary.

Zelensky also signed a decree that combines all national TV channels, claiming the need for a “unified information policy.”

Since the overthrow of the pro-Moscow regime of Viktor Yanukovych by the mass Maidan mobilizations in 2014, the ensuing capitalist administrations in Ukraine, prodded by the International Monetary Fund, have organized an offensive against workers aimed at making production more profitable. Government agencies have moved to privatize formerly government-run mines and factories. Bosses often stop paying workers.

Laws like the one that removed Russian as one of the country’s official languages in 2014 and another passed in 2019 that obliges all citizens to learn Ukrainian are a blow to deepening the unity most working people forged through the Maidan. This is the unity they need in battles today to win working-class public opinion in Russia to demand Putin get out of Ukraine.

Unions, particularly the miners’ unions, organized to protect workers’ wages and working conditions. Last December miners organized by the Independent Trade Union of Miners carried out underground sit-ins and aboveground protests at mines near Kryvyi Rih and Lviv.

At the end of December the union’s lawyer, Mykhailo Terosipov, stressed that adoption of labor bills already under consideration at that time would make it significantly more difficult for workers to use their unions to protect their rights, safety and pay. The war is being used by the capitalist government in Ukraine to advance these measures further.

Workers everywhere should stand against these attacks on Ukrainian workers, as well as the Kyiv government’s bans on political parties they disagree with.