CLifford Chance KyivIn many of the in the East European countries the ‘trade unions’ that survived the transition to private-capitalism were formerly state-run union of the old ‘communist’ dictatorship.  Today they often are corrupt and work with the employers against workers.  New independent trade unions have been formed by workers themselves to fight for their interests.  In Ukraine the independent workers union ‘Zakhyst pratsі’ (Defence of Labour) has been growing.  IWGB has cooperated with Zakhyst Pratsi and the Ukrainian union recently organised a protest at the Clifford Chance office in Kyiv in solidarity with our members in Clifford Chance in London (http://www.tradeunion.org.ua/aktivisti-v-kiyevi-pidtrimali-londons-kih-pribiral-nikiv/)

Some of the official union leaders have sought to claim the work of Zakhyst pratsі as their own and now exclude them from a major conference on ‘new unions’.    We produce here a statement by Zakhyst pratsі to the international labour movement on the situation.

Patrick O’Neil, IWGB 

Protest against blocking of Independent Trade Unions’ participation at the international conference “New trade unions and the democratic left: historical roots and ideological orientation”

November 2, 2013 All-Ukrainian Independent Trade Union “Zakhyst pratsі» (www.tradeunion.org.ua) is holding a protest against the authoritarian-bureaucratic arbitrariness of the leadership of “Confederation of Trade Unions of Ukraine” (KVPU, chairman – Mykhailo Volynets) and the organizing committee of the scientific-practical conference “New trade unions and the democratic left: historical roots and ideological orientation” who at the last-minute rejected all applications to participate in the conference by all new independent trade unions of Ukraine.

It sounds as an irony for unionists in Ukraine that ‘new unions’ mentioned in the title of the conference are represented exclusively by the age-old KVPU. While the one fake “democratic left” at this conference is Mykhailo Volynets, who has served more than ten years in a row at the parliament of Ukraine in the ranks of right-wing conservative parliamentary faction. Following his electoral defeat recently and continued loss of credibility in the Ukrainian workers movement, Volynets is trying to save at least his monopoly to represent the Ukrainian labour movement before the international unionists.

However, it is not about personalities.  The independent trade union movement in Ukraine now more than ever truly requires a reboot, radical change of tactics and strategies.  Decades of defeats must finally give way to an offensive head start. The social reality dictates this change. The neo-liberal experiments of the bourgeois-oligarchic regime are only enhancing the combined potential of the workers resistance. And this scientific conference had all the chances to lay the foundations for the new quality of organized workers struggle. Representatives from various independent trade unions in their speeches could share valuable experiences of their trade union struggle, perspectives of political struggle and launch a much needed dialogue to develop joint solidarity actions on the all-Ukrainian scale…

Instead, however, we have all received the same powerless rejection to raise our voices at this conference. It seems the Ukrainian part of the organizers represented by the KVPU strive to continue the senseless struggle to maintain their monopoly to represent an independent trade union movement in Ukraine at any price.

It is well illustrated at the example of blocking the participation of members of our Union at this conference.   Eight of our members have submitted their theses to speak at the conference well before the deadline of 20th September set out by the organizers. The topics included regional perspectives based on practical experience of the new unions development, organizing and alliance building, sectoral assessment in banking and finance, dairy, TNCs, retail trade, communal enterprises in Ukraine as well wider topical contributions such as ‘New unions and the democratic left: dancing shadows or the common start’, ‘Alliance building in the Italian strike experience at Izmail docks’, ‘New unions and alliances with eco-activists’, innovative ‘Unions struggle against recruitment agencies frauds in Ukraine’.   All of them were rejected by the Ukrainian organizers led by the KVPU without any reasoning.  Moreover, members of our union were pressured not to participate even in the audience.

The paramount of cynicism is that the topic submitted to the organizers by our member Alexey Aryabinskiy together with his theses ‘Tasks of the independent union movement in the circumstances of precarisation and social guaranties reduction’ is now hijacked and literally copied in the conference program to be presented by Mr. Volynets’ assistant Natalya Levitska!

These facts give us a clear understanding that the decision to block members of our union from even raising our voice on practical and theoretical matters related to the topic of the conference was the result of a political decision by the Ukrainian part of the organizing committee represented by the KVPU. It is hard to grasp which price they are willing to pay for maintaining the image of sole ‘new union’ in the eyes of the international unionists.

We find such decisions outrageous and harming the common cause of the labour movement in Ukraine. We believe our contributions based on more than 10 years of practical experience of union organizing growing from a small leftist union to an all-Ukrainian trade union would have been interesting and contributed to the debate at this conference. Instead, we are forced to break this wall of ignorance and intrigues by raising our voice of protest today.

„Zakhyst Pratsi‟ (Defence of Labour) is an independent democratic cross-sectoral trade union established by activists in Kyiv in 2000. Since its very inception, the union aimed at organizing workers and protecting their rights at the workplace as well as influencing the state socioeconomic policy to advocate the interests of labour. We were dissatisfied with the ex-USSR union’s federation legacy and clear parliamentary political affiliations of other free unions. Starting with several branches in Kyiv public services, trolleybus depots and media, the union has grown over a decade to become all-Ukrainian. As of 2013, we have branches in various industries such as construction, food processing, retail, mining, education, public services, finance, IT, media and others across all regions of Ukraine. We are the only independent trade union having an organizing hub in the banking industry. Our union has a strong base in Kyiv and our organizers act in Dnipropetrovsk, Lviv, Odessa, Kryvyi Rih, Kherson and corresponding regions. Special attention is given to the transnational corporations operating in Ukraine who violate workers and union rights.

Our branch at Metro C&C is a member of UNI Global Union and the branch at Lactalis Ukraine has joined the IUF in 2013. We prioritize building international alliances and cross-border networks to make our local struggles for workers’ rights more effective.

Our union is built on principles of democratic organizing, promotes collective bargaining, gender equality and anti-discrimination. We undertake active campaigns to fight shadow employment, employment fraud and discrimination of migrant workers particularly in construction industry. Together with direct union organizing at enterprises, we initiated more general campaigns aimed at influencing the state policies and highlighting the tendencies existing in the modern globalized capitalism. Particularly, head of our legal department has made a first comprehensive analysis of the new Labor Code draft which emphasized its danger for workers and considerable cuts in union rights. Together with other civil society actors and unions, we have made it possible to block the adoption of new anti-union legislation. Among our victorious campaigns were the struggle against privatization of Kyiv communal markets and struggle for union recognition and reinstatement of illegally sacked branch leader Vladimir Demyan at Metro C&C Ukraine.

You can find some information about our campaigns on the following links (in ukr, rus, fr and eng):
– Claim to the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights against JSC „UDP‟ for not paying salaries to its workers for 8 months:
http://www.business-humanrights.org/Search/SearchResults?SearchableText=ukraine&x=10&y=12
– „Zakhyst Pratsi‟ construction workers on hunger strike against payroll 4 months delay:
http://www.socportal.info/news/construction-workers-from-zakhyst-pratsi-trade-union-launched-a-hunger-strike-at-kyiv-city-hall-ukraine
– Campaign for union recognition and labor rights of workers at „Auchan‟ malls in Kyiv:
http://www.humanite.fr/node/45101
http://ozzip.pl/english-news/item/93-auchan-against-its-workers-in-ukraine
http://www.lutte-ouvriere-journal.org/?act=artl&num=2088&id=33
– International campaign against illegally sacked leader of „Zahyst Pratsi‟ branch at „Metro C&C‟ Vladimir Demyan –
http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2008/02/03/victory-ukraine-volodymyr-demyan-reinstated
http://www.ikd.ru/node/4791
– Campaign against privatization of communal markets –
http://www.ikd.ru/node/5515

All-Ukrainian Independent Trade Union “Zakhyst pratsі”
www.tradeunion.org.ua
Contact: zpratsy@ukr.net; liva_sprava@yahoo.com tel: 050-358-71-48

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