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UK Trade Unions Rally Shows Support for Ukraine

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Trade unions representing membership from across Britain came out onto the streets of London on April 9 to show their solidarity with Ukraine. It was billed by the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign as a historic moment, the first time the union movement in the UK had taken up the cause of Ukraine. Eight trade unions including the general union GMB, the train drivers’ union ASLEF, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the union of transport staff TSSA, and the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) converged onto Downing Street to make their voice heard.

Back in Ukraine, the Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine, were officially supporting the demonstration, as were the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine and the Free Trade Union of Railway Workers of Ukraine, who had been at the forefront of resisting Russia’s invasion. Sadly, railway workers were amongst the dead when a barbaric Russian missile attack killed 52 people on April 8.

Chants of ‘Stop Putin, Stop The War’, and ‘Refugees Are Welcome Here’ could be heard at the rally, which started in Parliament Square, went towards Victoria Embankment and ended up within earshot of the prime minister’s residence in Downing Street, where the speeches began.

More than 500 turned up, but journalist Paul Mason said those present should be proud of themselves. “We have a small crowd, but the unions we represent are more than 2 million workers.”

Pete Radcliff, organiser of the Ukrainian Solidarity Campaign in Nottingham, said : “We need to make sure the next protest doesn’t have 500 or 1,000, but tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands. We know the support and solidarity with the Ukrainian people is there in the Trade Union movement, and we need to build on it.”

Radcliff said there was a serious crisis on the Left of the British political spectrum. “We have people who believe that Russia is anti-imperialist. They forget the many wars conducted by Putin – Grozny in Chechnya which was levelled – in Syria, with the tyrant Assad, he murdered up to 500,000 people. We know what Putin is about.
“The Left and people in the Labour movement need to realise that and act on it. This is not NATO’s war. This is Putin’s war, and anyone who propagates the lie that this is a war of NATO expansionism is doing Putin’s dirty work for him.”

Nadia Edith Whittome, Labour Party MP for Nottingham East, said : “Putin has committed war crimes – we must unequivocally condemn his regime in the strongest terms. We are here today to tell the people of Ukraine that the labour movement stands with them against Putin’s unprovoked war.

“We stand with them in their struggle for democracy, for self-determination, to live their lives in peace. We’re also here today to support Russian anti-war protesters. They risk jail and persecution for their actions, but they will go down in history as heroes.”

Whittome was critical of Tory politicians for receiving big sums in donations from Russian oligarchs. She also demanded that refugees from Ukraine be made more welcome.

She went on : “Once the headlines have moved on, our government has lost interest, we must commit to standing in solidarity with the Ukrainian people for the long haul. Because I know that no matter how long it takes – Putin will lose this war. The Ukrainian people will not give up until they are free.”

Chris Kitchen, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, said his members were throwing their weight behind supporting Ukraine. “We back the Ukrainian people so that they can reclaim their rights and country, which is the right of everybody. We should be giving them assistance in military and humanitarian aid. The atrocities we are seeing on our new reports cannot be allowed.”

John Moloney, assistant general secretary of Public and Commercial Services union, said the rally was a physical show of solidarity and that his union was one of the main movers behind the demonstration.

He was concerned that not all refugees fleeing from Ukraine were being treated equally. “When we hold our next national executive meeting we want to invite the State Employee Union of Ukraine to join us on zoom,” he said.

Ian Murphy, regional secretary of the Communication Workers Union and Vinnie Micallef, branch secretary of East London CWU, said their members had raised funds and donations to send two 40 foot juggernauts of humanitarian aid. Mr Micallef said : “We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.”

Vicky Blake, president of University and College Union, said that since the war had started, five and a half million children had their education disrupted and two million had left Ukraine. “We support educational unions in Ukraine and our national executive is calling on the withdrawal of Russian troops in Ukraine,” she said.

Barbara Plant, president of GMB, who represents more than 600,000 workers, said : “We stand in solidarity with Ukraine, which is in our thoughts, hearts and in our prayers. GMB stands in opposition to Putin’s war, and we also salute the brave Russians that stand against Putin’s Russia.

“Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes in fear of their lives and have gone to European countries. We need to provide them with safe refuge and the Tory government must show them that they are welcome.”

Marko Bojcun, a retired university lecturer, called for the withdrawal of Russian forces and harsher sanctions. He said : “We are fighting for our existence and the right for self-determination. Russia will have to pay, and Ukraine will overcome.”

Iryna from Siberia said she wanted a legitimate president, not a criminal. “I hate being Russian right now. Putin is slaughtering thousands of innocent people under the pretence of ‘de-Nazification’. What is that ? Can somebody tell me ?”

“Putin is openly saying that Ukraine is not a real nation. I want a real opposition in Russia, with freedom of speech without fear of being arrested. I want them to go to Bucha and Mariupol and drop on their knees and apologise.”

Journalist Paul Mason said that when you look at the victims of the Kramatorsk railway station attack, when 52 people were killed, many of the civilians were working class Ukrainians. “It is the workers and the farmers who are victims of this war,” he said. “We need to get arms into Ukrainian hands to support the people.”

Renowned campaigner Peter Tatchell said the war was a struggle between Ukrainian democracy and Russian fascism. Comparing it to the Spanish civil war, Tatchell said : “This is a people’s war where Russia must be defeated. Russia is led by a modern fuhrer, and the FSB is like a modern Gestapo. I do not like war, but in this extreme circumstance arming Ukraine is the only moral thing to do.”

Christopher Ford, organiser of Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, said : “We need to expropriate all Russian assets and oligarchic property to pay for the reconstruction of Ukraine. Ukraine must be provided the arms necessary to liberate all of its territory.
“We must support a just peace, and oppose any partition, which is a position of appeasement. Ukraine is one country, from Lviv to Luhansk, Crimea to Kharkiv. In 1946 Nazi war criminals were hanged on Maidan. Putin must face justice and the Russian army be defeated in Ukraine.”

Elke Day carried a banner which read ‘Rubles for Tories – Rubble for Ukraine’. She said : “I am showing solidarity with Ukraine. They’re fighting for our freedom, risking their lives for us.”

Alison Cameron, a freelance translator, and who had worked in Chornobyl following the nuclear disaster, helping to acquire contaminated soil to be analysed in UK, said : “The Belarusian community is supporting Ukraine and is raising money to purchase vehicles for the military.”

Mick Antoniw, a Labour and Co-operative Senedd member for Pontypridd, who was unable to attend, said : “For me this demonstration is a historic breakthrough. The fact it’s being supported by some of the Ukrainian trade unions is the start of a whole new relationship.” Antoniw, the Counsel General for Wales, who has Ukrainian heritage, said : “Russian trade unions should be kicked out of all international trade union organisations. They no longer operate freely, and the UK and European trade unions should now build up their alliance with Ukraine.”

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Publié par Galaxyconcern

Apr 11, 2022
Grace Roy