Unions stand with Ukraine!

Speech in Whitehall today

Be proud of yourselves – we’ve Got unions representing over a million workers here. We’ve got the Labour front bench. Democracy protesters from Hong Kong. The Russian and Ukrainian left. And Kurdish Antifa!

Yesterday in Kramatorsk, more than 50 people were killed, and three hundred injured by a Russian cluster bomb. Shredded by metal shards. When we, the journalists, choose words to describe the victims we often say “civilians”. But there’s something else we need to say…

Look at the clothes they were wearing, the anoraks, the children’s shoes, the battered suitcases. The victims of Kramatorsk, Bucha and Mariupol were, overwhelmingly, working class people.

Ukraine – because of its history of industrialisation and collectivisation – is one of the most working class societies in the world. One expert told me: it’s basically workers, farmers and oligarchs – and many of the oligarchs legged it before the war even started.

We Socialists value every human life – but we, trade unionists, know that workers and minorities are usually the main victims of every war. Even where the war is just.

And for that reason we, in the labour movement, are rightly wary of armed conflict. We are natural pacifists. How many times have we stood here denouncing the hypocrisy of the West’s Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places?

But in wars like this, we have take a side.

For the workers of Ukraine who wins is a life and death question. In Kyiv, just before the war started, we met the leaders of the miners union, whose members had seen their pits closed by Putin’s militias, their union banned, their activists kidnapped and tortured and in some cases killed.

They know there is no future for an independent labour movement under Russian occupation. And that’s why, despite their disagreements with Zelensky – on the morning Russian troops rolled into the Donbas – those miners phoned the union HQ to say: we’re going to run no longer. We will fight.

We can’t send them weapons – we don’t have any. But the British government can. That’s why we should go on calling for, and supporting, arms to Ukraine.

And we can keep the pressure on Johnson to tighten the sanctions and go on standing with Ukraine even when things get tough.

If you want to know the stakes in this war, listen to our comrades from Sotsialny Rukh, who we met on the eve of the conflict in Kyiv. They wrote this week – in a joint statement with the Russian left:

This war has become a people’s war – and our comrades on the anti-authoritarian left of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus are fighting together against imperialism.

That’s why we in the British labour movement have to stand with them, and stand with Ukraine.



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Paul Mason

Journalist, writer and film-maker. Author of How To Stop Fascism.