In Background, Ukraine

By David Douglass, retired Hatfield Main Branch delegate and secretary, and Yorkshire Area Executive Committee member, National Union of Mineworkers (UK), posted to the author’s Facebook page, Nov, 14, 2014.

Events in Ukraine are perhaps the most dangerous flash points in the world at this moment in time. Two nuclear powers are sparing up for a showdown. The West, including the UK and the European Union, seem to believe Moscow is bluffing, that they can force a back down. But just to show they aren’t bluffing either, armed forces from NATO are moving into position. America is ready to move NATO bases into Ukraine and right to Moscow’s front door. This is perhaps the nearest we have ever been to outright war since the Cuban missile crisis of the early 1960’s. If anyone thinks this couldn’t rapidly escalate to nuclear war, with nuclear bombs landing on Britain, they are sadly, frighteningly naive.

The expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, the undermining of East European states, supporting dissident groups and establishing regimes warm to NATO and the EU, has been happening since Yugoslavia was set ablaze by mainly German-led NATO ambitions, fed and supported by a NATO intervention into an inter-ethnic war entirely fuelled by the West. We should note that within days of Kosovo separatists demanding autonomy, Germany recognised it as a sovereign state. There was no talk of preserving Yugoslavia ‘as a single entity’. This was followed by Czechoslovakia and the Balkan states.

Ukraine followed the pattern. A country made up of a strong Russian minority, the country was historically close to Russia and deeply linked to the Russian economy. Within days of the right wing armed coup against the elected president [Feb. 22, 2014], the EU was promising hundreds of millions in aid and trade and entry into the EU. Amazingly, hypocritically, none of the British or American politicians were suddenly interested that an elected prime minister had been thrown out of office, quite a contrast to when it happened in Egypt and other places.

The national consensus and recognition that Ukraine was composed of different nationalities and political identities was suddenly torn up. Recognition of the Russian language was withdrawn, Russian language schools were banned from teaching in it, Russian identity was no longer to be recognised. Worse, the long standing fascist forces which had survived since World War Two, and who formed SS columns in the German army, who guarded the concentration camps, who presided over the slaughter of tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of murders against Russian civilians and troops, came back, in their uniforms with their regimental fascist flags back onto the streets, leading the armed action against Russian communities.

That this is true, there is not the slightest doubt, as hundreds of photos and films will show. The newly installed Prime Minister Poroshenko boasted that within days of the coup, he was receiving modern weapons and supplies from NATO countries, “namely, the US, France, Italy, Poland and Norway”. Giving the game away, he said they had been “pledged” the weapons and support and “military advisers” from NATO during the NATO summit in Newport, Wales [Sept 2014].

NATO announced back on Sept 5th that a 4,000-strong “rapid reaction force” was in place to combat “the Russian threat”. Tellingly, 25 per cent of this force was British, a nuclear armed state. 4,000 NATO troops couldn’t possibly hold back the Russian army, unless of course you were prepared to move rapidly to nuclear war. Has everyone forgotten what the consequences for all of us would be of a nuclear war fought in Europe? Have no doubt, the USA wouldn’t directly attack Russia, and Russia doubtless wouldn’t directly attack them. The war would be fought in OUR backyard and doubtless fall on THIS country too. [British Prime Minister] Cameron is talking about British troops being the “spearhead force”. There are currently 1,500 British troops, with 2,000 on the way, on “exercises in the Baltic states”. The Baltic is now a British and NATO sphere of influence and involvement.

Given the rejection of the Russian people, indeed a pogrom against them, most of the eastern Ukrainian communities made efforts to re-join Russia and fight for secession or autonomy. Some declared ‘Soviet Socialist Republics,’ and old World War Two Soviet army uniforms were dusted off by war veterans who had fought the fascists back them and plan to do so again. Soviets and communes are being organised, albeit on small scale, and the left from anarchist to left-nationalist seems united on what they don’t want, and fighting for their lives if the precise nature of what they do want isn’t worked out yet.

If NATO planned to move its bases into Western Ukraine, the Russians would feel no guilt at moving their forces forward into eastern Ukraine, though they have actually formally held back from doing so. There are, however, tens of thousands of cross-border families and many part-time Russian reservists with family in East Ukraine who have crossed over unofficially to defend their families.

The miners of the Donbass region, and in particular Donetsk, are strongly union, strongly left, and overwhelmingly ethnically Russian. It is they who have fought, literally guns in hand, to hold out Ukrainian putschist and fascist government forces from taking over.

Into this situation, the NUM, which for the last 50 years has supported progressive international politics, has questioned NATO’s role, has opposed all military adventures and, more importantly, supported the workers movements in all conflict situations, has suddenly appeared in the camp of the enemy. Just how they have wandered so far behind enemy lines is strange, to say the least.

The road to there started apparently five years ago during the Scotland area’s commemoration of the 1984/5 strike [of miners in Britain] when the alleged leaders of the Ukrainian miners’ union were over on a visit. Five years of cross-visits later, with NUM leaders going over there, the culmination is that the official leadership gets to make a brief speech at the Durham Miners Gala. A team of Ukrainian ‘miners’ takes part in the Gala parade although we are told they were to a man top union officials based in the capital Kiev and not lads from the coalfields of Donbass and Donetsk. Now, the position of these union officials couldn’t be more different than that held by the men in the coalfields. It is, in short, a company union now dominated by the new regime.

Keeping in with the new regime is, of course, a far easier life than picking up your Kalashnikov and guarding the pit head and mining town from it. The NUM has been severely misled by these people. More than 90 per cent of all coal from the Ukraine comes from the Donbass. To a man (and woman), the miners of Donbass and Eastern Ukraine are at war with Kiev, who is shelling them, killing them, discriminating against them and leashing fascist thugs into their communities. We have to ask the question: which miners are these ‘miners leaders’ speaking for? Clearly not the men who mine 90 per cent of Ukraine’s coal, perhaps none of the remaining 10 per cent either. These ‘miner’s leaders’ are leaders without members, they are speaking for themselves and their own interests, which are totally at odds with the miners themselves. I do not know how much of a debate took place at [NUM] Conference on this subject. I do know that rank and file miners and the Donetsk miner’s independent union weren’t invited to put their case. I am certain this matter was not given an open discussion and debate with both sides being put such as it deserved, and that is a tragedy for our reputation as a union and will totally mislead our members.

It puts me in mind of the way in which [Alain] Simon was wheeled out at NUM conferences as some sort of authentic verification of the role of the IMO/ IEMO (International Energy and Mineworkers Organisation]. The presence of the ‘leader of the French Miners’ and official of IEMO was meant to demonstrate that this entirely mythical, cardboard ‘organisation’ was some sort of living breathing international body of miners across the world. For years, Arthur [Scargill] was able to pull this old rabbit out of the hat and the NUM continued to pay vast sums for affiliations and international junkets, when in reality it never existed as a workers organisation at all. It was a bureaucracy with an income and a name but no delegate structure, no policy structure and not a shred of control by any of the apparent miners all over the world whose leaders had affiliated to it. To date, from its inception, not a single balance sheet has ever been produced to demonstrate how much money came in and where it went to, or what it ever did with the money.

The NUM says it is for “self-determination of Ukraine as a whole”. But Ukraine isn’t “a whole”–it is a fabric of parts and different ethnicities. To make such a call is simply to demand that peoples and nationalities MUST be kept against their will within a state which is now hostile to them and is actually waging war against them.

I have long fought for the cause of a 32-county Irish republic. Independence for ‘Ireland as a whole’–this right has never been extended to Ireland, and Ireland was brutally divided by the British state in 1922. Four and half counties of six remaining counties in ‘the north’ have a majority in favour of being part of the UK. Even the most stalwart Irish republican knows that almost a million people claiming a separate identity, real or imaginary, can’t be bombed and shot into a national identity they do not want. The republican movement has long conceded the need for a federal structure, with right for the ‘British Irish’ to retain their religion, culture and identity.

The people of Eastern Ukraine, South Eastern Ukraine and Crimea have asserted their right to self-determination and no body or state has the right to deny that or impose its own rule in their stead. Such is a fundamental right. When Scotland justifiably has a vote on self determination as to independence, autonomy or full fusion with the UK state, that is perfectly right. To call in its stead for ‘Self-determination for the UK as a whole’ would be to deny the fact that the UK comprises three-and-a-bit nations and would deny their right to self-determination.

The NUM also says it is against “outside interference” but it doesn’t mean USA, the EU or Britain or NATO, who started the whole shooting match off; it means the Russians. It means ‘go away and let us threat the Ukrainian Russians the way that suits us’. The only way of enforcing either of those demands is through the barrel of a gun pushed down workers throats who will not accept it. Sadly for our role in this, it is the miners in Ukraine who are fighting and opposing Kiev, while their leaders, out of touch and out of step, have persuaded the NUM here to oppose the Ukrainian miners in Eastern Ukraine.

In recent weeks, we have seen a fascist terror let loose in Ukraine with the burning down of the Trade Union Centre and the deaths of the men and women defending it [in the city of Odessa, May 2], the burning down of the offices of the Ukrainian Communist Party, and shoot-to-kill right wing vigilantes. The Ukrainian National Guard, made up largely of overt Fascist troops, has mercilessly bombarded Donetsk, Luhansk and other mining cities. (Sorry the photos have not downloaded, they can be accessed through internetdjd-. Photo: One of the many scenes of Russian Ukrainian workers bodies in the burned out Trade Union Centre in Odessa, where 42 workers died while fascists outside chanted ‘burn burn burn’.)

Finally we see a principled resolution proposed by RMT [railway workers union in UK] and passed by the TUC [Trades Union Congress, in September, text here] is opposed by the NUM, which repeats as its rationale the official line of the regime in Kiev.

Comrades, this union has too long a history and too strong a reputation to allow such appalling politics to continue. We need to recall the NUM conference and debate this issue, with guest speakers from both sides and the miners themselves from Donbass, and come to a more progressive position on this question. The RMT and ourselves have a shared history–few unions stood so firmly at our side during the big battles of the last fifty years, we have generally seen eye to eye on all the major political questions facing our class. Doesn’t it make you wonder why the NUM is so far on the other side of the fence from RMT and the TUC conference?

The motion passed by TUC Congress specifically calls for:

  • the General Council to hold an urgent meeting to consider how best to support those fighting for trade union rights and against fascism in the Ukraine
  • An immediate, permanent ceasefire in Ukraine and a peaceful, negotiated settlement
  • opposition to the use of British forces in the Ukrainian conflict”

Here is the full text of the motion carried:

E1 Situation in Ukraine:

Congress notes the comments of the NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on the day of the NATO summit on 4th September 2014, that the summit was taking place in a “dramatically changed security environment”.

Congress further notes that these comments follow the announcement on 3rd September 2014 from the Pentagon that the US was sending 200 US soldiers to Ukraine for “training exercises”, the first time that U.S. ground troops have been in the region since hostilities began.

Congress also notes the UN Refugee Agency warning on 2nd September that the fighting to date has displaced more than a million people and that, “…If the crisis is not quickly stopped, it will have not only devastating humanitarian consequences, but it also has the potential to destabilize the whole region…after the lessons of the Balkans, it is hard to believe a conflict of these proportions could unfold in the European continent.”

Congress is concerned that the crisis has also witnessed attacks on trade unionists and the empowering of fascists groups, including the Odessa Massacre which saw that City’s trade union centre burned to the ground.

In light of the dangerous and urgent situation in Ukraine, Congress calls for:

  • the General Council to hold an urgent meeting to consider how best to support those fighting for trade union rights and against fascism in the Ukraine
  • an immediate, permanent ceasefire in Ukraine and a peaceful, negotiated settlement
  • opposition to the use of British forces in the Ukrainian conflict

Mover: National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers

The TUC, responding to an appeal from the miners of Donetsk, has approached the NUM and the letter in response from Comrade Kitchen, the General Secretary, essentially says they don’t agree with the RMT/TUC Donetsk miner’s position. They take the line of the ‘miner’s leaders’ in Kiev and the Ukrainian pro-NATO regime. This is an extremely disappointing and frankly embarrassing position for deeply committed members of the NUM to find ourselves in. We urge our fellow members to check out the facts of the situation and demand a reconsideration of the current position of the union,



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