In Digest, Ukraine

By New Cold editors, Dec. 22, 2014

A strike by public transit workers in Kyiv ended early on Dec. 19, one day after it began, following police threats and intimidation against striking workers and leaders of their union. The strike disrupted or closed tram service in the city on Dec. 18 and was threatening to spread to subway and bus service.

Transit workers in strike in Kyiv on Dec 18, 2014 over months of unpad wages. Sign reads, Stop stealing from workers!'

Transit workers in strike in Kyiv on Dec 18, 2014 over months of unpad wages. Sign reads, Stop stealing from workers!’

The workers were on strike because they have not been paid since September. According to one news report, they are owed 80 million hryvnia in unpaid wages. That’s the equivalent of USD$5 million.

Vitali Makhinko, the leader of the workers union, ‘Labor Solidarity’, writes on his Facebook page, “In the evening [of Dec. 18], secret service policemen came to the tram depot and began interrogating transport workers and representatives of the trade-union. ‘Labor Solidarity’ regards this action as threatening to protesters. The authorities sent police against striking workers although the actions of the workers were lawful.”

In a television news report on the strike, Makhinko explained that he had complained several months ago of the non-payment of wages to the Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Makhinko also reports that the union is preparing a complaint against the decision of the public prosecutor to institute criminal charges against the leaders of the short-lived strike and to conduct an audit of the funds of the union. The audit amounts to harassment.

The director of KyivPasTrans, Sergei Meisel, told Ukraine’s Espresso TV that the company succeeded in breaking the strike thanks to police intervention. He said the strike was organised by “enemies of the people”, “provocateurs” and “terrorists”.

The company made a small concession to workers by paying wages for September and a small part of October.

Police state and paramilitary repression of social protest becoming the norm in Ukraine

The heavy-handed treatment of transit workers in Kyiv is indicative of what working people can expect in Ukraine as the government implements harsh austerity measures that accompany its ‘economic association’ agreement with the European Union. This was explained in a commentary published in the Odessa media outlet Timer on December 16 (Russian language text here). The article is titled, ‘As Ukraine explodes into riots, trade unions will not be of help to workers’.

The article explains that social conditions in some regions of Ukraine are becoming desperate, but working class people have few outlets to organize and fight for improvements. There is no effective, national trade union movement or other social movement at the present time that can channel and focus demands on the government for improvements. The situation is worsened, says Timer, by a history of collaboration of the trade unions with whatever government is in power and which produces no real results for workers.

One of the dangers in this situation, says the article, is that frustration can explode into localized confrontations which police and extreme-right paramilitaries can suppress relatively easily.

The rebellion in southeast Ukraine sits as an example to workers throughout Ukraine that the attacks by the government and the wealthy oligarchs can be resisted, says the commentary.

In Odessa, the ‘Voice of Odessa’ movement staged a public protest on Dec. 19 against electricity cuts that are leaving the city in the dark and against the rising cost of living. The action was broken up by police, but ‘Voice of Odessa’ says its struggle will continue. (Story and photos here.)

Also in Odessa, the 600 workers at the Odessa Portside Plant, an ammonia product manufacturer, are mobilizing against the threatened privatization of their state-owned enterprise as well as the rupture in economic ties to eastern Ukraine caused by the Kyiv’s government’s civil war there. The workers staged a large protest rally on Dec. 14 demanding that the government take action to save their factory and jobs and that it end the economic blockade of the Donbas region in southeast Ukraine. (English report here.)

The Labor Solidarity union is supporting a protest to take place in Kiev on Dec. 21 against the rising cost of public housing and utilities. The protest movement wants the resignations of the heads of the public housing service, saying they have neglected and done nothing for the service for years.


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