Oleg Vernik: The Krivoy Rog miners’ strike

Statement from Oleg Vernik, Chairman of PI Member Zakhyst Pratsi, on the ongoing miners’ strikes in Ukraine.

As these lines are written, 22 brave miners of the Oktyabrskaya mine in Krivoy Rog remain on strike underground.

Hundreds of their comrades from various mines — including women — have already risen to the surface. Their demands have only been partially met, but they remain committed to their struggle. New, desperate battles lie ahead, against capital and for a decent life for Ukrainian workers. For the first time in the history of our state, we are witnessing labour struggle and solidarity on this scale.

On 3 September 2020, the miners of the Krivoy Rog Iron Ore Plant (KZhRK), run jointly by the conflicting oligarchs Rinat Akhmetov and Igor Kolomoisky, did not come to the surface. The workers demanded higher wages, which the management decided to cut a few months before the protests, and better working conditions. From 8 September, the “Oktyabrskaya”, “Rodina”, “Ternovskaya” (formerly the “Lenin Mine”), and “Gvardeyskaya” mines were on strike. Throughout September, 393 miners stayed underground in protest. Many of them were women.

This miners’ strike is unique in modern Ukraine. It is one of the first to bring together the struggles of miners and workers in other industries. In particular, railway workers from the Locomotive Depot in Krivoy Rog supported the miners’ struggle with their “Italian strike”. Activists from the Independent Railway Workers’ Union identified technical issues in dozens of locomotives and refused to work on them. On 27 and 28 September, about 10 locomotives never left the Locomotive Depot in Krivoy Rog — a powerful demonstration of solidarity with the striking miners of KZhRK. Railway workers also took part in solidarity actions in places far from Krivoy Rog, including in Nikopol and Nizhnedniprovskiy Uzel.

The Krivoy Rog miners’ protest was sparked by changes in the salary structure. The miners’ wages were once paid hourly, taking into account all the time that they spent underground. Recently, wages have been tied to production, and salaries have fallen sharply: the outdated equipment in the mines fails regularly, and workers are no longer paid for repairing it. But overall working conditions also played a role. The miners say that the equipment at the mines has been in use for over 30 years, with significant detrimental impacts on their health and work environment. According to human rights defenders, a worker died in a mine at KZhRK in April 2020. A court later admitted that this was due to the poor technical condition of the equipment. Finally, the risk of losing the right to a pension added further impetus to the strikes. According to the miners, more than four thousand workers will not eligible for preferential retirement. And Ukraine’s pension reform, which was adopted several years ago, hit female miners particularly hard. Instead of a possible retirement at 45, they will have to work for at least five years longer.

Many leading Ukrainian media outlets have paid particular attention to the strikers’ demand to replace the management of the Krivoy Rog Iron Ore Plant. I have already written that KZhRK is jointly owned by two competing Ukrainian oligarchs — Kolomoiskiy and Akhmetov — who have equal shares in the business. Kolomoysky formally transferred his share to another oligarch, Yaroslavsky, but experts believe that the management of KZhRK is still appointed by Kolomoysky. By focusing on the demand to replace the mine’s management, many have assumed that the strikes are part of a plot by Akhmetov to gain total control over the Krivoy Rog Iron Ore Plant.

This conspiracy theory ignores the power of the mass worker protest movement that emerged. Such a movement is dangerous to the Ukrainian oligarchy at large. Here, in the face of a mass labour movement, the ruling class is consolidaring; only mass organized labour can destroy Ukraine’s model of oligarchic capitalism. That is why it is not the conflict between Ukrainian oligarchs that is important for us in our analysis, but the level of organisation and the activities of the democratic labour movement, embraced by independent trade unions across Ukraine.

Krivoy Rog is the birthplace of the current President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, who received record support from voters in the presidential and parliamentary elections in his hometown. The miners of Krivoy Rog had reason to count on Zelenskyi’s support for their demands. However, both Zelensky and the President’s office distanced themselves from the miners. And, at meetings between the striking miners and members of parliament from Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, the miners were asked to express their distrust of their trade union leaders, who had initiated the strike.

Moreover, Ukrainian authorities did not take any steps to protect the striking miners from repression by the administration of the Krivoy Rog Iron Ore Plant. The administration of the KZhRK began posting personal data on the underground striking miners on social networks, and according to the information of the Ukrainian MP Mykhaylo Volynets, the apartment of one of the underground striking miners‘ apartment was burgled. “In fact, the head of the plant acted as a gunner for the ‘domushniki’ (burglars),” said Volynets.

“Workers who are underground feel inhuman physical and moral pressure… But there is an assumption that the president faces even more pressure from the oligarchs. I think that both owners are asking him not to interfere in the situation, because that would show that the protesters are right, and the situation will change significantly”, says Vitaliy Dudin, head of the legal department of the All-Ukrainian Independent Trade Union “Zakhyst Pratsi” (“Labour Protection”).

The situation is developing dynamically and every day brings news. But the fact that the Krivoy Rog miners strike has resonated around the world excites and encourages us. Every class struggle gives Ukraininan workers invaluable experience. Global workers’ solidarity is no longer an abstract ideal, but a very concrete reality for workers in Ukraine. Ukrainian workers thank their comrades all over the world for their unprecedented showing of support. There are still many battles ahead for true democracy and labour rights. Thes fights have been, are, and will be international.

Oleg Vernik is Chairman of the All-Ukrainian Independent Trade Union “Zakhyst Pratsi” (“Labour Protection”).

Open statement “For free democratic worker Belarus!”

Open statement “For free democratic worker Belarus!” to our Belarusian brothers and sisters of workers’ struggle from All-Ukrainian trade union ‘Labour Defence’.

Dear brothers and sisters in Belarus,

We are fascinated by your force and bravery in the struggle against the autocratic government. It is obvious, that conservative-oligarchic regime was afraid, first of all, the resolute and organized protest of the Belorussian working class and its independent trade unions. Just your strike and the working class protest in general allowed not only to stop open police brutality against Belarusian people, but also to resolutely raise an issue regarding the cancelation of the result of presidential elected, falsified by the regime.

We decisively support your present general democratic demands for resolute changes in Belarussian society, prosecution of those who fabricated the results of the election, and those of special police units, who extremely over-used their power.

It’s very important to remember the bitter experience of Ukraine, when just and fair uprising against Yanukovich regime in 2014 was used by openly anti-worker and anti-union forces. Just these forces are presently conducting the violent attacks against democratic rights of workers and trade union activists, increasing the retirement age and conducting the course of anti-people neoliberal reforms.

Unfortunately, working class and trade union activists in 2014 couldn’t become an efficient and significant factor of the democratic revolution in Ukraine. They were poorly organized and not enough prepared. This fact is being used by conservative ‘protectors’ of the autocratic regime, who try to convince workers to not support the struggle for democratic transformation in Belorussia, stop the strike and de-facto support autocratic-capitalistic Lukashenko regime.

We resolutely deny this calls for virtual collaboration with the regime. Only the consistent struggle for the democracy gives to workers a prospect to finally overcome autocracy and violence.  However, the working-class and labour unions of Belorussia should begin the development of their program of demands. This program would not allow future democratic and free Belorussia to fall onto the path of anti-worker neoliberal reforms and changes. Just neoliberal reforms and mass privatization will inevitably return the situation to renewal of dictatorship and police violence and will strength both reactionary revenge forces and those, who wish to establish in the Belorussia regime of external control, both pro-Western and pro-Russian. We believe that fight for true independence of working democratic Belarus is one of the most important issues of the current situation.

We, Ukrainian workers and trade union activists, don’t have a right to dictate our opinion for our Byelorussian brothers and sisters. Belorussian workers will elaborate workers and trade union program of struggle themselves.  However, we principally believe, that we have a right to give our proposals, which might become a base for the development of a current program for workers and trade unions and also for a list of demands of Belarusian workmen.  These proposals are the following:

  • Immediate cancelation of hostile to the workers and trade unions Belarussian Labour Code changes of 2019, which had established total dictate of employers in the country – temporary employment, unjustified terminations, the ban on voluntary resignation are the banes of Belarusian labourers.
  • Keep the workplace by all necessary means! Ban of fines by employers! Ban on bonus retention!
  • Immediate cancelation of government’s program of privatization of 2020. Review the conducted privatization of the number of leading Belarussian companies. Nationalization of such companies with following transition from government-backed bureaucratic administration to democratic governance by workers and employees!
  • Stop of proposed by Lukashenko’s government reform of retirement benefits! Immediate withdraw the increase of retirement age that has been established by law in 2020!
  • Prompt lift of all legal restrictions related to creation by Belorussian independent trade unions! Unrestricted freedom of the press for workers and trade union media!

There could be only one condition in the fight for fulfilment of your demand: workers of Belorussia need to and have to organize the stable and steady relationship with all of the Belarussian working collectives, with independent trade unions, with active members of communities and environmental activists.  Currently right-wing liberal forces are more organized, and they attempt to do everything to keep Belarusian workers out from becoming an autonomous political force, trying to keep them remaining at the outskirts of the neo-liberal politicians with their program of anti-people neo-liberal reforms. Therefore, it would be correct for independent Belarusian labour unions to discuss the issue of nomination of a candidate for the future presidential election. Such a candidate could become a gravity pull for all truly democratic and working forces in Belarus. Such action could be a real strategic alternative both the forces of anti-worker authoritarian revenge and numerous pro-Russian and pro-Western candidate, which are already turned to complete the dissolution of the independent democratic way to the future of free and people governed Belorussia.

Respected Belarusian brothers and sisters of labour and trade union struggle! Ukrainian working class stands with you! Please remember, that only in struggle we can win our rights! Presently your struggle is the most important point world-wide!  At this moment you are at the front line for true democracy and rights of the workers! Be vigilant, be resolute and thebest of luck!

Central committee of AUTU ‘Labour Defence ’

August 17, 2020.

Ukraine: We Must Stop the Government´s Offensive Against People´s Labor Rights

By Oleg Vernik, Vitali Dudin. Labor Defense Union

This article is being written while a great scandal has just broken out in Ukraine. The chairperson of the Parliamentary Commission for Social Policy, Galina Tretyakova, author of the anti-union bill No. 2681, has publicly stated that “poor quality” children are born to poor Ukrainian families in need of state social assistance. In addition, she has said that she is impressed by Singapore’s experience with its forced sterilization of mothers who cannot raise their children without state support.

In this context of sad analogies with eugenics, Hitler’s pseudoscience, the attack by the presidential party “Servant of the People” against the labor rights of Ukrainian citizens seems absolutely expected. Over the past 15 years, successive bourgeois authorities in Ukraine have been trying to “modernize” Ukraine’s labor legislation and, first of all, decree the invalidity of the rules of the Labor Code that has been in force since 1971. Of course, the 1971 U has already been updated many times and, step by step, it has been losing its functions of protecting workers’ labor rights. However, at this time, the Code remains our outpost in the fight against liberalization of industrial relations in Ukraine exclusively in favor of employers.

What anti-union innovations does the Servant of the People party offer in its draft of Law No. 2681?

1. The powers of union committees (elected union bodies) to require company owners to terminate the employment contract with the head of the company if the latter violates labor laws are revoked;

2. An absolutely senseless restriction is introduced on the formation of more than two unions in one company. Currently, many major Ukrainian companies may even have over 10 different union organizations. In other words, the bosses will create 2 “yellow” unions, while other militant unions will no longer be able to organize in the company;

3. Union committees will lose their right to coordinate the application of disciplinary sanctions (reprimands) to members of union committees;

4. The dismissal of the members of the union committees will be carried out without the agreement of the superior organism of the union;

5. To create a primary union organization, it will take at least ten members, and not three like today. This will result in the impossibility of founding unions in small companies and in autonomous subdivisions of companies.

6. Unions will no longer control the activities of canteens, residences, kindergartens and other social facilities belonging to the company;

7. Unions will not be allowed to require employers to submit documents on workers’ working conditions;

8. Unions will no longer control payroll and state social security accounts;

9. Obligatory deductions of companies to the primary union organizations for the organization of cultural, sports and recreational activities will cease;

10. The ban on bosses from firing former union committee members for 1 year will be removed.

11. The employer will no longer pay union committee members for 6 days a year that are assigned for union training.

Not all the anti-labor innovations in the draft of the criminal law number 2681 promoted by the parliamentary group of the presidential party are listedhere. Today, union rights are under constant attack. Due to irrelevant cases of breach of guarantees and even persecution of trade unions, Ukraine, along with Belarus, occupy the lowest positions in Europe in the ranking of the Global Rights Index of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC Global Rights Index – 2019). A wave of neoliberal reforms by the Zelensky government suffocates Ukraine. However, every day the resistance to this offensive against the popular masses is being strengthened. Both the post-Soviet Ukrainian Federation of Trade Unions and the new independent unions have come together to counter the government’s plans. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and its leader Sharan Burrow have clearly declared to the whole world: “Any successive promotion of the project of Law No. 2681 without a real and significant participation of the unions, as well as its inconsistency with labor standards and the Constitution of Ukraine, will undermine Ukraine’s reputation as a trusted international and trade partner.

Workers and unions face decisive battles for the preservation of the labor rights of Ukrainian workers. From unity our strength is born!

Ukraine: Forest Fires Near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

A verdict on Ukrainian capitalism.

By Oleg Vernik, President of the Independent Union of Ukraine “Zahist Pracі” (“Labor Protection”)

For two weeks, a true ecological tragedy unfolded in Ukraine with massive forest fires in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. The fires swept huge wooded areas and closely surrounded the nuclear power plant that was destroyed in 1986. The riskiest thing now is a large deposit of radioactive waste, which will represent a danger not only for our country, but also for the whole of Europe, if the fires reach it .

For two weeks, nationally mobilized fire brigades fought the fire desperately, but only the rain and snow that fell on April 14 were able to stop it. On that same date, in the evening, President Volodímir Zelensky spoke on television, reported on the end of the incident and thanked the weather for the great help in extinguishing the fire. But on April 15, the fire resumed and more than 500 firefighters are still fighting it heroically.

The Chernobyl fire revealed all the direct failures and crimes of Ukraine’s capitalist authorities. First, it must be taken into account that the real causes of these fires are associated with illegal deforestation in the exclusion zone: forests are radioactive and their use is strictly prohibited. However, several Ukrainian companies involved in the timber trade have indiscriminately cut down the trees and used them in construction, including using false documents to export radioactive wood to countries of the European Union as firewood or building material. In order to avoid getting caught for deforesting illegally, these “businessmen” cover up their crimes year after year with large fires that hide their extreme action under water.

Of course, there is a strong corruption actively involved here that has been neutralizing the oversight of police and prosecutors for many years. This winter there was practically no snow, the dryness in the forests became very dangerous and facilitated the spread of fires, but this did not stop the Ukrainian bourgeoisie of the forest industry. The arson caused a terrible ecological disaster, and to think about what might happen in the near future is terrifying.

Second, firefighters do not have adequate technical equipment to deal with the fire. Ukraine lacks extinction helicopters. The entrances to the affected areas do not even have roads, so water pumping vehicles often cannot enter. The fireproof clothing is very old, it does not resist high temperatures. Fire trucks are very old, some no longer have job utility and should have been scrapped long ago. Even so, they continue in activity, since there is no budget in the most corrupt and poorest country in Europe to buy new, more modern units. But the authorities always have money to raise the salaries of high officials and buy expensive foreign cars.

The fire in the vicinity of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the evident inability of the Ukrainian bourgeois government to cope with the Coronavirus pandemic, place the task of socialist transformation before the Ukrainian people. The peripheral model of Ukrainian capitalism leads to a further aggravation of the situation, to the total impoverishment of the workers and to the strengthening of foreign governance. Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine was compounded by the financial dictates of the International Monetary Fund. A growing number of Ukrainian workers, youth and union activists understand the need for a decisive rejection of capitalism. The disaster caused by the fires, with the threat over Chernobyl, has strengthened and confirmed this understanding, as well as our determination.

Ukraine: «Zakhyst Pratsy» («Labor defence») indicates multiple violations of labor rights of workers!

On February 20, 2019 Oleg Vernyk, Chairman of the All-Ukrainian Independent Trade Union «Zakhyst Pratsy» («Labor defence»), took part in a meeting of the Working Group-4 of the Ukrainian side of the Ukraine-EU Civil Society Platform, where a discussion of the Report on the violation of trade union and labor …

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Chortkiv district council against the shameful closure of UkrSibbank in Chortkiv !!!

The scandal about the brutal closure of Branch number 79 of UkrSibbank JSC (BNP Paribas) due to the entry of bank employees into an independent trade union “«Labor defence»” is gaining momentum.

In particular, Chortkiv district council unanimously stood on the side of the Chortkiv employees of the UkrSibbank. Already for the second time head of Chortkiv District Council V.M. Shepeta has sent very timid letter to the management of JSC “UkrSibbank” (BNP Paribas) with requirement to clarify the situation.

We remind that all this time Branch number 79 of JSC “UkrSibbank” (BNP Paribas) was profitable and lucrative, and it occupied a dominant segment on the market of banking services in the Chortkiv district of the Ternopil region.

Management of JSC “UkrSibbank” (BNP Paribas) shortly after receiving information that employees of the department massively joined the ranks of the independent trade union “«Labor defence»” took the brutal decision about closing of the  branch.

Resolution of the Round Table “Efficiency of international technical assistance of the European Union as a factor of reforms …”

In 2014, the Association Agreement was signed between the European Union and Ukraine, which represents a broad and far-reaching action plan for European integration of Ukraine.

At the same time the European Commission approved an ambitious decision to provide Ukraine with a package of support of € 11 billion “over the next few years”. Later this amount was increased to 12.8 billion.

International technical assistance, as well as direct budget support provided by the EU to Ukraine in various sectors, is an important part of this plan.

According to the Government of Ukraine, in particular in 2017, Ukraine received from the EU international technical assistance for 174 million euro.  Continue reading

“ZAHIST PRATZI” (“Labour defense”) AT THE ASSEMBLY OF RESISTANCE IN BUDAPEST

A regional European Assembly of Resistance (AoR) was held in Budapest (Hungary) on March 2-4, 2018, a delegation of the All-Ukrainian Independent Trade Union “Zahist pratzi” (“Labour defense”) consisting of the coordinator of the all-Ukrainian independent trade union “Zahist pratzi” Andrii Ishchenko and a member of the feminine department of the all-Ukrainian independent trade union …

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Trade Union Conference in Kyiv: “Modernization of Ukrainian labour legislation: view of trade union and labour law specialists”

3 December 2016 All-Ukrainian trade union “Zakhyst Pratsi” (“Defense of Labour) conducted its final conference in in Kyiv in the framework with common project with Rosa Luxembourg Foundation (Germany) “Modernization of Ukrainian labour legislation: view of trade union and labour law specialists”. The activists of following Ukrainian trade unions, civil …

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“Modernisation of the Labour Market regulation and adaptation of the labour legislation of Ukraine to the EU norms and standards”

roundtable

RECOMMENDATIONS

of Round Table Discussion 
«Modernisation of the Labour Market regulation and adaptation of the labour legislation of Ukraine to the EU norms and standards» –  Kyiv, November 7, 2016

On the threshold of the Third Meeting of the Civil Society Platform EU-Ukraine (which will be held on November 8-9, 2016 in Kyiv) the participants of the roundtable «Modernisation of the Labour Market regulation and adaptation of the labour legislation of Ukraine to the EU norms and standards», held on November 7, 2016 at the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine with the assistance of the Public Council under the Ministry, propose the EU-Ukraine Civil Society Platform to recommend to the Council of the Association after extensive consultation with the public, which should start as soon as possible, to include in the agenda of the Association for 2017 the following steps in fulfilment of obligations of the Parties put by the Agreement:   Continue reading