The meeting, which was supported by Labour MP John McDonnell was organised by the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign. The campaign’s slogan is “Russian tanks, western banks – hands of Ukraine” and it aims to build links between the labour movement in Britain and independent working class organisations in Ukraine.
Since the end of the Soviet period Yuriy Samoylov has been active in unions outside the official structures and he painted a bleak picture of the situation facing the working class in Ukraine, a country where wages are now on a level with those in Bangladesh. Miners too have been hard hit by neo-liberalism and the dire economic situation. A relatively well paid group, many of whom had been earning about £800 a month they now go for long spells without wages. A series of privatisations under the ousted Yanukovich administration resulted in massive job losses as former state assets were sold off to oligarchs.
Samoylov told the meeting that many of the independent unions had taken part in the Maidan protests which toppled the old corrupt regime. Their members feel that their struggle is far from over as little has changed for the working class. Many of the same people who had been in power in Kryvyi Rih, a city in the Dnipropetrovsk region are still in power today and they rely on illegal armed gangs to suppress opposition and exercise control. Samoylov joked darkly that activists console each other by saying “you lost your job but at least you are still alive.”
They retain close contact with comrades in the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, a Russian puppet state in which many activists critical of the regime have been murdered and many more forced out of political activity. As in another Russian puppet region, Donetsk, unions have been recruiting people to join the armed forces of the separatist regimes. However, Samoylov estimated that the Russian regular forces supply about 80% of the troops for these militia.
Samoylov feels that the closure of some mines is a real threat. In one of the evening’s rare positive notes he said that miners in areas under the control of Kiev are willing to take militant action to save the pits. He is under no misapprehension about the agenda of the new regime. In his view its members are mainly interested in getting as much money as they can from the IMF and then funnelling it into their own Swiss bank accounts. His members are only willing to give support to a government which improves their standard of living, something he acknowledges is not very likely. All the big parties are creations of oligarchs and are only a front for their interests. In his view there is a general feeling that in many respects life has got worse for working class Ukrainians since the Maidan protests. That goes some way to explaining why so many of them are desperate to be in the European Union. For them it represents a dream of prosperity and stability. It rarely crosses the minds of most people that a Ukrainian entry into the EU offers the prospect of a Greek style austerity offensive.
Samoylov and his comrades are incredibly brave people. They are willing to defy the authorities in a country in which dissent can result in murder. The solidarity they ask for is rudimentary. They want the world to know that they are still defending the idea of an independent working class voice. They only ask for an opportunity to be heard and, as Yuriy Samolov remarked Skype and the internet make it easy for activists abroad to link up with them. It really is a question of life and death. They more international support they have, the harder it becomes for their ruling class to murder them.
Contact the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign if you are interested in making those links.