Will Unite the Union stand with Ukraine?

If delegates to Unite the Union’s upcoming biennial policy conference (11-14 July, Brighton) want to support

  • withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine
  • Ukraine’s right to self-determination
  • strong links with Ukrainian trade unions and socialists
  • clear demands for strong rights for all refugees

they must support the text submitted by my branch, London and Eastern 524.

Delegates to the first Unite policy conference since Russia invaded Ukraine should vote to push for the UK’s largest private sector union, involved in many of the most successful industrial disputes of the last year, to stand in clear solidarity with Ukraine and its labour movement.

Only one motion on Ukraine has been submitted to the conference (from the Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Process and Textiles ‘Regional Industrial Sector Committee’/RISC for North East, Yorkshire and Humberside). It seems to me, at best, highly politically ambiguous. The substantial amendment submitted by London and Eastern 524 (Central London Voluntary Sector branch) seeks to ensure a strong pro-Ukraine stance. (You can read the text of both below; document with all motions and amendments here.)

USC is calling for the policy conference to pass the amendment, to take a clear stand in support of comrades in Ukraine. If it is not passed, the motion should be rejected. (Unite does compositing, merging some motions together, only shortly before the conference. It is crucial the whole text of the amendment is either accepted for compositing into the motion or left for the conference to vote on as an amendment, rather than being whittled down in some way.)

In March 2022 the Unite executive council released a fairly strong statement in solidarity with Ukraine. Since that, however, little has been done. Policy conference should pass the pro-Ukraine amendment as the start of a general push for solidarity.

Much of what the motion submitted to the conference says, sentence by sentence, is unobjectionable – though it is wrong to suggest NATO expansion was a significant cause of Russia’s attack on Ukraine. The main problem is that it has little to say about the war or Ukraine as such. Having condemned the invasion, it then spends most of its words talking about Western hypocrisy, with few active conclusions about the war – not even a call for Russian withdrawal. Without even that, the call for a “peaceful resolution” shades into apologism for Russia (even if that was not the intention).

We can agree that the big powers backing Ukraine are hypocritical and self-interested, but that does not settle the character of the war or what socialists and trade unionists should say about it. Crucially, it does not – at all – invalidate Ukraine’s right to self-determination and self-defence, a right strongly upheld by the Ukrainian labour movement.

The logic of the motion’s approach is shown by the part where it calls for “equal treatment for all refugees not preferential treatment”. With no positive demands, taken literally, this could mean putting all refugees in camps! So focused is the motion on the inconsistency and hypocrisy of Western governments that it has nothing positive to say even about migrants’ rights.

The amendment from LE524 remedies all this by calling for Russian withdrawal, an end to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and Ukrainian self-determination; and support for Ukraine’s labour movement both in its participation in national defence and in its struggles to defend social rights both during and after the war. And by advocating free welcome and strong positive rights for all refugees.

If you are a Unite member and would like to work with USC supporters in the union to promote a pro-Ukraine/Ukrainian labour movement stance at the conference (and after), get in touch.

Motion 46. Ukraine

Chemicals Pharmaceuticals, Process and Textiles RISC, North East, Yorkshire and Humberside

Conference utterly condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine and fully supports the decision of the Unite Executive Council and branches to donate to the ITUC fund to support the Ukrainian refugees and Ukrainian trade unions.

Conference also fully condemns the role that Putin has played in destabilising Europe and the US by supporting and funding extreme right politicians such as Trump in the US, Orban in Hungary, Le Pen in France, and the Vote Leave campaign in the UK. But Conference also notes the anti-trade union policies of the Zelensky government in Ukraine and urges caution against populist outright blind support of his government outside of the conflict.

With the war in Ukraine, massively increasing tensions with China, and the Middle East on the edge of an explosion, the world is in a more dangerous situation than at any time since 1945. Trade unionists and the labour movement know only too well that wars are never in the interests of working people and the global trade union and labour movement must do everything in its power to prevent further escalations and to work for peace.

Conference believes it is essential there is a full, open, and honest debate about the causes of the conflict – including the role of NATO expansion – and fully rejects the Labour Party’s attempts to silence any legitimate discussion of these issues or real analysis of how the world has arrived at the abyss of a nuclear confrontation.

The conflict is already causing massive problems for the European and UK economy through the energy crisis and huge disruptions to supply chains, this may in turn have a disastrous impact on the jobs, pay and conditions of millions of workers in Europe and the UK – particularly with the UK government already trying to use the conflict as a reason to cut public spending including cutting the wages of workers.

Conference therefore instructs the Executive Council to:

  • Publically call for the furlough system to be re‐introduced for any workers laid off due to supply chain problems stemming from the conflict
  • Oppose calls for an escalation of the war and call for a peaceful resolution
  • Ensure that NISCs, RISCs and branches are fully informed about the conflict and the industrial issues that have arisen from it that affect members jobs and wellbeing
  • Demand equal treatment for all refugees not preferential treatment for those refugees that suit the government’s political agenda
  • Call on the international trade union movement to be consistent when dealing with conflict and for Unite to raise within the federations the following;
    • Publicly  denounce  countries  that  commit  the  same  international  violations  and human rights abuses as Russia, such as Israel and Turkey
    • Insist  that  if  the  Russian  unions  are  to  be  expelled  for  not  opposing  the  Ukraine  conflict,  then  so  too  must  Histradut [sic: it’s Histadrut] for  its  support  of  the  Israeli  occupation  of  Palestine and Hak‐is of Turkey for its  support of the invasion and occupation of Syria.
    • Demand that the ETUC do not allow unions, such as Solidarnosc from Poland,  to use  their high‐profile role in supporting Ukraine  to white wash  their own  extreme  right wing  policies  on  LGBT  rights, women’s  rights and their  public  support of Marie Le‐Pen in France;
    • Demand  that  the  European  and  Global  Trade  Union  Federations  condemn  racism at the Ukraine border and call on their affiliates in the area to demand  their governments let all Ukraine refugees across their borders regardless of  colour or ethnicity.

Amendment to motion 46

London and Eastern 524, Central London Voluntary Sector Branch

Where it says: Conference therefore instructs the Executive Council to:

… Oppose calls for an escalation of the war and call for a peaceful resolution;

Add to this point: To support peace on the basis of Ukraine’s right to self-determination, full withdrawal of invading forces and an end to Russian aggression against Ukraine. In particular Unite should strengthen links with our Ukrainian trade union and socialist sisters and brothers, and support their struggles to help defend their country against imperialist invasion; defend and strengthen workers’, social and democratic rights within it; and win a more just and democratic post-war reconstruction.

And where it says:

… Demand  equal  treatment  for  all  refugees  not  preferential  treatment  for  those refugees that suit the government’s political agenda

Add: , free welcome and full access to public services and the right to work for all refugees,

so it reads: “Demand  equal  treatment, free welcome and full access to public services and the right to work for all refugees, not  preferential  treatment  for  those refugees that suit the government’s political agenda”