UK: Stand with Ukraine and its labour movement: a letter to UCU Congress delegates and activists

From Denis Pilash, political scientist at Kyiv National University and activist in Ukrainian socialist organisation Sotsialniy Rukh (Social Movement), and Rhian Keyse, Birkbeck UCU and incoming UCU NEC member

Dear comrades,

At its Congress this week, UCU has the opportunity to take a strong stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and its labour movement. We urge delegates to pass Motion 23 and amendments strengthening it, and reject  Motion 22.

The Russian military’s bombing of universities, colleges and schools in Ukraine illustrates the nature of the brutal colonial war it is waging. That is why the entire Ukrainian labour movement, including its socialist wing, is supporting Ukraine’s war of self-defence. Meanwhile progressive educators and students in Russia are, along with feminist activists, at the forefront of resistance to this bloody imperialist aggression. Putin’s is a regime in which workers’ rights, rights to organise and protest, and academic freedom are increasingly crushed.

Education sector solidarity internationally, along with the broader demands of class solidarity and humanitarianism, makes a strong and active anti-war stance essential and urgent.

It was great and fitting that UCU, whose members have engaged in a determined struggle to defend their rights this year, supported the  Trade Unions Stand With Ukraine  labour movement protest for Ukraine in London on 9 April, and that the UCU President chaired its rally.

That protest, backed by nine national UK unions, was initiated by PCS. Last week PCS conference PCS Union Affiliates to Ukraine Solidarity Campaign voted overwhelmingly for strong motions supporting Ukraine’s struggle (and for affiliation to the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign). It rejected attempts to present the war as fundamentally a conflict between Russia and NATO, a position that fades out both the Russian state’s imperialism in Ukraine and the Ukrainian people’s agency and self-determination.

Speaking for ourselves, we are opponents of NATO – not just of its expansion, but of its existence. But this war is not being waged by NATO, and NATO has little to do with why it is taking place. The war is taking place because, and building on decades and centuries of oppression of the Ukrainians  and other peoples, Russian imperialism has attacked Ukraine, and because Ukraine’s people have fought back heroically in self-defence. (For those who oppose NATO: ironically, Russia’s actions are strengthening NATO.)

Taking a strong stand in solidarity with Ukraine is necessary for the international labour movement to live up to our best traditions and responsibilities. The labour movement must be internationalist; and it must champion democracy, including the right to self-determination. We must fight for these principles universally and consistently, including in Ukraine.

We must, of course, support the Russian anti-war movement. That should not be counterposed to supporting Ukraine’s resistance. That is why, for instance, prominent Russian anti-war network Feminist Ant-War Resistance issued a statement on 7 May saying that, while it opposes militarisation, it also supports Ukraine getting weapons.

In terms of the debate at UCU Congress, internationalism means rejecting motion 22, which airbrushes out Ukraine’s just defensive struggle and instead suggests an imaginary armed conflict between Russia and NATO, even appearing to predict an imminent “NATO military invasion” (!) It rightly calls for links with comrades in Russia, but says nothing about links with comrades in Ukraine. By this startling omission the motion seems to suggest that the people of Ukraine have somehow disqualified themselves from internationalist solidarity.

The NEC motion and amendments to it, along with other motions on Ukraine, provide a far better basis for solidarity.

In addition to clear statements of support for Ukraine, proposals in the motions and amendments for links with labour movement activists in Ukraine and Russia, for solidarity with refugees and for campaigning on Ukraine’s debt are particularly welcome. We must also launch urgent solidarity with Ukraine’s unions against the sweeping attack on workers rights that the Ukrainian government is using the cover of war to push through (draft law 5371).

We hope UCU will continue and develop its solidarity with Ukraine and other struggles for democracy, human rights and peace internationally.

For international workers’ solidarity,

Denis Pilash & Rhian Keyse