The war in Ukraine has settled into a murderous and grinding conflict that will cause massive human destruction and could set the scene for further horrors. Russian forces continue to pound Ukrainian cities such as Severodonetsk. The brutal invasion is wholly wrong and benefits only the Russian ruling class. But the US and the Nato military alliance are also using the war to extend their own power.
They want to humble Russia then set the stage for further economic and potentially military confrontation with China. The US has recently poured in £32 billion of aid to Ukraine—most of it weapons and other military kit. It is using Ukraine in a proxy war against its rivals. Boris Johnson is also a leading warmonger. He wants to divert attention from his own crisis and to line up with US imperialism. Ordinary people across the world will pay the price for the war as food shortages spread and prices soar.
And it threatens to sharpen every battle between ruling classes. Greece and Turkey—both Nato members—have launched an escalating war of words over islands in the Aegean Sea. Instead of scaling back the war drives, Nato and its allies are accelerating them. Last week Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky demanded yet more weaponry from Nato and praised Johnson’s role in heading up the assault on Russia. Speaking to the Financial Times newspaper at its Global Boardroom conference, Zelensky said it was “great news” that Johnson had survived the no-confidence vote by Tory MPs.
“I am glad we have not lost a very important ally,” he said. Ukraine is not the shining example of liberty and freedom that the mainstream media pretends. The European Public Service Union (EPSU) has recently denounced the Ukrainian government’s moves to push through “legislation to reduce workers’ protection against dismissal”. It says, “Despite being rejected by the trade unions in the autumn of 2021, Bill 5371 has been introduced under the cover of martial law.” This bill, says the EPSU, is designed to protect bosses by “providing for the possibility of dismissing people without the consent of the union.”
The EPSU is an umbrella body of national unions. Its vice presidents include Liz Snape of Unison union in Britain. The EPSU adds that workers’ rights laws in Ukraine are “extremely Soviet and bureaucratic”. But that trampling on the existing legislation makes it look “like the authors of the bill prefer the tsarist era”.
While these laws are being rammed through, Ukrainians’ right to protest is severely limited by martial law. In the third week of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the parliament, supported by Zelensky, adopted Law 2136 on labour relations. It temporarily—for the period of martial law—freed the hands of businesses to violate workers’ rights. It allowed companies to suspend collective bargaining agreements, banned strikes, and outlawed street demonstrations without the need for a court ruling.
In November 2021 openDemocracy reported that the British Foreign Office had given advice to Zelensky’s Ministry of Economy on how to push through anti-worker laws. It said, “A 2021 communication plan prepared by an international development consultancy and marked with the logo of the British Embassy in Kyiv recommends that the Ukrainian ministry should ‘stress’ that liberalising labour laws will bring ‘positive results’ for Ukrainian workers.”
The war has given bosses a further chance to deepen the exploitation of Ukrainian workers. And the Zelensky government stands with them. It’s more important than ever that in Britain we say no to the Russian invasion but also oppose Nato expansion and escalation. And we should support workers everywhere fighting against imperialism and bosses.
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