First, there were plenty of workers on the protests. Oil workers, builders, teachers, civil servants, foresters, cleaners and engineers all took part.
Second, criticisms of Yushchenko weren’t far below the surface. One student told a newspaper, ‘If Yushchenko doesn’t do what he has promised, people have now understood that we can and must fight the government and defend our rights.’
Some of the criticism of Yushchenko took organised form. The Socialist Party of Oleksandr Moroz, which claims 70,000 members, forced Yushchenko to sign a seven-point programme in return for electoral support. This included promises to reduce rents, raise the minimum wage, defend free education and healthcare, withdraw Ukrainian troops from Iraq and not enter Nato.
Of course there were none of the public denunciations of Nato that accompanied the Serbian Revolution. And, crucially, talk of strike action never became much more than talk.
The Kolubara miners, whose strike played such a big role in Serbia, had no equivalent in Ukraine.
But the reasons why people came out into the freezing squares of west and central Ukraine’s cities were identical to those that fired the Serbian events. Viktor Yanukovych’s government was deeply corrupt, imposed strict censorship of the media, crudely falsified the election result, presided over fantastically high prices for basic goods and used murder to silence its critics.
The pro-Yanukovych movement was very different. Workers on the demonstrations had been broken by their experience of the 1990s. They accepted the incredible lies put out by Yanukovych, who wanted the Donyetsk miners to play the same role as Romanian miners in the summer of 1990 in smashing up opposition protests.
But when Yanukovych supporters were bussed into Kiev and encountered the orange crowds, they saw ordinary people just like themselves and were often quickly won over. The slogans were ‘Lugansk, Donbass, come and join us!’ ‘Glory to the miners!’ This was elementary workers’ solidarity that emerged from within the orange movement.
‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’ is a slogan we raised during the Cold War as we refused to take sides between the nuclear superpowers. While it accurately describes our attitude to Russian and US imperialist power-play in Ukraine, it doesn’t fit a movement like this.
When one faction of a national ruling class uses mass mobilisations in a struggle against another faction of the same ruling class, we have to be more concrete. We have to argue for workers to take the power of the streets back into their workplaces and to use the crisis to make gains for themselves.
The journalists’ independent union in Kiev provides a good example of this method. While highly critical of both presidential candidates, it used the wave of confidence caused by the street events to organise strikes that smashed through the censorship regime on the main TV stations.
Both Yushchenko and Yanukovych are guilty of playing divide and rule. The division of the country remains a possibility and would be a disaster for ordinary Ukrainians. The solution is the workers’ unity we saw beginning to be forged between orange and blue on the streets of Kiev.
If we only focus on geopolitics, we risk overlooking the radical potential of mass movements. By coincidence, the banner of Globalise Resistance is orange. It’s time we made some connections.
A spotlight on Australia’s immigration system
Celebrate Colston 4 victory
NHS workers speak out against Tories