Ukraine debate at UCU Congress 2024

Liz Lawrence reports on the UCU decision at its recent conference to vote to affiliate to the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign.

 

This is a positive step forward in building solidarity with Ukraine within UCU. Affiliation should support greater involvement of UCU in Ukraine solidarity activities, such as delegations, fund-raising appeals and educational events.

Bristol and Oxford Brookes UCU branches passed a solidarity motion with Ukraine to send to Congress 2024. UCU’s women members’ standing committee tabled a supportive amendment about working with Ukrainian trade unions to implement the Istanbul Convention, a human rights treaty opposing violence against women.

International contexts

The debate on Ukraine came after the debate on Palestine and a couple of more general motions on the value of international solidarity. While all other international solidarity motions were carried with very little opposition, this was a more contested debate.

What the debate showed was the continuing impact of pacifist positions, campist politics, and various Stalinist myths which mitigate against principled internationalist solidarity. For instance, the term “free” in Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine was interpreted or heard by some as being “free” in a Cold War sense, rather than free from government control and not part of a corporatist structure, in which, as happened under Stalinism, trade unions were used by the state to control workers and did more to represent the views of the government to the workers than to represent the views of workers to the government. The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign is clear that it is a movement in solidarity with Ukrainian workers and their representative organisations.

The solidarity motion started with a declaration of the right of the Ukrainian people to self-determination and self-defence. This linkage is important, because there are some who support the right to self-determination, but are equivocal on the right to self-defence. Some people on the left claim in principle to support the right of Ukrainians to self-defence, and even to seek to obtain weapons for this purpose, but they object in practice to the Ukrainians receiving any weapons that they might actually be able to obtain! (One is reminded of the joke in Industrial Relations that of course the public accepts in principle the right of people to withdraw their labour, they just object to workers going on strike.)

Commitment to action

The solidarity motion committed to build solidarity with Ukraine and its labour movement, including, support for financial appeals for medical, educational and humanitarian projects, support for Ukrainian refugees, solidarity rallies and demonstrations, holding webinars to educate UCU members about Ukraine, encouraging twinning arrangements with Ukrainian universities and colleges and demanding withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory. It is important that Ukraine solidarity activists within UCU work at branch, regional and UK-wide levels to ensure this work happens.

The solidarity motion endorsed the appeal of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine. The appeal calls on the international trade union movement to call on governments to continue providing humanitarian aid and military aid to Ukraine. The appeal was endorsed, but in a way which may lead to some debate over interpretation.

The opposition to this motion took the form not of opposing the motion as a whole, but of tabling an amendment and also later in the debate some proposals to vote on sections in parts.

Amendments to the motion

City and Islington UCU tabled an amendment to delete the reference in the description of the appeal to “and military aid.” This was carried by the Congress, reflecting a confused view that it is possible to be in solidarity with Ukrainians while opposing military aid. If humanitarian aid is sent to Ukraine but there is no anti-aircraft protection or military defence, the humanitarian aid could well be destroyed in Russian bombing raids before reaching the Ukrainian people.

What does it mean to delete “and military aid” in the reference to the appeal, when the appeal explicitly asks for both military and humanitarian assistance? UCU Congress has voted to endorse the appeal and, of course, cannot amend the actual text of the appeal because it is a document of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine, not a UCU document.

The second part of the City and Islington UCU amendment was to insert a new point “to call for an immediate ceasefire.” This was agreed by UCU Congress. The fact that the Ukrainians, unlike the Palestinians, are not calling for a ceasefire now was not understood or recognised. The question about a ceasefire in Ukraine, if there were one, is where the ceasefire lines would be and whether they would be used to entrench Russian occupation and annexation of Ukrainian territory.

There were proposals later in the debate to take in parts the references to support for the appeal of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine and the affiliation to the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign. These proposals really should have been put as amendments, which is what in fact they were. The tactic to remove these parts of the motion did not work. Congress delegates voted in separate votes to support the appeal and to support the affiliation to USC.

Overall, the debate showed some growing appreciation within UCU of the Ukraine solidarity position. The City and Islington amendment, which sought to deflect the motion from a solidarity position of supporting a struggle for national liberation to a position in which the war is defined as a proxy war in which the international workers’ movement is neutral, was carried by 141 votes for, 107 votes against and 14 abstentions.

Consequences

This means that Ukraine solidarity activists within UCU should continue with further educational work, focussed on ensuring that Ukrainian voices are heard, and that there is recognition that there is a Ukrainian social, feminist and trade union movement which opposes a neo-liberal future for Ukraine.


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Liz Lawrence is a past President of UCU and active in UCU Left.

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