“Don’t mention the war!” — that well-known line from an episode of the 1970s sitcom “Fawlty Towers” — should have been the header for the emergency motion entitled “Situation in Ukraine” passed by last week’s TUC congress. (1)
The motion ignored Russia’s ongoing political and military attack on Ukraine’s right to self-determination. It misrepresented the (real but limited) influence exerted by fascist organisations in Ukraine. And its concluding demands sounded left-wing but were in fact politically incoherent.
The motion noted comments by the NATO General Secretary that its recent summit in Wales had been held “in a dramatically changed security environment”. It further noted that this statement came only a day after a Pentagon announcement that 200 US troops were being sent to Ukraine for “training exercises”.
But there is a deliberate triple omission here. The “dramatically changed security environment” is the fact that for the first time since the Second World War the territory of a European country has been seized by that of a neighbouring big power.
In March Russia annexed Crimea. This was followed by Russia supplying separatist forces in south-east Ukraine with weapons, munitions, “volunteer” fighters, military instructors, and political leadership.
In August, with the separatists staring eventual defeat in the face, Russia launched an invasion of south-east Ukraine. It still has troops there. All of this has been omitted from the motion.
The second omission is that the “training exercises” now underway are indeed “training exercises”, and were planned long before Russia launched its campaign of military aggression against Ukraine.
The final omission is that while the motion condemns the presence of 200 US troops in Ukraine it fails to mention the tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks periodically concentrated by Russia at the border with Ukraine.
After briefly expressing concerns about the human suffering caused by the conflict, the motion expressed further concerns about “attacks on trade unionists and the empowering of fascist groups, including the Odessa Massacre which saw that city’s trade union centre burned to the ground.”
The fact that the Odessa trade union centre was not “burned to the ground” is a side issue. More issue is the misrepresentation. Trade unionists should indeed oppose attacks on trade unionists and the empowering of fascist groups. And there are organised Ukrainian-fascist groups in Ukraine, even if they currently enjoy only very limited support: in last May’s presidential elections their candidates each secured only around 1% of the vote.
But there are also pro-Russian and ethnic-Russian fascist organisations in Ukraine. These organisations figure prominently in the separatist leadership, which includes members of the fascist “think tank” Izborsky Club. Russian and French fascists have also been identified in the ranks of the separatist armed forces. (2)
The motion concluded with three demands.
The General Council should consider how best to support those fighting for trade union rights and against fascism in “the Ukraine”.
But this would mean support for Ukrainian trade unions, whose leaders have repeatedly condemned the separatist movement and Russia’s attacks on their country. In fact, given the role played by fascists amongst the separatists, it amounts to a call for support for the Ukrainian military!
There should be an immediate permanent ceasefire and a peaceful negotiated settlement.
But this would require willingness on both sides. As the TUC adopted this motion separatist leaders declared that they were not bound by the terms of the ceasefire agreed in Minsk (3) and that their goal was to sieze the bulk of Ukrainian territory in order to create “Novorossiya”. (4)
And the use of British forces in the Ukrainian conflict should be opposed.
Given that there are no proposals to use British troops in the “Ukrainian conflict”, the purpose of such a clause is – at first sight — unclear.
In fact, the clause fits into the overall politics of the motion.
A few Dave Spart left-wing truisms (support for trade unionists, anti-fascism, opposition to NATO) grafted onto a Basil-Fawlty attitude of “don’t mention the war” (no mention of Russian troops, Russian weaponry, Russian fascists, or Russian invasions).
Trade unionists should argue for their unions to adopt policy based on events in the real world: Russia, Hands Off Ukraine!; Ukrainian-Russian workers unity against oligarchs and neo-liberalism in both countries; Against fascism — both Ukrainian and Russian!