A motion is up for discussion at this week’s TUC Congress, calling for ‘solidarity with Ukraine’. Instead of backing the Tories and their imperialist aims, the labour movement must fight for an internationalist, class-based position.
This afternoon, TUC Congress will discuss a motion under the heading ‘Solidarity with Ukraine’. It might as well have been called the ‘solidarity with your own imperialist ruling class’ motion.
The motion is full of grand-sounding phrases (“As trade unionists we are inherently anti-imperialistic, and our job is to fight imperialism and tyranny at every opportunity”), and nice sentiments (“solidarity with the Ukrainian people, including refugees whose sanctuary has been delayed or denied by the UK Government”).
But the essence of it is support for the ruling class of our own country in its intervention in Ukraine, which is motivated by imperialist aims.
In order to take a firm working-class position towards a war like that in Ukraine, one needs to start by understanding what are its causes.
This is an inter-imperialist war between the reactionary capitalist regime of Putin in Russia, which has imperialist ambitions, and US imperialism and its allies in NATO, which want to degrade Russia to a point where it is unable to challenge their interests.
The war is being fought in Ukraine, and it is Ukrainian (and Russian) working people who are dying. But at bottom it is caused by the conflicting and equally reactionary interests of Moscow and Washington.
The motion fails to even mention the position of NATO or that of the British government (which were explicitly mentioned in the TUC motion passed in 2014). In fact, however, it expresses support for both.
What do the movers of the motion mean when they express support for “for financial and practical aid from the UK to Ukraine”? That is exactly the position of Sunak’s government over here, with the full support of the Labour leadership: arm Ukraine so that it can fight the enemy of our ruling class, Russia, on behalf of our own imperialist ruling class.
Yes, the motion text does not mention weapons. Perhaps the movers are ashamed to come out with their full position. Or perhaps they are not sure that they would be able to get the TUC to pass a motion calling for ‘tanks and weapons for Ukraine’. But that is precisely what they are calling for.
In his article defending the motion, GMB general secretary Gary Smith references the call from the Ukrainian trade unions. Let’s see what they say.
“We are thankful for the parliamentary motion calling for more weapons from the UK” – Olesia Briazgunova, international secretary of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU).
And what does that parliamentary motion say? ‘Tanks and Military Aid for Ukraine’. It couldn’t be clearer. This is a motion in support of the already existing policy of US imperialism, NATO, and the Tory government of arming Ukraine so that it can fight Russia on their behalf.
Spain and Ukraine
In arguing for today’s TUC motion, and in the motion itself, its supporters mention how the TUC backed arms for the Spanish Republic in the 1930s. This is scandalous.
If Gary Smith and others bothered to even carry out a cursory examination of the two situations, they would see there is no parallel to be drawn. In fact, the two situations – 1930s Spain and contemporary Ukraine – are precisely the opposite.
Why did the British and French ruling class refuse to arm the Spanish Republic against Franco’s fascist uprising? Because in Spain there was a workers’ uprising taking place, in which workers had taken over the factories and armed themselves into workers’ militias, while the peasants were occupying the land.
This was seen, quite rightly, as a threat by the French and British ruling class. And they preferred to allow a victory for Franco (who was backed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy) in the hope of appeasing Hitler, rather than arm the Spanish workers and risk a full-blown social revolution in Spain, which could then have spread throughout the continent.
How does this compare with Ukraine today? In Ukraine we have a government that serves the interests of the oligarchs, bases itself on reactionary Ukrainian nationalism (of the kind that is nostalgic of organisations which collaborated with the Nazis in WW2), represses the left, and suppresses trade union rights. That is precisely the reason why such a regime is armed, funded, and aided by Western imperialism, as a proxy against Russia.
If there was a workers’ revolution in Ukraine, would the US and UK send weapons to them so they could defend themselves from Russian aggression? The question answers itself.
This war has nothing to do with Ukrainian sovereignty, legality, or human rights. Ask the Palestinians. Are they being armed by NATO to fight for self-defence against the state of Israel? Again, the question answers itself.
Those who drafted the motion cannot even bring themselves to criticise the Zelensky government in Kyiv – a government that has suppressed democratic rights, banned the Communist Party and others, used neo-Nazi paramilitary organisations within its armed forces, suppressed the language rights of national minorities, and destroyed collective bargaining rights of Ukrainian workers.
Though the motion is peppered with references to trade unions and workers, it does not have one iota of working-class content to it.
Calling for more military aid for Ukraine also raises the question of where the money for this is going to come from. Austerity and cuts is the simple answer.
The trade union movement should be raising the issue in the opposite way – demanding money for education, healthcare, housing, and pensions, not for imperialist war.
Foreign policy is the continuation of home policy. The working class must oppose the bosses’ government at home and abroad.
A working-class position would start by denouncing the hypocrisy of the UK government’s foreign policy, highlighting its imperialist aims, and demanding that not a penny is spent on foreign military adventures, while millions are being cut from social spending at home.
It is scandalous enough that this pro-imperialist, pro-Tory government motion has been put forward by the right wing of the trade union movement. What is more scandalous even is that it has the backing of some who regard themselves as being on the left of the movement.
Enemy at home
The only progressive way this war can be ended is through the action of workers in Russia and Ukraine against their own reactionary governments, aided and supported by the action of workers in the West against our own ruling class.
The duty of the labour movement in Britain is not to tail end the British ruling class, but rather to offer principled working-class opposition.
I understand that Gary Smith hails from Scotland. He could learn a thing or two about the position of the working class when faced with imperialist war by looking at the proud traditions of the Red Clydeside, of the Battle of George Sq, of John Maclean, and Willie Gallacher.
These class fighters knew that the main enemy of the working class was at home, just as it is today, both in times of war and in times of peace.