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In a divided world, the labour movement is united on Ukraine

Last week, the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO), passed a resolution strongly condemning Russian aggression in Ukraine. The resolution was not passed unanimously. The vote reflected divisions not only between countries but between classes as well. While national governments were divided, the delegates representing the workers were unanimous in their support for the resolution.

Guest blog by Eric Lee

The ILO was founded following the First World War and has a uniquely tripartite structure that “gives an equal voice to workers, employers and governments”. No other UN body works in this way.

A Workers Group of the ILO, closely linked to the international trade union movement, has a voice, as do groups representing employers and national governments. The Workers Group president is a leading figure in the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation (FNV). While independent and democratic trade unions dominate the Workers Group, there are also representatives of state-controlled trade unions. One of these is Jiang Guangping from the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU).

The resolution condemning Russia was brought to the Governing Body by Ukraine and 49 other countries, including the UK. It declared that “the continuing aggression by the Russian Federation, aided by the Belarusian Government, against Ukraine is grossly incompatible with the aims and purposes of the Organization and principles governing ILO membership”. It called upon Russia “to immediately and unconditionally cease its aggression, withdraw its troops from Ukraine, [and] end the suffering it is inflicting on the people of Ukraine.”

In addition to condemning Russian aggression, the resolution made some concrete commitments for the ILO. For example, it decided to “temporarily suspend technical cooperation or assistance from the ILO to the Russian Federation” and also suspended “invitations to the Russian Federation to attend all discretionary meetings, such as technical meetings and meetings of experts.”

Within the limits of the ILO’s power, this is significant. One might have hoped for more, such as kicking the Russian government out of the organisation, but even this modest resolution met with some resistance from ILO members.

When the final vote was tabulated, 42 national governments had voted for the resolution. Russia and China opposed it, and a number of countries abstained, effectively supporting Russia. These included Brazil, Cameroon, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Uganda and Pakistan. Those few countries represent a large percentage of the world’s population. Seven of ten most populated countries in the world have governments which refuse to condemn Putin’s war.

But while national governments were divided, the delegates representing the workers were unanimous in their support for the resolution. These delegates came from Angola, Argentina, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Iceland,Japan, Kenya, The Netherlands and the USA. Interestingly, the worker delegates from India and Nigeria voted against their governments and in solidarity with Ukraine.

One member of the Workers Group is not recorded as having cast a vote — the representative of the state-controlled Chinese trade unions.

At a time when many political leaders, especially outside of Europe and North America, are reluctant to condemn Russian aggression, it is encouraging that leaders of the trade union movement around the world are standing united in solidarity with Ukraine.

They can do even more.

Though the ILO may be limited in what it can do to support Ukraine, there are increasing calls within the ITUC to show solidarity by expelling the mis-named Federation of Independent Unions of Russia (FNPR). The FNPR was quick to express its support for Putin’s war.

Among those demanding FNPR’s expulsion have been all the major Nordic union federations, Solidarnosc in Poland, and the Ukrainian union federation KVPU.

It is time for all unions to support that demand.

Photo by Andy Kobel

Eric Lee is an American-born activist and author. He was born in New York City and is the founding editor of LabourStart, the news and campaigning website of the international trade union movement. He is also the author of The Labour Movement and the Internet: The New Internationalism and several other books


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