Alexey Albu: Behind the impending crisis for Ukrainian mine & metal workers

By Ilya Murom

February 3: Ukrainian miners, who not the first time have come out to protest on the streets of Kiev and Lviv, could be on the brink of disaster, and the mining and metallurgy industry in Ukraine on the verge of extinction. A Federal News Agency correspondent spoke with experts and learned what the Kiev authorities have planned for the miners and the industry.

According to “Interfax-Ukraine,” Britain will provide Ukrainian authorities with a grant for social support of coal industry workers and inhabitants of the areas of coal mining and processing enterprises, which are now in the process of liquidation.

According to a report on the progress and results of the activities of the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers, published on the website of the government, the unprofitable mines “Rodinsky,” “Nina,” “Novovolynska No. 9” and “North” are subject to closure. In addition, together with the trade unions and other bodies of the central and regional authorities, they have already agreed upon liquidation of the mine “South,” and this month the mines “Novovolynska No. 5” and “Korochenko” should be closed.

Note that in 2015 the order was given to transfer one mine and close four others.

At the same time, Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk received a letter signed by directors of 14 of the largest metallurgical, mining and processing plants. The letter says that at any time, the enterprises of Ukraine’s mining and smelting complex could stop as a result of the sharp drop in foreign exchange earnings, and thousands of workers could lose their jobs.

According to manufacturers, the main reason for the emerging catastrophe is the Ministry of Infrastructure’s decision to raise tariffs on rail freight in March 2016. The rise in the cost of shipping products of the mining and metallurgical industry will make them uncompetitive in world markets. They point out that today the shipping costs of Ukrainian manufacturers are already much higher than those of competitors from Brazil, Australia and other countries.

In addition, it’s worth noting that the chairman of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine and the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine, Mikhailo Volynets, who supported the miners’ protests, suddenly arrived in the United States yesterday. According to him, he was invited to the National Prayer Breakfast attended by U.S. President Barack Obama, as well as representatives of the Senate and House of Representatives.

During his visit, Volynets says, he will be meeting with trade union leaders, U.S. senators and other public figures. For example, today he meets with Shawna Bader-Blau, executive director of the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center [a notorious pro-imperialist arm of the U.S. union bureaucracy – trans.], were Volynets promised to talk about the problems of the miners. …

In conversation with FNA, head of the Political Studies Department of the Institute of Innovative Development of the post-Soviet space Alexey Albu said that shutting down the mining and metallurgical complex (MMC) will mark the beginning of a second, more powerful wave of economic crisis in Ukraine.

Analyzing the situation of the MMC, it is clearly not enough to speak about the unprofitability of the enterprises, because this is the result of many factors, and a direct consequence of the work of market mechanisms which the Ukrainian authorities do not want to abandon, the expert said.

“Enterprises like the MMC proved to be unprofitable due to falling demand and because the policies of the current leadership of the country are unable to create favorable conditions for their work. Increases in tariffs, scheduled for March 1, will significantly increase transportation costs, which will lead to more expensive products. The state has completely abandoned the policy of protectionism, depriving domestic enterprises of the slightest support. Such policies have already led to the closure of mines, which have left hundreds of people unemployed and destitute. Unfortunately, today there are no organizations that can unite people in the struggle for their rights in Ukraine,” said Albu.

According to him, the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine is, at best, a distributor of vouchers and sweets for the New Year, and the Confederation of Free Trade Unions, headed by Mikhail Volynets, became a typical company union after Maidan, which initially gives people an outlet to protest, but then “concedes.”

The expert noted that the Marxists of Union Borotba (Struggle), “before their banning by the Ukrainian authorities,” were trying to cooperate with the workers in trade unions under Volynets, to assist them.

“Borotbists held many protests in support of Izmail ferry workers, Nikolaev shipyard workers, Aerosvit flight attendants, railway workers, and workers in other enterprises. Thus, Borotba used the unions of Volynets to protect the rights of labor collectives, but after the beginning of the protests on Maidan [late 2013-early 2014], Volynets began using these unions to support the neo-Nazis, the main strike force of the protesters.

“That is to say, the leader of the trade unions supported those who dismiss workers, who do not pay wages, who increases the work rates without raising wages, who destroy jobs. Today, when there are many problems in a vast number of enterprises in Ukraine, instead of organizing labor collectives and upholding their social rights, Volynets closes his eyes to them. After all, drinking coffee at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington is far more pleasant than defending the rights of impoverished and malnourished workers,” said Alexey Albu.


Translated by Greg Butterfield

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