“ A class cannot exist in society without in some degree manifesting a consciousness of itself as a group with common problems, interests and prospects”

– Harry Braverman

Britain’s Trade Unions and Ukraine

Violent clashes in Odessa in 2014 left fifty people dead when a Trade Union Hall was attacked and burned to the ground (photo by Reuters)

On April 9th 2022, arch-imperialist and ruling class collaborationist Paul Mason and his fellow British agents of imperialism in the trade union movement (including ASLEF, GMB, CWU and TSSA) held a rally in London to stand ‘in solidarity’ with Ukraine.

These agents of British and US imperialism would have us (and no doubt its members) believe that the conflict in Ukraine began in February 2022, when in fact its roots go back as far as 2014 and the US-backed Maidan ‘revolution’, if not further. It was during this ‘revolution’ in 2014 that fifty anti-Maidan protestors were burned to death in the Black Sea port city of Odessa, when a Trades Union House was set ablaze amid violence between pro-Kiev and pro-Russian protestors. The British trade union movement chose to gloss over this atrocity at the time and has made very little mention of it in the nine years since.

At this demonstration in London a year ago, participants bearing the banners of imperialist-supporting trade unions chanted: “Put an end to Putin’s reign, arm, arm, arm Ukraine”, a clear call to escalate the brutal armed conflict in the region, as well as calling for regime change in Russia. Meanwhile, Paul Mason declared his determination to see Russian President Vladimir Putin “hanging from a meat hook” (in clear reference to the execution of Benito Mussolini in 1945). Peter Tatchell, at the same demonstration, compared Russia to Nazi Germany and also supported regime change in the Russian state. 

A poster for the ‘Unions Stand With Ukraine’ demonstration, which took place in London on 9th April 2022

This was not the first time that major trade unions had adopted an overtly imperialist position on the conflict in Ukraine. In February 2022, members of Unite the Union, possibly influenced by British bourgeois propaganda, took it upon themselves to threaten to boycott the docking of ships owned by Russia’s largest shipping company Sovcomflot, at the Flotta oil terminal in Orkney. Unite the Union’s Scottish Secretary, Pat Rafferty, said at the time: 

“Unite should support our members should they choose to boycott these ships in an act of solidarity with the people of Ukraine. We call on the Scottish and Westminster governments to act now in enforcing sanctions that will ensure that this situation does not arise again.”

On 6th March 2022, Unite’s General Secretary, Sharon Graham, tweeted that:

“I am very proud of [Unite the Union’s] members taking a principled stand to prevent Russian oil coming to our ports. But it is appalling that they have been put in this position by the [Government], which is still dragging its feet on sanctions.”

The positions of these trade unions on the conflict in Ukraine has been met with some rank and file resistance. TSSA, who put its union’s name to the demonstration in London on 9th April 2022, despite it not being approved by the union’s full executive, tabled a motion at its Annual Conference the following May which condemned ‘Russian aggression’ in Ukraine, yet omitted to mention at any point that the roots of the Russian invasion lay in the US and EU-backed and wholly unconstitutional overthrow of the elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, in 2014.

An amendment was tabled to include this and other salient facts about the history of the conflict in Ukraine, but it was sadly defeated on the floor of Conference, which was not entirely surprising given TSSA’s history of adopting pro-imperialist policies, including on UK’s continued membership of the European Union.

The trade union movement’s reticence on Ukraine’s actions against its own working class is also striking. In November 2022, Ukraine’s parliament approved a draft law which sought to reduce workplace protections and trade union rights. Further to this, the Ukrainian parliament, seemingly using the cover of Russia’s special military operation to push through oppressive anti-trade union legislation, has passed into law powers which permit the state, reported by The Guardian in 2015 to be the most corrupt in Europe, the right to confiscate trade union property, including buildings bequeathed to them following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Ukrainian vassal government has also introduced zero-hour contracts and suspended collective agreements between workers and employers, again under the cover of war and with the right of workers to protest against this opportunist oppression forbidden by martial law, which Ukraine has been under since Russia first breached its border. Again, none of this has been highlighted by Britain’s ostensibly imperialist trade unions or the TUC.

What a far cry this is from twenty years ago, when ASLEF members in Glasgow refused to drive trains laden with weapons to a NATO arms dump at Glen Douglas and, in so doing, prevented arms intended to wreak death and destruction on Iraqis from arriving at their intended destination in an illegal and aggressive war waged by the imperialist West. However, it should be said that these brave actions were taken by rank and file members themselves, rather than being initiated or led by ASLEF’s bureaucracy who, then as now, are in fealty to British imperialism. 

The British trade union leadership has shown again and again that its loyalty is to British imperialism, not to the British working class.

2 responses to “Britain’s Trade Unions and Ukraine”

  1. […] trade union organisations, members blockading Russian ships from docking in British ports and backing a march which took place in London last year, where there were calls for the escalation of armed conflict […]


  2. […] trade union organisations, members preventing Russian ships from docking in British ports and backing a march which took place in London last year, at which were calls were made for the escalation of armed […]


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