Wednesday, January 22, 2014


VOST Congress 1993. Part of the Congressroom in the Health Centre close to Kiev.
Already for weeks now in Kiev and throughout the Ukraine a mostly peaceful civil conflict is raging about which direction the country should go, to the side of Europe or to Russia ? This conflict has already started in 1989 with the breakup of the former Soviet empire . Then there were the first signs of political division in the Ukraine on the way where to go. The Western part of Ukraine wants to belong to Europe, also because in the past it belonged already to it. The Eastern part, where most Russian immigrants live, wants to belong to Russia.

Despite that Russia and Europe are built on more or less the same values, for centuries derived from Christianity, both continents are divided because geographically speaking Russia is too big for Europe and that makes it also political to big. Ukraine lies on a fault line between the two and that makes it difficult for the country to reach a compromise to both sides. Moreover, the old communists now in power don't want to give up their positions. They are all too happy that they have conquered power back after the orange revolution which was a first intend to change course to direction Europe (2004/2005)

In front of the Health Centre comrade Lenin was still watching over the VOST Congress
It would be a lot easier for Ukraine if Russia should not only focus on power politics but more on democratic and pluralistic values, but Putin is no Gorbatsjov and I fear the same for his successors. WCL has been involved in this part of Ukrainian history since 1992. In April 1993 I was the only invited international guest on a Congress of the then young , inexperienced but idealistic VOST. Oleksandr Dzhulyk was chosen as president of VOST because of his " national, anti- communist and therefore anti-establishment and pro Europe” program. He then was already president of the trade union Volya from Lviv, an important city in west Ukraine . At that moment VOST decided to affiliate to the WCL.

I was happy with the VOST joining the WCL because to my opinion the Ukraine should belong to Europe in the future. I realized also that it will always be difficult for Russia to accept a European Ukraine but if Russia would develop as a real democratic country it should be possible to find a way out. The membership of VOST was adopted by the WCL without further debate, although the relations between Andrei Adamčik, head of the foreign department of Solidarnosc , and VOST President Oleksandr Dzhulyk always remained somewhat tense. Sometimes I sensed an aversion while VOST from its side considered Solidarnosc as an example for its own development. Within the ETUC, integration of Central and Eastern European countries into Europa was considered more as a question of power politics than an ideological matter.

In red shirt VOST President Oleksandr Dzhulyk, on his left behind his shoulder Marion Oostveen from CNV International Affiars followed by me. On my left Paul Buekenhout from ACV International Affairs. Between Paul and me VOST Vice-President Yuri Kyrilo.

For example, the Scandinavian trade unions with Sweden ahead, did everything to get in control in the Baltics . Hence, the general secretary of LO Sweden told me during a meeting in Denmark that I had nothing to look for in Lithuania . President Aldona Balsiene of the Lithuanian LWU told me later in confidence that her was told not to talk to me anymore. The Swedish power politics probably worked because the LWU took more and more distance from the WCL . The German DGB and other socialist oriented trade union confederations tried to get affiliated to the ICFTU as soon as possible the former communist organizations, the so called trade union establishment who still had all the money and the buildings.

I do not know if these Western trade unions because of opportunism had put aside western values or because they believed in this way could get a grip on democratic changes. I remember for example that my ICFTU colleague Anna Oulatar, in charge of Central and Eastern Europe policy, was more concerned about the arrival of the McDonalds chain in Moscow as an expression of unbridled Western capitalism than on how Russia should come to terms with its (Stalinist) past and how a new society should be built on the ruins of communism.

The WCL delegation in front of the VOST office in Lviv in May 1996. 1.Olga Dhzulyk, translator.2.Olga Nicolaea from the WCL Liaison Office in Bucarest. 3.VOST President Oleksandr Dzhulyk. 4.Ed Grooteboer from CLAC Canada.5.Igor from VOST.6.Bob Fielding, International Affiars Solidarnosc Poland. 7.Andrzej Adamczyk, Head of International Affairs Solidarnosc. 8. VOST Vice-President Yuri Kyrilo. 9.Achille Dutu, Metal Trade Union Cartel Alfa Romania. 10.Wim Boiten, CNV International Affairs.

What was true for Russia , was also true for Ukraine . There was a large technical , industrial, economic and political backlog. The unions had always been serfs of the Communist Party. Independent trade unions that negotiate with employers and government about wages, working conditions, health and safety, holidays, etc. were unknown. The VOST wanted to change this from bottom up, based on the same values and principles as those of trade unions in Western Europe and the rest of the world.

Two years after the congress of 1993 , in February 1995, we visited with three WCL delegates the next congress of VOST . The Congress was held just outside Kiev in a health center in the middle of the woods . A sober home for a sober conference . It was in the times that wages of the average worker were about 10 US$ per month. It was a conference that showed perseverance if necessary with courage of despair.

Traditional welcome to the WCL delegation at the Ceramics Factory.
Over a year later, in May 1996 a larger WCL delegation visited again Ukraine. ( See photograph) . To give you an idea what we experienced during this mission, I would like to quote an article that one of the participants, Ed Grooteboer of the Canadian CLAC, published in ' The Guide ' of July / August 1996.

As part of a recent World Confederation of Labour (WCL) mission to the Ukraine to support the All -Ukranian Union of Workers Solidarity (VOST), a sister organization, I saw first-hand how deeply the communist legacy runs in Ukraine's political, economic and social structures. Politicians, bueraucrats,and industry and trade union leaders are tenaciously hanging on to positions of power and control.They are reluctant to give up their privileges and strongly oppose the winds of change.

In this sense, the Ukraine is no different than neighbouring Belarus, Russia and other countries once swallowed up in the USSR. But countries like Poland, Hungary, Czechoslowakia (now the Czech and Slowak Republics), and Romania are profiting from a conscious and popular struggle against communism. These revolutions resulted in well-nigh irreversible reforms at practically all levels, and created a reservoir of resolve to work through the economic and social devastation caused by communism. Although communist sympathizers reamin a force to be reckoned with, a country like Poland has made great strides in rebilding its social an economic structures. Countries such as the Ukraine, however, have not experienced such a revolution. (the so called orange revolution had yet to come in 2004/2005)
Independence arose almost as by default out of the crumbled Soviet empire. Consequently, reforms are relatively superficial and the same foxes, now travelling under the name of social democrats, are still and by large running the chicken coop.

People who want to bring about change in this situation face great difficulties. Given the general economic collapse – growing unemployment (about 40 per cent), months without pay for those who work, and staggering inflation – there is much skepticism in the population about leaving “the flesh pots of Egypt.”

During our visit to a Bus Company where the management prohibited first our entrance, the trade union leader (on the right) and a trade union member (the woman on the left)  gave us testimony about the trade union repression in the factory supported by the post-communist trade union.

Most enterprises we visited have a very uncertain future. The facilities and available equipment are awful to poor, producing inferior goods that domestically are unaffordable and are not wanted in foreign markets. In one case, communist sabotaged equipment and buildings when the workers in exasperation threw out the government-sanctioned union and ran management out of town by occupying the local ceramics factory.
At an electrical appliance plant, the few workers who remain often get paid in te equivalent of the goods they produce, which they then must barter or sell as best they can (even as far away as in the Czech Republic or Poland) in order to make ends meet. Gardening and “underground” economic activity make it possible to cope for most people. Practically everywhere one goes, work conditions are frightful with little or no regard for the safety and wellbeing of workers. Where attempts are made to improve the workplace they are either ignored or meet with only minimal success.”

Ed Grooteboer of CLAC Canada visiting a metal factory close to Lvov.

The battle that was then already started about which direction Ukraine should go, continues to these days. As you can read in the statement below, VOST is still involved.

At several thousand people’s meeting on 19 January 2014, Maidan announced the plan of actions which grounds are the propositions declared in the statement of VOST “VOLYA” of 04 December 2013

The statement of All-Ukrainian Union of Workers Solidarity VOST “VOLYA” (VOST) of 19 January 2014

The propositions of VOST “VOLYA” declared in the statement of 04 December 2013 “Any negotiations and the total boycott against the bloody occupation illegitimate regime of dictator Yanukovych” had already made an echo at Maidan who announced the beginning of the implementing direct people authority by means of making the National Council, the government of National confidence, National self-defense, early voting and boycott of the ruling occupation illegitimate criminal oligarchic dictator regime. But isn’t it too late? We’ll hope that uncontrolled people rebellion which arose because of frustration through ineffective staying at Maidan won’t cause using the ultima ratio of the mad authority – weapon – against protesters.
The drop which filled up the cup of people’s patience became cynic ignoring any democratic procedure during the farce of the so-called “adopting” laws which gave Yanukovych dictatorship the possibility to use actual implementing of emergency state elements into everyday life. In this situation people of labour will lose even those minimum possibilities to defend their rights they had formally before. As any critic or protest against high-handedness of employers and authority can threaten with cruel oppressions, arrest of property, dismissal, stalin “trial” and imprisonment. The dictatorship put off masking democratic clothes and showed its real criminal essence at last. This is the time of hard enlightenment for those who closed his eyes and doesn’t see illegitimacy of the occupation regime headed by the illegitimate “president”, who expected for a good king who would have mercy for people’s asking and begin negotiations, for any honest presidential elections. It is pity only that the protest has dragged on for so long time and exhausts everybody who is going through and struggle for the democratic future of Ukraine.
Eurorevolution has new period when the only source of authority – Ukrainian people – decided to use the constitution right.
* Calls to have peaceful but decisive and acting character of people’s protest
* Completely support the decision of several hundred thousand people meeting at Maidan on 19 January 2014 about the transfer to the direct people authority
* Observing unreasonably slow process of creating People’s Association “Maidan” to which VOST “VOLYA” was the first to submitt an application about joining during the announcing at the meeting on 22 December 2013, we hope so much for quick implementing of decisions of 19 January 2014 meeting. Possible negotiations with the ruling regime shouldn’t slow down or stop making bodies of people authority
* Calls policemen and soldiers of internal troops remain faithful to the Constitution and their oath and come over to people
* Appeals to all brotherly trade unions to express their clear solidarity, give acting certain support for real trade unions, support the Ukrainian people and Ukrainian workers in their rightful struggle for democracy and respecting human rights
* Calls the world community, the European Union, the USA, all democratic countries to boycott the bloody criminal dictator regime of Yanukovych band and his political wing – the party of regions and their acolytes pseudocommunists, not to make negotiations with them, implement personal sanctions for weightlifters who organized bloody massacres and all persons involved in this regime who “adopted” dictator laws by non-legal way – arrest of their personal accounts, accounts of their relatives, prestanombres and their companies abroad, forbid them to come to territory of democratic countries etc.
* To admit newly created bodies of people authority and make negotiations only with them

The people will win!

Reference. VOST “VOL Y A” (VOST) is an independent democratic trade union association, whose activity is based on the universal principles of Christian morality. Trade union organizations formed VOST operating since 1989, and Trade union “VOLYA” was the first in Ukraine free inter - branch union. VOST unites more than 150000 members and is a membership organization of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Trade Union “VOLYA” is affiliated to the World Organization of Workers (WOW). VOST and TU “VOLYA” favor of holding trade union reform in Ukraine and realizing the motto “21 century – new trade unions”. Oleksandr Dzhulyk is the VOST and TU “VOLYA” president. The VOST and TU “VOLYA” headquarters are located in Lviv.

Finally, I ask myself how it would have gone with VOST if the WCL had not existed?

To be continued

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