The trade unions in Ukraine need support for independence and democracy – interview with Vasyl Andreyev, president of Building workers Union

Interview conducted by the European Federation of Building and Wood Workers ( EFBWW )

Domenico Pesenti,  EFBWW President and Filca-Cisl General Secretary says: “We express our solidarity with the Ukrainian people and workers, and with the Ukrainian trade union movement especially the Construction and Building Materials Industry Workers’ Union of Ukraine PROFBUD, supporting its initiative for a real democracy, and for workers and citizens’ social rights, and we condemn all kinds of violence that has caused many deaths since the beginning of the riots. We do hope that shortly this problem will be solved peacefully, and the Ukraine can decide freely if they want to accede to the EU”
Alain Clauwert, EFBWW First Vice-President, and President of ACCG FGTB says: “We support the struggle of the Construction and Building Materials Industry Workers’ Union of Ukraine PROFBUD to significantly improve the quality of work and living conditions. The construction industry in Ukraine needs a solid foundation that is free of corruption and where unions can play their role independently. We also want to support the Ukrainian trade unions in their efforts to convince the government of the fact that pension-savings, and the reduction of the public sector and the programs of social housing are not the answer to the budgetary difficulties. We call our sister organizations across Europe to generously cooperate in the reconstruction of the Trade Union House in Kiev, which was burned by riot police in February”.

Zbigniew Janowski, EFBWW Second Vice-president, and President of Trade Union BUDOWLANI says: “We strongly support all the actions of the Construction and Building Materials Industry Workers’ Union of Ukraine PROFBUD aimed at building a democratic, independent and corruption-free society. We express our appreciation for the courage and determination of the members of the PROFBUD. We express our solidarity with all initiatives of PROFBUD aimed at the protection of workers’ rights in the process of democratic transformation of the country. We know from our own experience that building free and transparent democratic institutions does not automatically guarantee decent work and adequate representation of the interests of workers. The struggle for workers’ rights led by trade unions never ends. We will support PROFBUD in this fight.”

Interview with Vasyl Andreyev, President of Ukrainian Building Workers Union

EFBWW: How has the uprising affected the situation for trade unions and workers in Ukraine?

VA: Many trade unionists in Ukraine personally supported the uprising and the protest actions. To that extent they were personally present during the hardest days of January (19-22) and February (18-21) when people were killed by the riot police. But there were almost no official positions from any Ukrainian unions. However, our Building workers union (Profbud) decided to support the people’s protest and we issued political statements not only at the beginning of the protests, but also when the uprising shifted into the “hot phase” – our statements are at bwint.org. But of course protesters needed not only political statements. Thus, we spent a lot of time helping people with accommodation, food, cloths etc.

How did the uprising influence situation for trade unions? I think in the long-term perspective the democratization in society will help us in running a meaningful social dialog, and our struggle for better working conditions will not be stopped by only that fact that some person from the ruling party owns construction businesses – and no possibility to protect workers’ rights because no laws apply in this case. In addition, the only wish we have is to restructure the construction sector in Ukraine. The sector should be cleansed from all corruption schemes that bring the sector the “glory” of being the most corrupted sector in the Ukrainian economy. On the other side – in a short-term perspective, economic turmoil affects our working places already now. A window glass factory was blocked by Russian sanctions accompanied by a doubling of the price of natural gas immediately, and more than 1000 workers lost their employment in a minute. 14 cement plants were also affected by the same issue. So, the ties between Russian and Ukrainian markets are quite close, The Russian federation has many possibilities to influence Ukraine.

EFBWW: How is the situation in different regions of the country concerning the support for the new government?

VA: There are different assessments of this issue. Maybe Russian sources write about an “illegitimate” new government. I can only say my feeling, and what I see in every region I visit or when my colleagues are calling to me and explain what is going on in these regions (Eastern, South or Western regions). In every region there are legitimate and active regional administrations which cooperate with local and regional governments. No official demands to split any region have been stated, except Crimea. There are few incidents of seizing local government offices at the East – Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkiv (mostly at week-ends) – but after negotiations, the protesters have released the government offices. It is necessary to mention that yes, there are different political positions among people – but the new government proposes to solve those during the next election on May, 25 when not only the President will be elected but also many local councils and majors (heads of towns).

Even if we take Crimea – annexation as the worst scenario of political development, we need to say that the people there did not demand a “referendum”. This “referendum” was brought by Russian troops and their proteges who shifted legal governments elected in 2010 (most of them represent the former ruling Party of Regions).

EFBWW: What is your assessment about Crimea?

The Ukrainian society has strong feelings and has experienced a shock from the annexation of this part of Ukraine by 20 000 Russian soldiers. This happened during the most severe political crisis since the country became independent in 1991. First, soldiers seized public buildings on February 27 and the agreement between so-called “newly elected representatives of Crimean people” and the Russian president Putin was signed in Moscow on March 18. I will not explain our feeling about the international perspective of this extraordinary fact for the international community. I can say that the people in Crimea, especially Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars who are minorities (25% and 20% of population respectively) right now face threats towards them from Russian army and paramilitary groups created by Kremlin. All the property for “non-citizens” (those who will not receive Russian passports during the nearest weeks) will be confiscated in the same manner as already all state property of Ukraine, property of public organizations (including trade unions), property of hostile Ukrainian businesses is already confiscated. Russian troops have almost totally blocked the connection of the Ukrainian mainland with Crimea, so many people there experience a lack of food. The shelves of the supermarkets in Crimea are almost empty; the bank system is broken, the Russian ruble will be announced as the official currency next week. Our trade union officials report wage arrears due to bank blockade since February. Paramilitary groups seized also Crimean regional trade union council. There are so many frightening developments in Crimea every day – we can only trace those now and help those people who want move to the mainland. 13 000 families are already accepted (we so far do not call them refugees). 300 people have requested EU officials in Poland for political asylum, according to mass media reports.

EFBWW: There have been allegations in some press that the revolution is infiltrated/ organized by extreme right-wing people. What is your comment to this?

We should openly say that there were and still is right-wing organizations in the uprising movement. Did they organize it – no! Few hundreds right-wing radicals cannot organize millions of people. People protected their right for political decisions, right for freedom of elections which disappeared after 2010 when former President Yanukovich was elected.

There is an intensive discussion in the society right now on how right-wing politicians have created a negative image of the Ukrainian revolution. But most of the population, irrespective of whether they live in East or West Ukraine, are sure that this was not a nationalistic coup d’état – this was an anti-criminal, anti-corruption revolution that was started like a pro-European mass rally and after police violence in November and December transformed into something different that totally changed the country.

I need to say that there many evidence of strange contacts between right-wing politicians and Kremlin and former president Yanukovich. Secret visits, financial flows, secret service contacts – there is much evidence that for example Party “Svoboda” (nationalists) or “Right sector” (as radicals from different nationalistic non-parliament organizations call themselves) have some relations with the former government and Russian FSB. This is even more obvious when you can receive faster and more information about those right-wing Ukrainian radicals’ actions from Russian information agencies than from the radicals’ own web-sites….

The Ukrainian society consists of 100+ national groups, where Jews and Romanians, Polish and Hungarian, German and Greeks have to take responsibility for the new state, the newly created society, and become regional governors (especially in the Eastern and South regions) to make the situation calm and peaceful. This has to come through discussions about right-wing ideas, to come to the conclusion that there is no place for right-wing in the public sphere of Ukraine.

See a very interesting article of Spiegel – where there is good example of who are they Ukrainian nationalists.
http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/ukraine-nationalist-miroschnitschenko-ist-putins-liebster-feind-a-959878.html

EFBWW: What obstacles and possibilities do you see in a path for Ukraine towards EU integration?

First obstacle – Ukraine is quite a poor country with corrupt economy to be able to, during next years, creating a more or less transparent country.
Ukraine today (strictly 4 months after the first attempt rejected by Yanukovich on November 21) has signed an association Treaty and paid a big price for that: more than 100 men and women have died in the struggle, the price of Russian aggression in Crimea and the threat of further Russian military intervention into Eastern and Southern Ukraine (to keep Ukraine from European integration). Almost all citizens in Ukraine believe EU integration is the only way to create a democratic, social and free country. All other possibilities are not important. Ukraine has a lot of assets and sectors to enrich the common market of the EU, and the possibility to increase the EU space in Ukraine is also valuable we think.

EFBWW: What kind of support do you need right now from the EFBWW affiliates?

The Ukrainian building workers union (PROFBUD) right now needs solidarity support. What I mean – we will be glad to meet in April a visit which will be organized by the BWI. This mission from International and European federations and unions will be valuable to show the international and European perspective of trade union network. This is even more important in terms of the new agreement between Ukraine and IMF, where our new government operating with liberal ideas of total austerity as a necessity to rebuild the economy. Ukrainian unions are struggling now to show the government that cut of pensions and job cuts in the public sector as well as elimination of programs for affordable housing building will bring more problems than budget deficit shortage. If this will be heard by the IMF from the ITUC office together with Global Union Federations and European union federations – our voice will be a hundred time stronger.

But we are also thankful for small solidarity actions which are already launched by Danish and Swedish unions to support our specific organizing campaigns in different cities of Ukraine.

We also urge all those who can help the Ukrainian trade union movement to rebuild the trade union house in Kyiv which was burned by the riot police on February 19 – there is a special charity launched by all Ukrainian unions together.

IWD: Interview with Ekaterina Klimenko and Ludmila Salo from Profbud Ukraine

Ekaterina Klimenko (left side) – leading specialist of organizing department in Profbud union
Ludmila Salo (right side)– Profbud coordinator of work in Donetsk and Lugansk regions

We send you greeting from Construction and Building Materials Workers Union of Ukraine. 32% of our members are women!

Gender discrimination is a wide spread phenomena in our country: it is very hard for women to find a job if she has kids and if she is older than 35 years. For this reason, women have to go to work abroad and many families break apart. On construction sites women has to work in hard and hazardous working conditions.

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