Solidarity with the Miners Strike in Kryvyi Rih
Since September 3, iron ore miners’ have been on a wildcat strike at the mines of KZRK, PJSC (Kryvyi Rih Iron Ore Plant) in southern Ukraine. Their actions have included an underground protest by 400 miners. They have been joined in protests by actions by fellow workers above ground and in others mines of Kryvyi Rih. The miners are mostly members of the Independent Mineworkers Union of Ukraine.
The workers are protesting for a pay rise, the right to early retirement due to harmful working conditions, and the removal of the plant’s current management. We republish two reports by the organisation Social Movement ( Соціальний Рух ) who have also held a day of action in support of the member.
The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign calls for international solidarity with the miners’ actions. Christopher Ford
THE INTERESTS OF THE KRYVYI RIH MINERS ARE OUR INTERESTS
Why it is absolutely necessary to support the striking miners in the Kryvyi Rih iron ore plant (KRZK) and how this protest has frightened the Ukrainian ruling class
The mass upheaval at “Kryvyi Rih iron ore plant” is not diminishing. On 3 September, Approximately 30 miners of the “Oktiabrska” mine have declared an underground strike. Soon the number of miners joining this wildcat strike increased to almost 400. The strikers stay 1400 meters underground; the health of the miners can worsen at any moment, and a number of them have been hospitalized since due to failing health conditions.
Every other day an above-ground action takes place in support of the miners, sometimes near the city council headquarters. As on previous occasions, hundreds of people support them including other miners and family members. On 12 and 13 September they were joined by the Sotsialniy Rukh (Social Movement) activists from other cities.
The protesters are demanding a fair indexation of their wages, the stopping of repression against workers, the sacking of incompetent managers and also the return of pension preferences due to working at harmful enterprises. Olena Maslova, representing the Women Committee of the local Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine (NPHU) and speaking on behalf of the striking workers, addressed the meeting of Kryvyi Rih city council; as a result, all 43 deputies present voted unanimously for an appeal to the President and Ukraine’s leadership to move in support of the miners. Local millionaire mayor Yuri Vilkul, a proxy of oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, also met the protesters. This means that the authorities are taking it seriously. “We are notifying the city government that the situation will escalate if it is not resolved” – Yuri Samoilov, chair of Kryvyi Rih miners’ independent trade union, stated at the protest.
Workers strikes with strident demands are infrequent in today’s Ukraine. But the miners of Kryvbas (Kryvyi Rih iron-ore bassin) have every chance of success. It is the longest city in the country (over 120 km long from north to south) and is at the same time the biggest producer of iron ore. Every financial-industrial group tries to control at least a piece of this golden goose. Ukraine is the largest exporter of iron ore in Europe but its ore miners are paid the lowest wages in the world. The volume of foreign exchange earnings in Ukraine depends on the situation in the ore industry. The stoppage of the city mines means a loss of millions for the owners. Thus the negotiating positions of the Kryvbas miners are more strident than for other Ukrainian workers.
The implementation of the demands of the KZRK workers is in the interests of the society as a whole. One of the singularities of this branch of industry is its systematic evasion of paying taxes into Ukraine’s budget. According to the study of the Centre for Social and Labour Research, in just one year, in 2016, at least $5 billion were sent off-shore to tax havens. The owners of the mines create fictitious companies in countries that have low taxation and sell the iron ore abroad in countries which have 30-50% lower prices than on the market. Every year the budget loses approximately $540 million in taxes in just this one sector. Thus Ukrainian tax officers receive a report about the negative income from the mines, and the tax on the incomes from selling at lower prices is paid to the budgets of Cyprus, Switzerland, or the Virgin Islands.
Since 2017, there has been a campaign to increase the wages of the miners and metal workers of Kryvbas to 1000 euros or equivalent dollars. “Every additional $1000 paid as a wage would be money saved from being taken off shore, would be taxes, would be an increase in the internal revenue, in the end it would be an increase in investment within the country”, stated Zakhar Popovych, an activist of the Social Movement and economic expert.
In this way “patriotic oligarchs” are exhausting the natural resourses, taking advantage of Ukrainian infrastructure and the labour force, not spending much money on medication or education, without which this labour force could not fully reproduce itself. At the expense of the Ukrainian budget the owners of the mines are buying luxury goods, real estate abroad, private armies and political parties which later protect the status quo in the industry and in the country. By demanding a wage of €1000 the Kryvbas miners are demanding an increase in the budget’s income, the curtailment of the power of oligarchs, the reorientation of off-shore expenses to a revival of internal demands. Among others, there was the slogan of returning KZRK to the state if the private owners cannot ensure proper work conditions. Predictably these demands are being opposed by the capitalists.
The government’s reaction
The management of the mines is trying to block any contact with the underground strikers, their provision of food, water and medication. Pressure is being applied to sympathizers and allies. The media is trying to ignore the protest. This is not surprising since the majority of TV channels are owned by the same people as the owners of the mines.
The reaction of the city government is also indicative. During last year’s parliamentary elections Kryvyi Rih, the birthplace of the current Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, was most favourable towards the presidential party “The Servant of the People”. Today the local representatives of this party are blaming the miners of acting at the behest of a “foreign political order” and in “trying to undermine local elections”.
The fact that the strike is taking place in this enterprise has a certain symbolism. Today KZRK belongs to the oligarchic groups of “Pryvat” and “Metinvest” owned by two major Ukrainian oligarchs: Ihor Kolomoisky and Rinat Akhmetov respectively. The Servant of the People party which had been created with close ties to Ihor Kolomoisky is now closely linked to Rinat Akhmetov. It is indicative that the candidate for the city’s mayor is Dmytro Shevchuk, a manager of the local “Central Ore Refinery”, Akhmetov’s another property. The governing party is blaming the miners for destabilising the situation before the elections. As can be seen, the workers in Volodymyr Zelensky’s native city are demonstrating their dissatisfaction with the state of affairs and will not tolerate them any longer. The rhetoric of the government reminds one of a master with his illegal slave rather than cooperation between the people and their servants. The workers must strengthen their solidarity and should not allow their actions to be evaluated from the viewpoint of bourgeois politics. Capitalists are grouped well together. Their readiness to cooperate can be seen in the PAT KZRK.
The interests of the miners are our interests
Summarizing the situation, we reiterate strongly that the Kryvyi Rih miners are putting forward the most radical demands. Their struggle is undermining the fundamental basis on which the consensus of the financial-industrial elites of Ukraine is built. No group within this establishment is interested in supporting the miners of the KZRK as there is a risk that the protest could spread to other similar enterprises. But the working population is supporting the miners. If the budget could be increased, all of them would gain in complementary branches, in the first place in metallurgy and transport. If the wages are increased in the industry, the workers in and the service and sale sectors would benefit as well. We are calling upon the inhabitants of Kryvyi Rih to come out in solidarity with the miners! We are calling upon other industries in the city to join the strike! We are calling on the workers of other branches to join forces and to develop joint demands! Neither corrupt politicians nor their sponsors will extend a helping hand. Our strength lies in joint actions.
SUPPORT MINERS’ STRIKE IN KRYVYI RIH
In Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine, since September 3, an iron ore miners’ wildcat strike has been taking place. Almost 400 workers of the mines of KZRK, PJSC (Kryvyi Rih Iron Ore Plant) are participating in an underground protest, at a depth of 1400 meters. They are demanding higher wages, attestation of dangerous labor conditions, preservation of their social benefits, and ending management’s humiliating attitude towards the employees. Underground, they are facing strong wind, high humidity levels and open water in mine galleries. They are also experiencing lack of food and fresh water. At least seven strikers have been hospitalized due to failing health conditions.
Kryvyi Rih City Council recently issued a statement urging the KZRK management to conduct negotiations with the workers and reach a compromise. However, despite more than 9 days of people staying underground, the leadership refuses to hold a dialogue. Instead, they falsify strike-related documents and threaten union members and their families (thus, unknown people threaten unionists’ kids on their way to school). According to the protesters’ colleagues and families, the officials also obstruct the supply of food and water to the strikers.
Ukrainian iron ore miners are paid the lowest wages among all iron ore miners in the world. In 2014, when the war in Eastern Ukraine began, the workers lost about a third of their incomes due to Ukrainian hryvnia devaluation. Since 2017, they have been fighting for a €1000 minimum wage due to their harsh labor conditions and the extreme wealth that they create for the company’s management.
KZRK is jointly owned by companies of two major Ukrainian oligarchs, Rinat Akhmetov and Ihor Kolomoysky; their management is infamous for mobbing, harassing, and threatening discontented workers and trade union members while the owners enjoy enormous profits shifted away from Ukraine via tax havens. Their unwillingness to concede is particularly scandalous as the iron ore market currently enjoys extreme profitability (iron ore world prices are now at a 5 year high).
The situation is particularly disturbing in light of the history of violence against unionists in Kryvyi Rih, including the probable violent assassination of the union leader Oleh Sychov in 2017. An investigation of the incident was quickly closed by local police officials, who are presumably connected to mine executives, and Mr. Sychov’s family was threatened as they insisted on reopening the investigation.
Iron ore prices
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