By Dale Street

Despite its limitations, policy on Ukraine adopted by the Scottish TUC at its 2022 congress, held in Aberdeen in late April, was very far removed from the politics of the Stop the War Coalition (STW) and the Communist Party’s Morning Star (MS) newspaper.

In his opening address to congress STUC President Pat Rafferty described the Ukraine conflict as “a war caused by one man’s evil” and expressed “support and solidarity with the people of Ukraine as they fight to defend their country and their democracy”.

A General Council Statement on Ukraine was issued later the same day.

It “saluted the heroism of the Ukrainian forces resisting the Russian forces, including those besieged in Mariupol”, described Putin as “the aggressor who bears complete responsibility for the invasion,” and emphasised that “our overriding priority is solidarity with the Ukrainian people”.

The statement also “salutes and sends solidarity to trade unions in Ukraine who are part of the resistance to the Russian invasion, either by continuing to deliver life-line services or through military resistance”.

An emergency motion on Ukraine submitted by South Lanarkshire Trades Union Council and backed by the General Council – the only motion on Ukraine on the agenda – stated:

“Ukraine is perfectly entitled and justified to defend itself and seek support both politically and materially. … It needs to be recognised that in this particular instance NATO cannot be classed as the aggressor.”

The motion concluded by “calling on the General Council to encourage affiliates and trade union members to attend local protests organised in solidarity with Ukraine”.

Calls for peace negotiations and other pacifist verbiage were completely absent from both the General Council statement and the emergency motion.

Even if implicit rather than explicit, this was all in direct contradiction to the STW/MS line on the war: namely, that it is the result of NATO expansion, that it is a war between rival imperialisms in which socialists do not take sides, that Ukraine should not be supplied with weapons, and that the ‘global community’ should be calling for peace negotiations.

The General Council statement had even singled out Mariupol as an example of the heroism of the Ukrainian forces in order to underline the fact that solidarity with Ukraine was not subject to political vetting. The forces in besieged Mariupol include the far-right Azov Battalion.

The fact that STUC congresses have traditionally been a bastion of Stalinism in the British labour movement made the adoption of such policies all the more striking.

At the same time, the position taken by the STUC fell short of a more rounded working-class and socialist position on the war.

The original version of the emergency motion had included a clause supporting the provision of weapons to Ukraine, and a clause to affiliate to the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign. But, thanks to some mysterious behind-the-scenes process, both these clauses had disappeared from the version of the motion presented to congress.

The STUC therefore supports Ukraine’s right to request weapons – but refuses to say if it supports such requests being granted!

The emergency motion had also been amended – again through an unknown process – to include repeated references to Russia’s breaches of international law. The motion more or less ended up as a treatise on international law, thereby blunting its political cutting edge.

(And on a more general point: Surely any motion submitted by an affiliate to STUC congress should be put before congress in its original form – unless composited – rather than only after being mangled behind closed doors?)

The General Council statement took a surprisingly hard line in favour of sanctions (although this again put it at odds with the STW/MS line on the war). Sanctions are a blunt instrument to effect change and can impact on the innocent. But the statement felt this was a price worth paying:

“We support strong, effective sanctions against Russia. … Sanctions will be painful for many in Russia including, regrettably, the vast majority who have no hand in the war. Sanctions will also impact people across the world, including in the UK.”

The brief debate on the emergency motion brought out the political tensions underlying the General Council statement and the (rewritten) emergency resolution.

The motion was proposed by the SNP’s CND convenor who regularly speaks on STW platforms. His unenthusiastic speech had nothing to do with the motion. It focussed on British and US politicians and generals, on ‘mission creep’, and on the threat of nuclear war.

Putin receiving only a passing mention – he had “forced Zelensky into a corner”.

A GMB delegate made a worthy speech in support of the motion, condemning the invasion as “an unjustifiable act of aggression and violence by the Russian state against the citizens of an independent sovereign nation”.

He closed his speech with the slogan “Slava Ukraini” (“Glory to Ukraine”).

A one-time Banderite slogan being voiced from the speaker’s podium of the STUC congress? Times have changed! This would never have been allowed in Jimmy Milne’s day.

A final contribution to the debate was made by veteran Stalinist Tommy Morrison, as a delegate from Clydebank Trades Council.

Speaking through gritted teeth, Morrison affirmed his Trades Council’s support for the motion. (Stalinist subservience to the trade union bureaucracy meant that it could not do otherwise.)

But, Morrison continued, “some context” needed to be given to the motion. The context in question turned out to be:

The motion followed the narrative of the mainstream media. There had been decades of warnings that NATO expansion would result in war. For years the British military had been training the openly fascist Azov Battalion.

NATO was involved “up to its neck” in the 2014 “coup”. The Azov Battalion had killed 14,000 people since 2014. The military-industrial complex was making a fortune from the war. There were no good guys in the war. Surely we should all be looking to the UN, and supporting a ceasefire and peace talks?

It is frightening to think that not that long ago that kind of nonsense would have been adopted as STUC policy.

The position on Ukraine taken by the STUC had its shortcomings. At the same time, it was a clear rejection of the STW/MS politics of Putin apologetics, bogus ‘anti-fascism’, fake pacifism and all-round whataboutery.

Now the task is to push the STUC and its affiliates to act on the General Council statement and emergency motion – and also push for better policies.

Republished from Solidarity