By Oksana Abboud, StreetNet Organiser
Under the initiation of five national trade union centers: Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU), Confederation of Labour of Russia (KTR), the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP), the Confederation of Trade Unions of Georgia (GTUC), the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KSPK) and also under the support of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK), the international conference "The New trade unions and the Democratic Left: historical roots and ideological landmarks" took place in Kyiv on November 2-3, 2013. The idea of conducting this international event was also supported by the Global Labour Institute (GLI), the International Union of Food Workers (IUF), the International "Memorial" (Moscow), the social critique magazine Commons/"Spilne" (Ukraine), the "Praxis" Center (Russia) and others. The financial support was provided by Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.
The conference was a continuation of the held in Moscow conference a year ago "The labor movement and left-wing forces against authoritarianism and totalitarianism: Past, Present and Prospects". However, unlike the Moscow event, which was largely devoted to Russia’s problems, the conference in Kiev received a much larger scale and international support. Presentations were made by 65 people – union leaders , historians working and left movement, researchers and experts in the field of social and labor relations from Ukraine, Russian Federation, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain and the USA.
The conference was comprised of six plenary sessions and six Sections (working groups), which were attended by over 250 participants.
The first day of the conference was dedicated to the historical reports presented during the first four plenary sessions.
Dan Gallin, Director of the Global Labour Institute started the first session with his report on ideological foundations of the democratic left and the labour movements. He highlighted the key values, such as: dignity, equality, freedom of justice and noted that the values of labour movement explain the concept of democracy. Dan also spoke about elements of democracy highlighting that a democratic movement is a movement of concerned citizens but not oligarchs or mafia: "The trade unions include such a notion as civil society. This is the first line of workers’ defense, and without the institutionalisation of trade unions, they would not have survived. The labor movement – the oldest movement, its main goal was to create a society which recognizes the needs of people and maintains human dignity. This value is such a great thing that many people have scarified their lives for this”.
A rather wide historical retrospective of the labor movement struggle and left parties in Ukraine and Russia on the eve of the 1917 Revolution and following years after the establishment of the communist regime was presented in the reports of the leaders of the trade union "Solidarity University" (KTR) and historians Paul Kudyukin, Konstantin Morozov and Alexei Gusev, historian Yaroslav Leontiev, executive director of International "Memorial" Boris Belenkin , British historian Nick Heath and others.
A number of reports were devoted to the establishment of the new trade union movement in the former Soviet Union area in 1980-1990’s. An economist and director of the School of labor democracy Boris Rakitsky described the experience of developing and promoting his own ideology of democratic labor movement. Swiss researcher Jürg Ulrich, British historian and activist Derek Keenan and activist of the social democratic movement in Lithuania Gintaras Mitrulyavichus focused in their presentations on the international left and the trade union movements. The speakers highlighted the contribution of trade unions and the Democratic Left in the fight against authoritarianism in different countries.
Pierre Coutaz, the International Secretary of the General Confederation of Labor of France (CGT) made his report on the relationship between the French labor movement and left-wing political organisations.
At the end of the first day of the conference the documentary movie "Zhanaozen: unknown tragedy" was shown for all the participants. This movie tells the story of the shooting of peaceful labor demonstration on December 16, 2011 in the Kazakh city of Zhanaozen. After the movie the discussion took place on the situation with the protection of labor rights in Kazakhstan and the launch of the joint trade union campaign for the release of the leader of the striking oil workers Rosa Tuletaeva was also announced during this discussion. And during the next day of the conference the participants adopted a Resolution which declared its full support for the labour movement and free trade unions, all the left and democratic forces of Kazakhstan. This Resolution also announces on the beginning of the international campaign for the release of detained and jailed workers of Zhanaozen and trade union and political activists convicted of so-called "inciting social discord." The conference announced the formation of the committee to support prisoners of Zhanaozen and coordinator of which will be Valentyn Urusov. The resolution also states that on December 16, 2013 the Day of Solidarity with the prisoners of Zhanaozen will take place.
The second day of the conference was devoted to the vital activities of the trade union movement. Six thematic sections were arranged. The first Section was titled "The international trade union movement at the turn of 21-st century: ideas and organizational forms". The speakers of this Section were: Dan Gallin (Switzerland), Violeta Zlateva (Bulgaria), president of Association of home-based workers in Bulgaria, Oksana Abboud (Kyiv), StreetNet Organiser for Europe and Asia, the IUF coordinators Maria Kurzina (Moscow) and Svetlana Boincean (Chisinau) and others (see the attached program).
Representing StreetNet International at this Conference I made a presentation about the StreetNet structure, its priority and activities both at local and international level. I also emphasized the International Labour Conference 2014 and a key role of StreetNet participation in this event in 2014.
A plenary meeting "The Workers’ Movement and civil society in the face of growth of authoritarianism in the modern world" took place after all the Sections were finished. Bulgarian economist and researcher of informal employment Doctor of Philosophy Krastyo Petkov made a report on "Trade Unions and the neo-authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe at the present stage". Professor also noted the differences between totalitarian and neo-authoritarian regimes and presented his vision why trade unions are currently under pressure and the challenges for democratic trade unions.
Ukrainian economist Sergei Migal told about the threats to labour rights in Ukraine. Oleg Shein from KTR pointed out trends and growth prospects of the movement for social justice and democratic freedoms.
One of the last events of the second day was the Round table "The experience and methods of struggle of democratic trade unions for political freedom and social rights", in which all the leaders of democratic trade union confederations (KVPU, KTR, BKDP, GTUC, KSPK) from the CEE area expressed their views and positions of further strategic actions towards strengthening and developing democratic trade union movement.
The conference has attracted prominent representatives, leaders and participants. This has become an important step to the consolidation of democratic trade unions and left-wing forces of the former Soviet Union.
During the two days of the conference serious historic section allowed many of the participants to see and understand the basis on which trade union and left movements were created and operated within the past years.
Participants expressed different opinions and vision regarding development of democratic trade union movement and its collaboration with other democratic organisations. There were also proposals to create a labour party, however this subject caused a hot discussion of different attitudes.
The leaders of democratic trade unions also mentioned that this conference would not be the last meeting of such kind as it would have its continuation and probably in Gdansk – the home of the independent trade union "Solidarity", which became in its time, an example of the struggle for democracy and workers’ rights.
I also believe that StreetNet International got its benefit from this conference as it became more visible and drew attention of different activists and organisations in the CEE region.