The main reason for the passivity of the workers in Ukraine...

By Vladimir Pronin, NSC Correspondent in Ukraine, Northstar Compass, July 2003

The Donetsk miner-communist Anatoly Nalivajko, already a member of Supreme Soviet of Ukraine for the second term, is fighting for the interests of the miners and workers in the Donbass region of Ukraine, has appeared in our journal before. With this in mind, our correspondent Vladimir Pronin started this interview.

Q: A couple years ago we met—at that time you were a young man starting up as a member of parliament, and you had high hopes, and some of them were realized, but many of them were just illusionary. Now, one year later after you were elected for the second time, which illusions did you manage to get rid of?

A: First of all the illusion…that you can take over any state by parliamentary means. Yes, in this I was mistaken! I have realized now that even here in parliament, as an elected member, you do not get the right, your right is being taken away from you—as they do always. And I also realized, that the present parliament of Ukraine — is openly a bourgeois parliament. And the situation is getting even worse. If in the previous parliament you were able to talk, to propose, to debate with other parliamentarians, but now, this question is out of rich to talk about defending the rights of the workers or the working class.

The majority of the deputies and amongst them deputies representing different parties of the regions, hardly defend the interests of their region or of the working class—they just follow what the present government dictates, the kind of laws, the legislature and acts that the President and his clique propose.

Q: The present parliament of Ukraine, after the electoral decimation of the left forces in the last election, it is evident that elected deputies representing the working class are now in a great minority. How do you look at this situation?

A: Yes, if before the election I could count on 17 progressive deputies that would defend the working class, now, there are only three. In the fraction of communists, I am the only one. You know how I look at this situation. I would have wanted that the working class would be represented by many more deputies, and those I might add, that did not forget as to who elected them and for whom they agreed to fight for and whose interests they should defend.

Q: There is talk that the working class is not fully prepared to fight by parliamentary means, that more lawyers and economists should be elected instead of workers.

A: First of all, it is important as to which class and whose interests the parliamentary deputy is going to defend! As a matter of fact, the present Ukrainian parliament is full of deputies that are lawyers and economists. And which interests are the present laws adopted by the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine defending?

It is a learning process in the present parliament and you have to learn quickly as to what you can accomplish and by what methods that it could be done. I am now finishing lawyer school and now I can be called a jurist. But I do not forget that I was elected to represent the working class and that the workers elected me. I vote for them, I vote against laws that are against the working class and I work against what we now call the “New Ukrainians”—the lawyers and economists who are the ruling class, helped to get into parliament and who now are their slaves and vote as they are told.

I do not want to be labeled that I do not believe in the parliamentary struggle. We must once and for all remember that it's only the unity of parliamentary struggle together with the mass working class unity that can decide as to who will rule the state.

Q: You are a member of the Executive Committee of the All Ukrainian Union of Workers and are also the chairman of this organization in the Donetsk region. NSC readers would like to know as to how the struggles in the labour movement are going here.

A: In 1999 I was one of two vice chairman and in 2001 I was elected as the chairman. Before, the laws of this union were such that any member of any political party could become a member, who considered themselves as members of the left parties. The results were such that no work was done or anything worthwhile accomplished and there were attacks on communists and its section in the parliament.

Now, that we got rid of these elements, we now can concentrate on our work, to meet the workers one on one and collectively and tell them the truth as to what is really happening in the present Ukrainian parliament.

Q: And after you became a deputy, did you start lowering your head at what was going on?

A: Yes, of course. I could not but be shocked at the decisions that were being made on many important sectors of the energy industry and many other industries, a complete liquidation.

Sometimes before, some of the working class was in euphoria about privatization, capitalism, market economy and such “democracy”. But these illusions are disappearing and many want to return to socialism as it was. To tell you the truth, I cannot feel sorry for those that were promised “sweets” and sold their hearts and souls to the present rulers. Some of these workers were responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union. They have to start demonstrating for their back pay, for their rights as trade union workers, but not only on economic issues and struggles, but against their so-called trade union “leaders” — then the question would be as to how long would the present regime last?

It is sad for their families, their children, who are unable to go to school, get medical help or rest.

Q: Those that remember the previous demands during ex-USSR, they look at these slogans now with laughter and irony, such slogans as “Kolbassa without Fat!” and “We want to buy automobiles without waiting!” Now, you can buy ten automobiles without waiting, but the buyers are not from the working class or from the miners.

A: Yes, that's the way it is now!

Q: What kind of input and participation does the union you head in Donetsk overall, and in strike situations in particular do?

A: We participate in all actions, demonstrations and protests, not only in Donetsk. We present our much more radical proposals then some of their trade union leaders, how to combine the economic and political demands. We explain to them that only economic demands will not produce the betterment for the working class. This present anti-peoples government will listen and respect and the fear us, when we are organized and have unified mass actions.

Q: Are the present trade unions able to be in opposition to the government or to work together with the working class in its only beginning of mass actions?

A: We had thoughts before that we will be able to remake the present independent trade unions to our socialist side, but now, everything is clear that this is a hard task that must be won.

Sometimes I feel that the present independent unions should all be dissolved and then to start again, with new leadership. The road towards this idea is clear and straightforward. Just stop paying the dues to those trade unions that are “independent”, which goes to their union leaders coffers. But as I found out, the main money coming into these private unions is not from membership dues, but the union leadership's businesses. These independent unions have become businesses, their own structures, and they have their own profit agenda. Why would they think or fight for the interests of the workers?

Q: On this question of “independent” trade union leadership and their businesses, this is supported by president Kuchma himself as a way of keeping the workers anger from boiling over.

A: What can we expect from these trade union leaders, since the leaders of two miners unions, were elected to the Ukrainian parliament with heavy promotion and financial help by the present oligarchs, and they are voting for all the laws that are proposed by the present Kuchma regime. They also supported the closing of 61 mines, but it is no secret, that no one cares or worries about the fate of thousands of miners without work, including the leaders of these “independent” trade unions.

Q: We all remember that during the process of closing all of these mines, the government was promising to build new industries and thus keep the miners in work in these to be established new industries.

A: Yes, there were such promises made, but now these miners are in a terrible situation of unemployment and misery. The miners and their families are left to fend for themselves as well as they can. This is not the Soviet State, it's a state which is not for the benefit of the working class.

The difference is great if you compare our struggles to those in France for instance — if a teachers union calls a strike it is immediately supported by the transportation union or other unions. Here the workers solidarity is still far away unfortunately. Even our own unions in other professions do not support unions that are on strike and, in most cases they follow the lead of the privatized industries and just cave in to their demands.

Q: Which are the most pressing problems that you feel should be immediately resolved if possible?

A: We must overcome first of all the passivity of the working class — since they still feel that somehow, some one or other will solve all of their problems. As an example, the Kuchma administration with big fanfare proclaims that no mine will shut down, at which these miners work and that other work will be given to the workers and they will live well. In the end, these are just words and the passivity has again won the day for the Kuchma regime.

Q: The workers should understand that in the former Ukrainian parliament where the Communists had a much bigger deputy presence, many laws were adopted to better some conditions and other good proposals were also adopted, but as it is known, these promises or proposal were never carried out.

A: Kuchma always used his veto power to dismiss these proposals by the Communists. But to overcome his veto, Kuchma raised the number of votes needed in parliament from 226 to 300 — which is an impossibility to overcome. If before some good proposals were made, due to large number of communist deputies, now, in this present parliament, any such proposals are impossible. Even if the Constitutional Court would object or override some decisions, these decisions were also never obeyed.

Regarding our people, those living in the Don region — they should very carefully follow the work of their elected deputies to see if they are representing the workers or just having a cushy job and good pay. They should choose their deputies very carefully and follow their work and voting patterns in parliament.

Last year in spring, many of these “independent” unions brought hundreds of miners to Kiev. Instead of demonstrating or picketing the parliament buildings, these miners spread across the city, caps in hand, begging for help !

These are the miners, who not too long ago were the pride and joy of the Soviet working class! But I always remain an optimist, because sooner or later they will realize—and we are trying to help them in this realization — that they should not be begging for that which was stolen from them in the first place, the workers must take this back by force, because all that was built was built by their hands!

For the miners, as for all of the working class — this is the only answer and the only road out of this quagmire—to regain their human life and freedom. Sooner or later, the workers will realize this, that no one else will be able to return back to socialism, but the working class.