Zakhyst Pratsi: An Appeal from the Workers of Ukraine to the Workers of Belarus

Appeal from PI Member the All-Ukraine Independent Trade Union ‘Zakhyst Pratsi’ to workers in Belarus, fighting the twin threats of neoliberal reform and autocratic rule.
Dear brothers and sisters in Belarus. We stand in awe at the strength and courage you have shown in your struggle against your antipopular government. The conservative and oligarchic regime feared, above all, a decisive and organised protest by the Belarusian working class and its independent unions.
Dear brothers and sisters in Belarus. We stand in awe at the strength and courage you have shown in your struggle against your antipopular government. The conservative and oligarchic regime feared, above all, a decisive and organised protest by the Belarusian working class and its independent unions.

It was your strikes and protests that helped put an end to the regime of police violence terrorising the Belarusian people. And your actions helped raise the call to nullify the results of the rigged presidential elections.

We strongly support your democratic demands for decisive changes in Belarusian society, bringing to justice those who falsified the elections and the officers of the special police units who unleashed severe abuses of power against the people.

At the same time, we cannot forget the bitter experience of Ukraine. The popular and just uprising against the Yanukovych regime in 2014 was coopted by openly anti-labor and anti-union forces. In Ukraine, these forces are now laying siege to the democratic rights of workers and trade union activists, increasing the age of retirement, and pushing through a spate of antipopular neoliberal reforms.

Unfortunately, in 2014, Ukraine’s workers and trade unions could not play a significant and effective role in the democratic revolution. They were weak and disorganized. Today, we see the same play out in Belarus, with the regime’s conservative guardians calling on workers to stand against the struggle for democratisation in Belarus, to end their strikes and, in all but name, to support the authoritarian-capitalist regime of Lukashenka.

We strongly reject these calls for de facto collaboration with the regime. Only a sustained struggle for democracy can give workers hope that authoritarianism and violence will come to an end. But the working class and trade unions of Belarus urgently need to develop their own program of demands — one that will prevent the future of a free and democratic Belarus from succumbing to anti-worker neoliberal reforms. It is precisely neoliberal reforms and all-out privatisation that will lead back to dictatorship and police violence, and will again strengthen both the revanchist forces of authoritarianism and those who are already seeking to establish regimes of external control — both pro-Western and pro-Russian — over Belarus. The struggle for the true independence of a democratic workers’ Belarus is one of the most pressing issues of this moment.

We, Ukrainian workers and trade union activists, have no right to impose our opinion on our Belarusian brothers and sisters. The workers of Belarus will independently develop a program of labor and trade union struggle. However, we fundamentally believe that we have the right to express our proposals, which can aid in the development of the labor and trade union program and a package of demands for Belarusian workers. Among them are:

  • The immediate cancellation of anti-worker and anti-union reforms in the 2019 Labor Code of Belarus, which established the total authority of employers in the country: fixed-term contracts, the ability to unfairly dismiss from workers at the initiative of directors, and a de facto restriction on workers resigning from their jobs.
  • Save jobs! Ban fines imposed on workers by company directors! And forbid depriving workers of their bonuses!
  • The immediate cancellation of the government’s privatisation program for 2020, as well as the reversal of the completed privatisations of leading Belarusian enterprises — nationalising them and introducing democratic management practices. All nationalized enterprises in Belarus must be put under worker control to be managed by the workers and their trade unions! Worker self-government instead of state-bureaucratic management!
  • Stop the antipopular “Lukashist” reform of the pension system currently planned by the authorities. Immediately cancel the increase in the retirement age implemented by Lukashenka in 2020!
  • The immediate abolition of all legislative restrictions on the creation of independent trade unions by Belarusian workers. Workers and the trade union press must have complete freedom!

The struggle to implement these transitional demands can only succeed under one condition: if the workers of Belarus establish their own stable and strong ties between labor collectives, independent trade unions, and civil and environmental activists. Right-wing liberal forces are now much more organized and will try to do everything they can — and many things they can’t — so that the working class of Belarus does not become an independent political force, but obediently trudges along a path of antipopular neoliberal capitalist reform laid out by a new cadre of neoliberal politicians. So it would be right for the independent trade unions of Belarus to consider nominating a candidate in future presidential elections. This candidate could attract all democratic and worker forces in Belarus. The nomination of a trade union candidate for the Belarusian presidency could, then, become a viable strategic alternative, both to the forces of anti-worker authoritarian retaliation, and to the numerous candidates with pro-Russian or pro-Western imperialist persuasions, who are determined to prevent the emergence of a free and democratic Belarus.

Dear Belarusian brothers and sisters in the labor and trade union struggle: the workers of Ukraine stand with you! You will prevail in the struggle to assert your rights! The eyes of people all over the world are on you, as you stand on the frontline in the struggle for genuine democracy and worker rights. We wish you courage, determination and good luck!

Central Committee of the National People’s Council “Zakhyst Pratsi"

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Paweł Wargan

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