Oppose GMB Motion 71
The British Trades Union Congress (TUC) is a federation of 48 trade unions, representing 5.5 million trade union members. The 155th annual TUC Congress (conference) takes place in Liverpool on 10-13 September 2023.
A motion on the agenda from the GMB union (Motion 71) seeks to commit the British trade union movement to a pro-war and pro-NATO position. This must be opposed.
The motion is titled “Solidarity with Ukraine”. It should be titled “Solidarity with the USA and its NATO allies”. The motion takes one side in a war between two rival imperialist powers – Russia and the USA – being fought over Ukraine at enormous human cost. The British and international working class should support neither side.
Socialists opposed the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on 24 February 2022, just as socialists opposed the encroaching encirclement of Russia by NATO in the preceding period.
NATO provoked and prodded Russia into reacting. It got what it wanted. But the invasion cannot be defended. It was a reactionary response to the reactionary steps of NATO, which has caused destruction, loss of life, and driven support for imperialist intervention.
Both sides are to blame and both sides must be opposed. In the middle, the people of Ukraine are paying the price. There has been an enormous death and injury tally on both the Ukraine and Russian sides. Neither side acts in the interests of the working class.
Putin is no friend of the working class. He represents his oligarchs – the super-rich capitalist class. He tolerates no opposition, clamping down on free speech and imprisoning or murdering his opponents. Socialists want to see the end of Putin and the victory of democracy and socialism in Russia brought about by a mass movement of the working class of Russia.
But neither is the USA to be trusted. It claims to be acting in the interests of democracy, yet it has continuously acted to suppress genuine democracy everywhere and supported all types of vicious, oppressive dictatorships – from the military coup in Chile in 1973, to backing Saudi Arabia today. British prime minister Rishi Sunak is to welcome Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who ordered the 2018 murder of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, this Autumn.
Behind the conflict in Ukraine lies the developing and worsening conflict between the USA and the growing economic power of China, which is beginning to challenge the US position as the world’s number one imperialist power. The USA and China are two huge capitalist powers, vying for top position. The US and its NATO partners aim for a humiliating defeat of Russia, or for an internal coup to bring down the Putin clique, for the break-up of Russia, and thus weaking a significant Chinese ally and thereby weaking China itself.
The war in Ukraine is a prelude of conflicts to come. All socialists should oppose the descent into international conflict with further devastating loss of life and destruction, with the possibility of nuclear weapons being used. The trades union movement must not lend its voice and power to warmongers.
The GMB motion would rally the British trades union movement behind the Tory government, whose pro-war policy is echoed by Labour leader Keir Starmer. Why should workers trust or support the Tories on foreign policy when we oppose them domestically?
Motion 71 begins by condemning the Russian invasion but says nothing about the imperialist expansion and manoeuvres of NATO that led to it. It correctly notes the repression of trade unions in Russia and Belorussia but fails to say anything about the anti-democratic measures taken against opposition political parties in Ukraine. It makes only oblique reference to the anti-working class policies implemented under Ukrainian president Zelensky. While it calls for “the full restoration of labour rights in Ukraine” it omits any mention of the fact that these were removed by Zelensky.
The motion points to the claimed ‘proud history of solidarity with victims of fascism’ yet fails to mention the prevalence of fascists in the Ukraine military and the eulogising and hero-worship of Ukrainian fascist and Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera and others like him.
The motion calls for “the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from all Ukrainian territories occupied since 2014”, which would include the Crimean Peninsula and the whole of Eastern Ukraine. That is not going to be achieved through negotiation, so could only be accomplished by a war to the end, including the use of more and more devastating weaponry. The motion is calling for more death and more destruction, with the danger of the war spilling over into Russia and elsewhere.
In a stupidly contradictory clause, the motion called for “a peaceful end to the conflict”. This is incompatible with the aim of re-taking Crimea and the eastern provinces. Any peaceful negotiated solution would involve concessions. The alternative, perhaps more likely, is a continuous war of attrition, with little progress made by either side, but with mounting death and destruction and no ultimate victor.
The motion echoes the position of Zelensky and the Ukraine government for “the continuation and increasing of moral, material, and military aid from the UK to Ukraine”. Its real position is war to the end, to the death of the last Ukrainian or Russian soldier, and of countless Ukrainian civilians, paid for by the workers of Britain, the European Union, and the NATO countries who are financing the war.
Since the war began, USA had sent $113 billion in aid to Ukraine, of which $63 billion is for security, weaponry, military equipment and training. US President Biden is asking Congress for a further $24 billion. Billions more has come and is promised from the EUand other NATO countries. The UK has committed £4.6 billion in military assistance to Ukraine so far, making it the second largest contributor after the USA. All this in the interests of protecting the USA’s position as the world’s most powerful country. At some stage, this aid will have to be paid back, making the capitalists even richer at the expense of the people of Ukraine.
While millions of workers and their families suffer from the cost of living crisis, there is always money for war in the interests of the capitalist class. The trades union movement should not support the spending of a single further cent, euro or penny on the war in Ukraine. It should not contribute to a single further loss of life.
The motion is a cynical demand for more money to be spent by the British government in a sector of the economy in which the GMB has a significant membership, instead of demanding that it is spent where it is really needed – health, housing, education, social care. The GMB leadership is putting its narrow trade union interests and the desire to maintain and increase its membership dues above the interests of the international working class. Putting it more crudely, it is putting the pay and lifestyle of its bureaucracy above the plight of those dying in Ukraine. And making the arms manufacturers even richer in the process.
Socialists and trade union members can give no support to the world’s capitalist butchers, who are more than happy for working-class soldiers and civilians to die for them while they sit at their fancy restaurants counting their billions.
We call for solidarity between all workers. The Russian and Ukrainian workers and soldiers are being sent to their deaths by people who care nothing for them. The working class is the only force that can end war, by ending the system of profit and competition that fuels war. We must spend more time and effort opposing war, not calling for more money to be spent on it.