No money for war in Ukraine

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. 

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6 thoughts on “No money for war in Ukraine

  1. You don’t mention Aslef’s motion so maybe you think it is better ignored but I think at least this should be opposed – part of the NUM’s amendment to the Aslef motion:

    After the paragraph 10, add:
    “iv. to support the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign”.

    Aslef are already affiliated to the USC. It is heavily supported by the GMB. The amendment says support but I imagine this would mean the TUC affiliating to the USC if passed.

    1. Thanks, Janet. Yes, unfortunately, I had limited time so I concentrated on the GMB motion which is the most egregious. The ASLEF motion is ambiguous at best. What does it mean or imply by “we are anti-imperialistic, and that is our job to fight imperialism and tyranny at every opportunity”? Does this include opposing the USA and NATO? I don’t think that is what they mean. I would probably abstain.

      The NUM amendments to the ASLEF motion should be opposed because the first two parts are one-sided and the third, as you say, means affiliation to the pro-NATO Ukraine Solidarity Campaign.

  2. This is the standard default position of many on the revolutionary left that the USA, the West and NATO are to blame for everything. There is no doubt that NATO has been provocative but why should that result in Putin invading Ukraine? In the past at least the antagonisms between the Soviet Union and the USA were occasions for talks to end the possibility of nuclear war and mutually assured destruction (MAD). Witness the withdrawal of missiles from Cuba on condition the USA removes their own from Turkey. There is no dialogue now between the contending powers regarding nuclear disarmament or indeed economic cooperation. Putin has not just been provoked by NATO. He is clearly following an irredentist position of reclaiming lost terriroty for the Russian Empire. Witness the Russian enclaves in Georgia and Moldova and now the occupation of 20% of Ukraine. Belorus is basically a vassal state as are other ex Soviet states. Putin has also secured the subjugation of Chechnya killing thousands in the process and installing a ruthless dictator. The Russian military presence in Syria assists the Assad regime to destroy the remnants of the uprising against his murderous dictatorship. The Wagner mercenaries are active in African countries and are an auxilliary force to the Russian army. Putin publically declared, while contradicting Lenin, that states do not have the right to self-determination. Without soliciting arms from other sources Ukraine will simply be overrun and become yet another irredentist possession. There is much more I need to day but I haven’t got the time just now.

    1. Hi Ian. At Talking About Socialism, none of us support the Russian invasion of Ukraine or the NATO encirclement of Russia. Nick writes ‘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.” Unfortunately, this is not the standard default position of the revolutionary left, many are campist – supporting either NATO or Russia.

      I agree it would be good to get talks and a ceasefire. Given that the Ukranian forces have made tiny, almost imperceptible, gains during the their summer offensive at the loss of 45,000 of the 60,000 NATO trained trained troops deployed (esitmates are 15,000 of this number are dead), questions are now being asked in Washington whether if no gains are made before the end of September if peace talks should begin. It is clear that any peace talks will be between NATO (fronted by Ukarine) , Russia and China such is the proxy nature of this war. It is possible that we could end up with a frozen front line as has been the case in Korea for almost 70 years.

      The issue you raise about Russian irrendendists wars and its overall strategy is a good one. Overall, some think Russia imperialist, others a regional capitalist power with global power ambitions, others that irrendentism is at the heart of it, and others that it it genuinely fears encirclement and cannibalisation by NATO – and maybe China. Whatever the mix, the solution to this power struggle between global powers is not the continuation and arming of of a war that is taking us further down the road to a wider global conflict.

  3. Thanks Will for your well-considered reply,

    A ceasfire will concede a victory to Putin and Ukraine will remain a divided country like Korea and dare I say it Cyprus! Remaining so for decades if not forever. That will destroy any chance of self-dermination and will remain a ‘hook’ for Putin to develop further incursions. Witness the rising recently in Georgia when the authorities tried to Russianise the constitution, the enclave of Transnistria in Moldova and so on. I have already metioned the ‘conquest’ of Chechnya. Ukraine is simply the latest attempt by Putin in a kind of defensive imperialism through reclaiming the states that became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is also increasinlgy clear that Putin is forming a militarist alliance with North Korea and China which seems like a deja vue of the NATO/Warsaw Pact antagonisms though inter imperialist rather than ideological.

    Despite all of this Ukraine has a right to defend itself from becoming a province of the Russian Empire. If Putin can solicit arms from Iran, North Korea and China then Zelensky has a right to do so from any other source to prevent conquest and to expel the occupation by the Russian military. This does not mean we have to defend Zelensky’s neoliberalism or the human rights violations or the dwindling ‘fascist’ elements in his regime. The enemy in both camps is ethno-nationalism and we are right about solidarity with the Left and workers organisations struggling to overthrow the capitalist/imperialist status quo. But how effective can that be while the Ukraine is occupied by an uncompromising foreign power bent on military violence and all that entails for the suffering of the Ukrainian people. Also we should be clear about what the Ukrainian people themselves want which I am pretty sure does not include a ceasefire despite the wanton criminal acts of terror by Putin.

  4. Ultimately the two sides need to talk about demilitarisation, nuclear disarmament and the withdrawal of encirclement etc. But that isn’t going to happen any time soon given the capitalist/imperialist rivalry for markets and resources.

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