Mar 07, 2022 Ces

On 1 March 2022, from 4 to 6 p.m., an extraordinary ETUC Executive Committee was held in
virtual mode, with the participation of representatives of Ukrainian and Georgian trade unions,
to take stock of the situation following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and to adopt a draft
resolution specifying what the ETUC would do on the occasion of this war. This Resolution
will be completed at the next ETUC Executive Committee on 16-17 March, in the light of the
situation on those dates. The meeting was very well attended (187 participants) and emotionally
charged with the live testimony from Kiev of Ukrainian trade union leaders.
At the opening of the meeting, ETUC General Secretary Luca VISENTINI recalled that the
trade union confederation had already taken a stand against this war with the help of PERC,
and that the demonstration it had organised last Thursday on wages had turned into a
demonstration in support of Ukraine. The aim of today’s meeting is to agree to launch actions
together, with a series of proposals being made to support the peace process but also to provide
financial support, especially for Ukrainian refugees on European soil.
However, the floor was first given to Ukrainian trade union representatives and leaders to
deliver their analysis and their particularly poignant testimonies. First of all, they pointed out
that the situation was particularly complex, both at local and large scale. Russia is destroying
the Ukrainian people because they think differently. Russian propaganda says that Ukraine is
responsible for these attacks because it wants to become a member of NATO, which is seen as
a real challenge to the Russian people. But Ukrainians are being killed because they want to
join the European Union. It is being attacked because it has chosen the European way of
development and because its inhabitants have chosen democracy, by widely electing the current
President in place of the previous openly pro-Soviet one. They would like the ETUC to support
the declaration of the Ukrainian President, Volodymir Selensky, in his request for rapid
accession to the European Union. To be recognised as a candidate to the European Union would
already be a tremendous reward. We are witnessing, they say, a real genocide, because the
Russian military bombard hospitals and residential areas. Instead of going to school, children
are learning to make molotov cocktails. The population has been living this nightmare for 6
days. In the northern part of the country, there is a surge of Russian soldiers, where they are
concentrating their forces. People are not only moving out of the country, but also towards the
West. Shelters are being opened with beds and meals for women and small children, the elderly
and wounded soldiers. There is a huge shortage of food and medicine, as Russian infiltrators
have undertaken sabotage actions to block supply areas. A “humanitarian corridor” should be
created, which does not exist despite Russian propaganda. Humanitarian aid is extremely
important. The Ukrainian trade unions, they say, continue to work and have set up a
communications group and a solidarity fund, but this is not enough to carry out the desired and
necessary activities.
Ukraine has nuclear power plants and the threat is to the Chernobyl site – occupied by Russian
soldiers – and its 20,000 m3 of stored nuclear waste as well as to the four active nuclear power
plants, including the largest in Europe. Already, the contaminated soil of Chernobyl has been
disturbed by military vehicles, causing a rise in radioactivity in the region. And the risk of a
nuclear accident cannot be ruled out, they say, if the infrastructure is hit, even accidentally. The
same applies to water dams, which, if hit, would flood entire populations. Gas pipelines would
have to be inspected, which is not possible during or because of air attacks. There are also
cyber-attacks, especially on banking systems, which also need to be defended. Half a million
Ukrainians, especially but not only, even if the majority of the men want to stay and defend
their country, are fleeing their country. European legislation must be amended so that these
people are recognised as “asylum seekers” and not just as “refugees”. The trade union leaders
also said that the people need weapons to defend their country, their home, but they also need
ammunition. They are a peaceful people, but they are forced to fight. The situation is only
getting worse. They are also asking the ILO to withdraw Russia’s “member” status. Ukraine, a
country of 42 million people, is really surrounded by Russian troops: the front line is getting
wider every day, while the line of defence is getting narrower every day because they do not
have good equipment. It is urgent to block Russia’s expansionist ambition, because after the
invasion of Ukraine, which the Russian President thought he would achieve in two days, it will
be the turn of Moldova, Georgia and even other neighbouring countries. This is not a simple
military operation, but a war. We must not waste time and “make more of ourselves”, they say.
They also ask to intervene, so that the airspace of Ukraine is closed so that Russian planes do
not bomb their country anymore. Finally, they launched an appeal to the Russian trade unions
that are members of the Pan-European Regional Council (PERC) to denounce the war waged
by Russia against Ukraine, otherwise, they said, they would no longer have a place in the
international trade union movement. This appeal was relayed by many members of the ETUC
Executive Committee, notably through the chat in the discussion that followed.
The General Secretary of the ETUC thanked the various speakers and presented the draft
resolution submitted for initial discussion by the Committee members, which would be
completed at the next Committee meeting on 16 and 17 March. Among the measures proposed,
he called for
– To put pressure on the EU institutions and national governments, as well as on the Council of
Europe, in order to support the ETUC’s demands and to maintain high pressure.
– To support all necessary actions against the Russian government and leadership, including all
necessary sanctions and boycott initiatives against Russian products, goods and services.
– To advocate for the rapid activation of the EU Temporary Protection Directive.
– To contribute to the establishment of humanitarian corridors for refugees in the countries of
the region and in all other EU countries.
– Recognise the specific situation of women and children in conflict areas, including the risks
of gender-based violence, in particular sexual violence.
– To activate mobilisation actions at the European and national levels, including a day of action
for Ukraine, which will be coordinated at the global level.
– To provide financial and humanitarian assistance to the Ukrainian population through
Ukrainian trade unions – in this regard, special contributions to the ITUC Solidarity Fund and
through a public platform have been launched jointly with the ETUC.
– To redirect EU project funds available to the ETUC (UnionMigrantNet) to help Ukrainian
refugees at the EU borders and on EU territory.
– To mobilise ETUC reserves up to 500,000 EUR, also in order to obtain EU funds, for
humanitarian aid to be provided to the Ukrainian population, in cooperation with Ukrainian
trade unions.
– To set up an ETUC “peace working group” to coordinate these actions and an ETUC “peace
observatory” to exchange information with and between affiliates…

The General Secretary pointed out, however, that as this was a trade union Resolution, it did
not include the request for military aid, the reference to NATO and the closure of Ukrainian
airspace, which he said would be tantamount to NATO going to war
Having said this, ETUC President Laurent Berger opened the debate.
The vast majority of speakers expressed their solidarity with the Ukrainian trade unionists and
people, and called on the Russian trade unions to take a clear stand against the war. The
proposals of the General Secretary were widely supported. The members of the Committee
belonging to neighbouring countries explained the initiatives they had taken or that had been
taken by their governments. Poland, for example, has so far taken in more than 300,000
refugees. And the trade unions have agreed with employers, within the framework of the Social
Dialogue, to offer jobs to refugees, especially women. Places in kindergartens have been
opened. Money collections were organised for refugees, as in Romania. In Moldova, a former
sanatorium was reopened to accommodate refugees and the 24 Moldovan trade unions provided
financial support. In the Czech Republic, the Government had taken initiatives such as opening
places in schools to accommodate Ukrainian children. The Estonian representative said that his
country was ready to receive 100,000 refugees, which represented 10% of its population. For
Hungary, speaking for its trade union SZEF, President Lajos said that his country had already
taken in 73,000 refugees. It has been requested that the Ukrainians who arrive should be granted
refugee status immediately and a fundraising campaign has started, which has already raised
200,000 euros. And at the border, several reception structures have been set up and even a small
school has been opened. In parallel to these oral interventions, many organisations expressed
themselves via the chat, including the Secretary General of FERPA, Agostino Siciliano, to
condemn the Russian invasion and to express their support for the Ukrainian people and the
trade unionists of this country.
For his part, the ETUC General Secretary concluded the meeting by pointing out that there were
many geopolitical problems that came into play. What to do also with the countries that are
potentially targeted by Russia? Should they join the EU straight away? Close their airspace?
Provide military aid?
He said that ETUC funding will go directly to our members to help refugees. He is in contact
with the Commission to see how to provide better protection for members. For the next
Executive Committee, a new, broader and more political resolution would be prepared and
debated, particularly in the light of developments in the situation.
Finally, the President put this Resolution to the vote, which was adopted unanimously, with
two abstentions (CGTP-IN and ELA).