Socialist Alternative

Ukraine, Russia and NATO – the way forward for trade unionists

It is now more than three months since Russia began its disgraceful war of aggression in Ukraine, which has so far resulted in the deaths of more than 25,000 Ukrainian civilians. Meanwhile, the UN said recently that the number of “displaced” people – i.e. those made to flee home – globally has now surpassed 100 million.

Eight million Ukrainian people have been displaced within their home country as a result of the war, along with more than six million refugee movements registered from Ukraine.

The horror of war for ordinary working class people is there for all of us to see. We completely condemn the invasion and demand the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. 

Growth of NATO 

We must also condemn the role that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has played historically in the region, which since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has expanded eastwards.

NATO has played a key role in supporting US and Western imperialism’s interests in Eastern Europe and regions that were previously within the sphere of Soviet influence. 

Already, NATO members have been busy arming Ukraine to the teeth. In addition to anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, the US is sending helicopters, artillery and armoured personnel carriers.

It plans to offer a $33bn (£26bn) grant for security and economic assistance to Ukraine on top of the $3.7bn (£3bn) it has already spent.

The UK is offering an extra £300m in military support to Ukraine and plans to send armoured vehicles, electronic warfare equipment and anti-artillery radar systems. 

Anti-war opposition 

Scandalously, politicians like Keir Starmer and officials in UNISON’s right wing bureaucracy have been attempting to paint any opposition to NATO as being apologists for Putin.

But there has been a long tradition of opposition to NATO on the left in this country: from the likes of former Labour MP, Tony Benn, to the anti-war movement in the 80s and Jeremy Corbyn, who campaigned for the disbanding of both NATO and the Soviet Warsaw Pact. 

On the right-wing of the movement, there have always been those strongly wedded to NATO militarism. That war-mongering fetishism for NATO lives on in the likes of Starmer, who declared in a recent Guardian article that Labour is “the party of NATO” and that “to condemn NATO is to condemn the guarantee of democracy and security it brings”.

Starmer and the right wing of the movement have sought to erase anti-NATO sentiments from the history of the labour movement and attack socialists who hold those views.

This witchhunting atmosphere represents a clampdown on the democratic right to free speech and enables racism against ordinary Russians living in the UK and elsewhere, as well as increasing the threats against anti war campaigners. 

UNISON and the fight against war 

In March, UNISON’s NEC passed two motions in condemnation of the invasion. One was moved by the left majority and the other by the right wing. However, absent from the right wing motion was any criticism of NATO and its role in the current conflict.

The motion also included support for economic sanctions. But these sanctions in fact impact on ordinary working class people the most in both Russia and the UK through higher fuel and food prices, for example. 

As socialists, we condemn the sabre rattling from the right wing of the movement and their support for NATO. We also stand with neither Russian nor Western imperialism – their only interests are profit, power and prestige in their respective imperialist blocs. 

Socialists, trade unionists and activists in Britain should work to build real solidarity with our counterparts in Ukraine and Russia, including the many thousands arrested and persecuted by Putin’s regime.

This must include mass protests and demonstrations as part of building an international working-class movement against war and imperialism.