The government’s response was to slander the miners, claiming their actions are orchestrated by mine owner Rinat Akhmetov.
“Today, miners have to stand up for protection of independent Ukraine,” Mykhailo Volynets, chairman of the Independent Trade Union of Coal Miners of Ukraine, said in a statement released April 24. “This time in the energy industry.”
Nearly 800 delegates took part in the April 21-22 miners congress, called jointly by the independent miners union — formed more than 20 years ago in a wave of strikes and protests by miners — and the Trade Union of the Coal Mining Industry, the longstanding “official” union with historic ties to the government.
Delegates to the congress denounced “the policy of the government of Ukraine, which is to overcome the financial crisis at the expense of the working class of the country and other socially disadvantaged groups, particularly pensioners,” a statement said.
While Kiev withholds wage payments and skimps on investments needed to keep production going at state-owned mines, it has moved ahead with “reforms” — attacks on wages and social benefits — demanded by imperialist banks as a condition for loans to keep the government solvent. A law took effect April 1 cutting many retirees’ pensions by 15 percent.
The miners congress called for a reversal of these social cuts and opposed the importation of coal and electricity, especially from Russia, which occupied Crimea last March and is sending troops and heavy arms to back separatists who have seized sections of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. The delegates called for funding to keep production going at state-owned mines, payment of months of back wages owed to miners and safer working conditions. They demanded the dismissal of Volodymyr Demchyshyn, the minister of energy and coal, who said April 21 that 11 more state mines may be closed.
“I wish [government officials] would get into the mine and see the conditions we work in,” Myroslav Sanin, a young miner from the Chervonohrad mine in the Lviv region, told the Kiev Post at the April 22 protest. “We don’t have normal equipment to work with, and our salaries are low and they cut our subsidies.”
Volynets said that miners will launch nationwide strikes if their demands continue to be ignored.
Government tries to discredit minersMustafa Nayem, a well-known former journalist, now a member of parliament closely allied with President Petro Poroshenko, posted a memo on his blog April 24 he said was leaked from the DTEK coal and energy conglomerate owned by Akhmetov. The unsigned document, which DTEK officials deny, supposedly outlines plans to instigate miners’ protests.
Both Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk attacked the miners’ protests. Poroshenko said “certain oligarchs” were behind them and claimed demonstrators had been paid to participate.
“The Independent Trade Union of Coal Miners of Ukraine is an organization that defends interests of miners and Ukrainian working people and works to improve and develop the energy potential of the country,” Volynets responded. “We have never cooperated and will never collaborate in favor of oligarchs, business or political powers.”
Poroshenko says he is waging a campaign to rein in oligarchs and bring transparency to business and politics. Oligarch is the term widely used to refer to a layer of billionaires, many formerly part of the Stalinist ruling bureaucracy, who built capitalist empires by plundering privatized state enterprises during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The sustained mass popular protests that toppled President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 targeted not only his subservience to Moscow, but also the corruption and cronyism of this wealthy layer he, as well as Poroshenko and Akhmetov, was a part of.
Poroshenko dismissed Igor Kolomoisky as governor of Dnepropetrovsk March 25. Kolomoisky is the billionaire co-owner of Ukraine’s largest private bank and has long controlled the oil company Ukrnafta through a 42 percent stake. When the government moved to assert control over Ukrnafta, masked gunmen thought to be working for Kolomoisky surrounded the company’s headquarters March 22.
Poroshenko’s business empire is booming. His personal income reportedly increased sevenfold last year.
Oil strike for safety continues against four holdout refineries
LA port truckers strike, demand union recognition
On the Picket Line
Why winning higher pay doesn’t cause prices to rise
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