Ukrainian Guest Workers Organize Trade Union in Poland

Dear Readers:

With the Ukrainian economy tanking rapidly — wages down, taxes up, the cost of living and communal services going up — life is getting very difficult for the average Ukrainian working man or woman.  Twenty-five years of bad government and oligarchic looting, have taken their toll.  For many Ukrainian working people, the only real solution, the only possibility of getting a job or having a decent life — is to emigrate to a country that enjoys better management.

The mass exodus out of Ukraine has been going on for several years, especially since the Maidan coup of 2014, which brought the fascist junta to power.  Well over a million Ukrainians have fled East — into Russia.  Mostly economic refugees, entire families seeking to find work and a better life.

But there is another flow as well, with almost the same volume, this one Westwards, into Europe.  In fact, one of the main reasons why the Maidan coup had any support at all, beyond the right-wing fringe of nationalist political parties — was because thousands of ordinary Ukrainians were pinning their hopes on the possibility of emigrating to Europe.  They needed to bail out of this failed state and find a better life for themselves and their families.  They were enticed — a better word would be duped — by EU promises of visa-free travel and eventual EU membership.  Promises which the West never intended to fulfill, but was enough to get many Ukrainians out there on the Square, cheering in front of the television cameras for the junta and its fascist militias.

Poland’s robust economy needs labor.

Now, with grim reality setting in, there are nonetheless quite a few Ukrainians who did make it into Europe and who were able to find at least temporary jobs as Guest Workers.  This piece in PolitNavigator, which contains a video report, is about some of these workers who made it into Poland and found jobs there.  And then undertook an initiative to form a trade union to protect their rights and livelihoods against their new employers.

From Barista To Meat-Chopper To Fisherman

Poland is a natural destination for Ukrainians seeking work:  It is right next door, just a short train-ride away, it is a European country with a fairly high standard of living; and it has a robust economy which requires labor.  Lots of labor.  The only downside is the language barrier:  Polish and Ukrainian are both Slavic languages, but sufficiently different that the one cannot understand the other without some training.  There is also (historical) bad blood between the two peoples:  In the past (broadly speaking), Ukrainian peasants were treated very badly by their Polish lords and masters.  And then, during World War II, Ukrainian nationalists under Stepan Bandera turned the tables and launched ethnic genocide, cruelly murdering hundreds of thousands of Poles.  And yet I should not really use the expression “turned the tables”, because it wasn’t that.  The Banderites did not punish the haughty Polish Lords who had treated them like cattle in the past.   If that were the case, then there might have been at least a quantum of justice in their bloody revenge.  But no…  Like fasicsts always do, the Banderites left the High and Mighty alone, they turned all their viciousness against ordinary people.  Peasants and workers just like themselves.  People who had done absolutely nothing to them.

All of that bloody history is still in play today, creating ethnic tensions between Ukrainians and Poles.  These tensions show up in the usual criminal ways:  People defacing each others plaques, hooliganism at football games, that sort of thing.

A much healthier way to deal with life’s problems is what we see in the linked piece, namely people organizing in a wholesome manner to better their own lives without intending to harm anyone else.

Olya, for example, works as a barista in a Warsaw coffee shop.  This winsome blonde explains to the interviewer how the employers try to avoid paying them a decent wage for what is usually part-time work.

Ukrainian guest workers in Germany: Helping to build stuff.

The video then goes on to show other Ukrainian workers, such as crop-pickers, meat workers, and fishermen.  Here I am forced to mention that internet commenters usually express disgust at such types of “menial” jobs, there are typical comments to this piece too, such as “Butchering pigs is the best that Ukrainians hope for?”  That sort of thing.  I don’t personally share that elitist contempt for labor.  Each and everyone of these Ukrainian workers featured here, even including the barista! — is doing something socially useful and beneficial.  Something which creates wealth for their employers and for the society as a whole, in which they live.  They are not criminals, whose “contribution” to society is less than zeroes.  They are not zeroes, who contribute nothing.  They are “positives”, whose lives tilt to the positive side of the ledger.  These are people who need to work, and who want to work.  All they ask in return is a decent wage and to be treated with a modicum of respect.

Then there is an interview with Yury Karyagin, the Head of the Trade Union of Ukrainian Laborers in Poland.  According to Karyagin, Poland is now home to approximately 1 million Ukrainians.  These Ukrainian workers need somebody to look out for them.  According to Karyagin, it isn’t just the Polish employers who seek to exploit Ukrainian labor; but also middlemen, who collect workers in groups and ship them around to various jobs, like cattle.

Next, quoting liberally from this other English-language piece which covers the same story:

According to preliminary estimates of the Polish side, in the near future the country will need another 5 million workers, so the migration to Poland will only grow. And this fact has forced to unite and create such cross-sectoral trade Union. So, thanks to the help of Polish trade unions at the beginning of last year, the Union managed to register, and in June to carry out organizational duties. Now the structure of trade unions based, but some offices are already active, particularly in Warsaw, Katowice, Wroclaw, Lodz and other cities.

Trade Union leader Yury Karyagin

«I try to cooperate with European trade Union organisations, thanks to which we receive the methodical and organizational assistance, as well as with the Ukrainian Embassy in Poland. Sometimes when people cheat, we take away your passport, this person comes to the Embassy, he has no money for photo or for food and a ticket to return home. Then we find opportunities to to decide such questions and to help that person. We also try to make all of our Ukrainians worked legally in Poland, then they will be able to conclude an agreement on labour and on the basis of this contract will have all the social rights, health insurance, and they will go experience,» Karyagin said.

As previously reported, over the past two years the number of labour migrants from Ukraine in Poland has doubled.

As above piece hints at, the Ukrainian trade unions are being assisted by their Polish counterparts.  As anyone familiar with trade unions knows, it behooves both sides of the force — Polish and Ukrainian — to work together, rather than compete.  If workers don’t show a common front to their employers, then, as history shows, the employers will utilize ethnic or racial divisions within the work force, in order to keep wages low and benefits non-existent.

And this is also the main reason why I mentioned the historical bad blood between the two ethnic groups:  It goes without saying that the employers will use every device in their disposal to pit worker against worker.  So, ordinary people need to grow a brain and be on guard against these divisive techniques.

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