Conference in Kiev: the New Trade Unions and the Democratic Left

On November 2-3 in Kiev, activists from the new post-Communist unions in Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus, and other Eastern European countries will join with civil society organizations for a very exciting and ambitious conference.  We hope to have reports on the conference. Below is the English language call for the conference. The questions the conference should be of interest to unionists everywhere.– Talking Union


The conference symbol is an adaptation of the three arrows of the Austrian socialists of the 1930s.

The new Eastern European trade union movement has come a long way in the past three decades. From the very beginning it was based on democratic values which formed the foundation of its organizational structures and political program. The focus on social demands remained our priority throughout the 1990s and the early 21st century. At the same time, we were conscious of the fact that social justice in the workplace cannot be achieved without rebuilding society. But what should society look like? What are the social ideals that we share, what are the traditions that we look for as our guiding lights?

Evidently, the basic values of the society in which we want to live are democracy, freedom, equality, solidarity, fairness, and justice. The traditions of the struggle for democratic and socialist values are inextricably linked with the history of the labour and trade union movement. But what do those mean today, in the context of the 21st century, in the rapidly changing economic and political situation? The global crisis of the neoliberal economic model, and the crisis of the conventional party, trade union and parliamentary institutions set before the movement of organized labour the task of working out a new political and social platform of its own. We must recall and rethink the experience of the labour and left movement that has been fighting against capitalism and dictatorships (no matter what fine slogans the latter would use to camouflage themselves) for democratic and labour rights, in order for us to understand and formulate our political and historical mission at this stage.

In their fight for workers’ rights and interests that are inseparable from civil liberties and political freedoms, democratic trade unions have many common points with the other forces of emerging civil society – the movement for human rights and those political groups that are geared towards the broad public self-governance and progressive social transformations.

The new trade unions and the democratic left are equally interested in drawing upon the experience accumulated by their historical predecessors: plants need their roots in order to grow. Equally important for the trade unions and the political labour movement is the understanding of the global nature of the problems they face: resolving them without international cooperation would be inconceivable. This cooperation is particularly relevant in the light of the nationalistic, chauvinistic and neo-Nazi attitudes that we see growing stronger in the post-Soviet area, in the Central and Eastern Europe.

We deem it necessary to continue the discussion on the history of the labour, trade union and democratic left movements, their current situation, and their prospects for development.

The Conference is expected to discuss the following main topics:

The Shared Values of the Workers’ and Democratic Left Movement. What do the principles of freedom, justice, solidarity mean in concrete terms? Is democracy the core value and soul of socialism: discussions of the past and the present.

The Workers’ Movement as a Democratic Force. The history of the labour movement and the left parties before, during, and after the revolution of 1917. The labour movement and the left opposition in the 1920s and 1930s and in the late Soviet period. The contribution of trade unions and the democratic left into the fight against authoritarian regimes in the past and today. The need to oppose (neo-)Stalinism, chauvinism, and religious fundamentalism. 

The fight for Social and National Lliberation. The participation of trade unions and left parties in the national liberation movements of the 20th century. The great-power chauvinism and bourgeois nationalism as factors impeding social development and the liberation of workers.

Social and Labour rights as Fundamental Human Rights. The labour movement and the human rights movement: experiences of, mechanisms of, and prospects for interaction. Cooperation between trade unions and the democratic left on one side and social initiatives on the other. 

Concepts of Social and Economic Democracy: Historical Evolution and Contemporary Contributions. The challenge of globalization and the crisis of the welfare state. The possible alternatives to neoliberalism and State capitalism. What should a programme of radical social and economic transformations in the interests of workers be all about? 

The New Trade Unions and the Political Struggle. The forms of democratic trade unions’ participation in the political life. Do they need a political party of their own? Is it possible to pursue independent class-based labour policy in the post-Soviet area and the CEE [Central and Eastern European] countries? 

The Identity and the Ideological and Political Traditions of Democratic Socialism in Russia and the CEE Countries. The history and the prospects for the revival and dissemination of the ideas and practices of democratic socialism in the Central and Eastern Europe. What lessons can we learn from our historical predecessors?

Trade Unions and Workers’ Self-Governance. The historical and modern experience of the struggle for workers’ self-governance. Is workers’ self-governance possible under capitalism?

Trade Unions and Workers’ Rights to Education and Cultural development. Ways to fight the commercialization of the social sphere. The democratic left alternative to market fundamentalism and the bureaucratic dictatorship in the area of culture, science, and education. 

The Conference Organising Committee: the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU), the Russian Confederation of Labour (KTR), the Belorussian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP), the Z(KPG), the social critique magazine  Spilne [Google English translation], the Global Labour Institute/the Praxis Centre, the International Memorial and the workshop “Russian Left in History and in Modern Times”. We invite to take part in the Conference all interested activists of trade union and political organisations, researchers of the history and the contemporary situation of social movements. 

The Working Languages of the Conference are Ukrainian, Russian, English and French. 


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