Chris Nineham explains why a resolution before Congress this year risks committing the labour movement to a policy of escalating the war in Europe

The trade union movement in Britain has an excellent recent record of opposing Britain’s involvement in foreign wars. Ever since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, through the dreadful attack on Iraq and the bombing of Syria and Libya, unions have played an important role not just in opposing successive British governments’ warmongering but in mobilising against it.

Last year a GMB resolution calling for increased arms spending narrowly passed at the TUC after an intense debate, undermining that record. It called on Congress to back an increase in arms spending to 3 per cent of GDP at a time when wages were in free fall and welfare was being slashed. It actually put the TUC to the right of the Tory government which even now only dares to push for 2.5 per cent arms spending.

This year a composite resolution on Ukraine threatens to overturn the trade unions’ anti-war record. The resolution follows logically from last year’s call for increased arms spending by effectively asking the movement to back Tory war policy against Russia.

If Congress adopts this motion which composites a resolution from the GMB with one from Aslef with an amendment from the NUM, its position will be used to bolster the Tories’ approach.

The resolution correctly notes “the horrendous human and environmental cost of the Ukraine conflict. Millions of people have been forced to abandon their homes and flee, while many others have lost their lives.” It even recognises that “those who suffer most in times of war are the working class.” The problem is the force of the resolution is to back continuing support for the war.

Under pressure from the anti-war movement, the clause in the original GMB motion openly backing Britain’s massive armament of the Ukrainians has been left out of the composite. But the new resolution still calls for continuing “moral and material aid” to Ukraine which means continuing to back the British government as it prolongs the war by supplying more and more weapons to the Ukrainian government.

Like the anti-war movement, the resolution repeatedly condemns Russia’s illegal invasion. Not once however does it condemn the West’s massive intervention in Ukraine, the expansion of Nato, the efforts by British governments and others to scupper peace talks and the fact that Nato intervention has turned the conflict into a dangerous proxy war between the Western powers and Russia.

While admitting the war is a disaster, the resolution fails to call for peace negotiations. In fact it does the very opposite, it seeks to commit the labour movement to demanding “the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from all Ukrainian territories occupied since 2014.”

This is the most dangerous part of the resolution. It would commit the TUC to a position taken by the most hawkish of the war’s backers. Pursuing it would mean Ukraine and its Western backers attempting to take back not just the areas of the Donbass and Donetsk, but the whole of the Crimea as well.

At the moment the war is bogged down in a bloody stalemate. It is a war of attrition in which the fighting is reminiscent of the terrible trench warfare of the first world war. Neither Ukraine nor Russia are able to force a military breakthrough.

The idea of total victory on either side is a dangerous delusion. Attempting to take Crimea back from Russia in particular would involve a massive new offensive that would increase the risk of open war between Russia and the West and the threat of nuclear confrontation.

It would be a terrible mistake for the labour movement to commit to such a hard-line position.

Instead of calling for escalation, the labour movement needs now to join the international calls for peace negotiations, ideally preceded by a ceasefire. Countries across the global South have long been pushing for peace in Ukraine. In a number of European countries there is majority support for peace. Even President Zelensky has admitted that the war is likely to end in negotiations.

The position of the anti-war movement is that the peace process should start immediately to avoid further death and destruction in Ukraine. The British government has opposed such a policy, and worked all out to obstruct it, from the outset.

We are urging trade unionists to take a stand for peace, and against Tory warmongering, by voting against this resolution.

Source: Morning Star

12 Sep 2023 by Chris Nineham

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