At the one-year anniversary of the onset of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the world’s transport unions are urging Russia and Ukraine back to the negotiating table to broker a lasting peace.
“Peace is urgently needed by Ukraine’s 400,000 transport workers. After a year of death, disruption, and despondence – Ukraine’s transport workers deserve peace,” said Paddy Crumlin, President of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).
“The ITF and ETF have stood steadfast in solidarity with the working people who have been drawn into this conflict. This is not their war.”
European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) President Frank Moreels said: “Even in times of war, our Ukrainian transport workers kept their country on the move, saving millions of their compatriots’ lives by transporting them away from battle zones or by supplying essential goods. Hundreds of these workers lost their lives or lost their children to this war. Ukraine’s transport workers have sacrificed everything. We pay tribute to them.”
Tens of thousands of transport workers have volunteered for or been conscripted into the armed forces of both Ukraine and Russia. Local unions report 9,000 railway workers have enlisted in the Ukrainian military in last year, while a further 8,400 seafarers have counted amongst the country’s ranks at some time in the last year.
353 railway workers have been killed in the fighting or its crossfire so far, say Ukraine’s railway unions. 819 rail workers have been injured, 11 taken prisoner by Russian forces and a further 32 remain ‘missing’. Heartbreakingly, 200 children of railway workers are left without parents.
“We mourn the loss of all transport workers taken by this horrific war and we pay our respects to their families, their communities and their unions,” said ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton.
“Peace must be restored so transport workers and the people of Ukraine can rebuild their lives and plan for the future. As long as war rages on, the toll taken on workers will only rise.”
Livia Spera, ETF General Secretary added: “One year ago, when the war began, the world was shocked. This conflict has changed the lives of Ukrainians forever. But its impact goes much further, affecting all working people throughout Europe, and transport workers especially.”
“This war benefits no one, and the EU should further explore all avenues available to them to stop the war in Ukraine,” she said.
Transport workers keep Ukraine moving
“Even in the eye of the storm, amid this invasion with a big target on their back, transport workers have kept Ukraine moving,” said ITF’s Paddy Crumlin.
In the last year railway workers have evacuated four million Ukrainians by rail, including getting over a million children to safety. Ukraine’s dockers have shipped vital grain supplies to feed the world and support Ukraine’s economy. Ukrainian seafarers, critical to the operation of global supply chains, have sent home much-needed funds to families and communities disrupted by war.
Ukraine’s ports, railway lines, and road supply routes: effectively the workplaces of transport workers, have been a consistent target of military forces.
“Transport workers have been under particular threat during this conflict,” said Crumlin. “With confirmed and unconfirmed reports of civilian transport infrastructure being targeted by military intending to shut down or seizing control of these assets,” he said.
Some docks have reopened, primarily in the south, and almost exclusively to handle grain. They do so under the protection of the United Nations’ Black Sea Grain Initiative. Russia’s shaky adherence to the trilateral agreement with Ukraine and neighbor Türkiye leaves dockers and crew aboard visiting ships mindful that their workplace could be a warzone at any moment.
Unions renewed calls for everything possible to be done to end the war in Ukraine.
“The world is in chaos, but it’s not because of transport workers. We have kept our end of the social contract – it’s now for national leaders need to do their job and secure lasting peace,” said ITF’s Cotton.
Cotton said: “All parties, including Russia and Ukraine, as well as across Europe and the NATO States, must do all in their power to de-escalate tensions and seek a peaceful, diplomatic end to this crisis. The UN must play its part to brokering talks. There can be no peace without dialogue.”
‘Historic outpouring of solidarity’
“Workers around the world remain defiant in opposition to Russia’s invasion. They have repeatedly demonstrated their solidarity with the people of the Ukraine and contempt for Putin’s aggression,” said Crumlin.
“The outbreak of war in Europe has seen transport workers engaged in one of the greatest outpourings of solidarity in trade union history. Across the globe, millions of transport workers have come together to demand peace, to send support, to send supplies, to condemn violence, to renew friendships with our Ukrainian sisters and brothers.”
Affiliated unions in Ukraine are the Marine Transport Workers’ Trade Union of Ukraine (MTWTU), the Trade Union of Railwaymen and Transport Construction Workers of Ukraine (TURWTCU), and the Free Trade Union of Locomotive Engineers of Ukraine.
ITF and ETF transport unions came together to establish a solidarity fund to coordinate relief efforts from their affiliates and provide transport workers from across the globe with a practical way they could help.
In the following 12 months, donations to the solidarity fund exceeded half a million US dollars (GBP £493,550, US$592,129). ITF and ETF then worked alongside Ukrainian unions, coordinating the purchase and distribution of thousands of food parcels, hygiene products, first aid and burns kits, amongst transport workers’ families.
As winter approached in 2022, unions focused on supplying Ukrainians in need with diesel generators, stoves, waterproof socks, and heaters. Included in their shipments, unions have sent children’s books and toys for workers’ families. However, there remains concern as Ukraine’s rail unions warn thousands of displaced children are still yet to be homed.
ETF’s Livia Spera recalls the mood amongst unions at the time: “In times of need, there is no time for hesitation! We gathered fast and helped our Ukrainian transport workers and their families. A strong wave of solidarity spread rapidly across Europe, which enabled us to organize substantial humanitarian aid for Ukraine.”
“We will continue to offer further support; we will double our efforts to raise more funds, focusing on long-term support, as requested by our Ukrainian comrades. We have not forgotten them, nor will we,” she said.
Workers’ rights must not become collateral damage
“There can be no social justice for workers in Ukraine without peace,” said ETF’s Moreels.
“Let us be clear: the sacrifice of Ukraine’s transport workers should not be repaid by their government destroying their rights. We are putting Ukraine’s decision-makers on notice that the international union movement is alive to the so-called ‘reforms’ and privatization schemes being pursued under the political cover provided by this war, and we won’t accept it,”
“Ukrainian workers’ rights must not become collateral damage in this war. Ukrainian transport workers deserve better. They deserve peace and justice. They deserve bread, and roses, too,’ he said.
Photo credit: MTWTU, ITF. Ukrainian and Filipino crew aboard the ship ‘Regina Oldendorff’ showing their support for peace.