UKRAINIAN TRADE UNIONS DISPLAY WEAKNESS BEFORE ELECTIONS.
Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 35
According to Ukraine’s Trade Union Federation (FTUU), more than two million workers and other employees were to participate in the country-wide protest action scheduled for yesterday. In advance of the action day, FTUU leaders handed over to President Leonid Kuchma and Prime Minister Valery Pustovoytenko a list of sweeping economic demands that went far beyond the usual issue of overdue wages. The demands, in effect, envisaged the restoration of the full range of Soviet-era social benefits, plus — as a sui generis adaptation to the post-Soviet times — tax cuts and state protection for internal producers. At the same time, the FTUU stressed the "purely socio-economic" nature of the demands, warning its followers against Communist attempts to exploit and politicize the protests.
Countrywide attendance in yesterday’s protests amounted to a minute fraction of the anticipated number. What had been billed as mass rallies either turned out to be in most places the size of pickets, or failed to take place. The exceptions were Kyiv, where FTUU made an all-out effort, and Donetsk, where the strong local Communist organization swamped the bona-fide trade-unionists.
The action day also seemed to expose the declining Communist influence. The Communist Party Central Committee had, in advance, instructed the rank and file to "organize mass participation" in the FTUU’s rallies and to lend them a political character by urging voters to reject pro-government parties and vote Communist in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Yet the Communist party’s appeal made almost no difference except in Donetsk. (UNIAN, DINAU, February 16 through 18)
FTUU, the heir to the Soviet-era trade unions, nominally controls most of organized labor in Ukraine. Its leadership is traditionally tame, cooperates fairly smoothly with the government, supports Ukrainian independence and acts as a breakwater toward leftist forces among the working class. The Federation leadership’s sudden radicalization is attributable to the approaching parliamentary elections. FTUU, led by Oleksandr Stoyan, runs a slate of candidates in tandem with the All-Ukrainian Workers’ Party headed by Leonid Vernihora. The old-line chairmen of the metallurgical, mining, sea transport and other trade unions hold top places on the slate. The FTUU/AUWP slate seems set to do poorly in the election, but will inevitably draw some votes away from parties of social-democratic type — the Social Democrats and the United Social Democrats (profiled in The Monitor, January 8, 1998 and December 5, 1997, respectively).
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