The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Martial Law Against Workers

Jul 18, 2022

This article is translated from the July 8 issue #2814 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

The Ukrainian government has imposed martial law ever since the start of the Russian invasion. Men between the ages of 18 and 60 who can be mobilized are banned from leaving the country. But the martial law also makes it easier to take away workers’ rights.

Behind President Volodymyr Zelensky, represented as the hero of the Ukrainian resistance, have always stood rich Ukrainian oligarchs. For example, Oleg Kolomoisky, owner of the television channel that got Zelensky elected. And Rinat Akhmetov, the richest man in the country. He controls Ukraine’s main steel and energy companies. These oligarchs owe their fortunes to corruption and to their past and present connections in the Ukrainian and Russian government apparatuses. They employ hundreds of thousands of workers.

For oligarchs, it was not enough to loot the country’s resources, plunge the Ukrainian population into poverty, and push them to migrate. For years, they have demanded that the government reform the laws to remove measures protecting workers, in the Soviet-era Labor Code which dates from 1971.

An example is draft law number 5371, which is said to be “aimed at simplifying the regulation of labor relations in small and medium-sized enterprises and reducing administrative burdens.” It is intended to allow employers in enterprises with fewer than 250 employees to replace nationwide collectively bargained contracts with individual hiring arrangements, where the employee accepts anything and everything under the pretext of “mutual consent by both parties.” As if bosses and workers were equal! This affects 70% of Ukrainian workers.

This bill—mostly drafted by the former pro-American president of the republic of Georgia, Saakashvili—provoked reactions from workers and was abandoned in 2021. But now two factors let legislators put this law back on the table, in the name of national unity. First, the declaration of martial law prohibits strikes and demonstrations. Second, the war has cost more than five million jobs, destroyed factories, and closed down the borders. A majority of legislators voted for it at the first reading.

Not only is this law intended to survive the war. But also, the de facto dictatorship that reigns in Ukraine, along with martial law, lets the bosses impose what they want for the duration of the war, with government support. So, the work week may increase from 40 to 60 hours. A company may dismiss any employee with only 10 days’ notice and may suspend all employment arrangements and stop paying wages. In this way, millions of employees are no longer paid.

Yes, people glorify “Ukrainian resistance.” But the Russian invasion did not put an end to the class struggle in Ukraine. On the contrary, it intensified the class struggle by temporarily weakening the ways workers can defend and organize themselves.