Labor Political Cooperation in Ukraine

Bohdan Ferens and Ivanna Khrapko are building a labor movement in the midst of war. Bohdan Ferens doesn't respond to the question until we are about to part ways:

"No, it's unlikely that I will be Ukraine's next president. However, I can lay the groundwork so that the next generation of social democrats, those we are currently educating, can one day take leadership in the country".
Peter Gustavsson
Modest Background and Active Engagement in Social Issues

The chairman of the Social Democratic Platform (SDP) is the son of a truck driver and a cleaner from Khmelnytskyi, a city of a quarter million inhabitants in western Ukraine. After completing his university studies, he began working for a parliamentarian from the Socialist Party.

"It was an exciting time, not least because I had the opportunity to meet social democrats and union members from other countries. Among other things, I was in Karlstad and did an internship at IF Metall. But even though the parliamentarian I worked for strongly identified with European social democracy, his party harbored strong internal conflicts", Bohdan Ferens explains.

The Socialist Party was one of several new parties that emerged after the Communist Party was banned in 1991. During the Orange Revolution in 2004, the party was part of the democracy movement, but later it collapsed in the wake of dirty parliamentary games.

In 2012, Bohdan was one of three individuals, all under the age of 30, who formed a new movement.

"Not a party", he is quick to emphasize.
Discontent Towards Power-Hungry Politicians and Corrupt Oligarchs

In Ukraine, parties are often associated with power-hungry individuals and corrupt oligarchs. SDP aimed to be something different.

Back then, there were no shortcuts, and one had to start with patient organizational work. Therefore, the focus of the activity was on establishing local associations, conducting training sessions, and allowing young people to learn about social democratic perspectives and politics.

The organization now has over 2,000 members across the country. Two-thirds of the membership are women. In February 2024, the organization gathered 45 young leaders, selected from a pool of 500 applicants, for training to take the next step in building a stronger organization.

Within the framework of SDP, there are also two organizations working towards specific target groups –Progressive Teachers and Women's Lobby.

"We try to be an umbrella for progressive perspectives. For example, Ukraine lacks a green party", explains Bohdan Ferens.

After the invasion, some members were forced to flee abroad, and now efforts are underway to organize Ukrainians abroad. Today, the branches in Berlin, Brussels, and Warsaw are some of the organization's most vibrant.
New Approaches – Utilizing Trade Union Networks to Coordinate Humanitarian Aid

When I meet Ivanna Khrapko, she tells me about how she got involved in SDP early on when a local branch started in her hometown of Chernivtsi, right on the Romanian border. Over time, her work in the state employees' union took up more and more time, including through the union's collaborative projects with the Swedish union ST.

In February 2022, Ivanna was elected chair of the youth committee in the country's largest trade union federation, FPU. Two weeks later, the full-scale invasion began.

As Russian troops advanced towards Kyiv, Ivanna went back to Chernivtsi. But when the advance was halted, she returned to the capital to establish Trade Union Lifeline. The work involves utilizing trade union networks to coordinate humanitarian aid.

It can involve support for union members who have been forced to flee their homes or whose homes have been destroyed by a missile attack. Or providing generators and power banks when the power system is down. Local trade union organizations describe the needs, and we communicate them to the international trade union movement and other progressive organizations. Railway workers play a crucial role in ensuring that the aid reaches its destination.
Labor Representation in War – a Challenge

Ivanna feels frustrated about the situation of many union members who have been called up to the army and have needs that a trade union cannot meet.

I can't exactly buy a tank. Our statutes prohibit us from buying military equipment, no matter how difficult it is at the front line. Here, the European states simply need to step up and ensure that we can continue to build on our democracy, says Ivanna.

Lately, Ivanna has reconnected with SDP. In early 2024, they conducted joint webinars with young union leaders on how to protect union rights and forms of trade union-political cooperation.

We have talked about why unions need social democracy and why social democracy needs unions. I dream of a functioning labor party in Ukraine, she says.

While discussing what can be learned from other European countries, the Soviet past still haunts many Ukrainians' perception of what a trade union is.

It's not about presents and candy, but about your rights in the workplace. "We work a lot to change the attitudes of young workers", says Ivanna.
In Hostomel, north of Kyiv, the blown-out ruins from the Russian attack on the capital in February-March 2022 remain right next to new and rebuilt houses.
The Political Landscape Altered in the Shadow of War

Ukraine's political landscape has changed significantly in the aftermath of the war. Several parties that claimed to be left-wing have been banned due to ties to Moscow.

Bohdan Ferens ponders where their voices will go. But also, how to formulate messages about social justice in a society traumatized by war, where the institution with the strongest support is the military.

When the war and the state of emergency are over, it will be a whole new ball game. A crucial question will be how social democratic ideas can compete with right-wing militaristic sentiments, says Bohdan.

Interest in SDP is growing, both within and outside the country. Our conversation is Bohdan Ferens' fifth interview of the day. But at the same time, he feels concerned that there is still more to be done.

"It's not enough to organize a seminar here and there. If we talk about creating a truly independent social democratic party in Ukraine, we need other resources, like a small team of full-time employees, a party headquarters, and regional offices"

Bohdan talks about a meeting he recently had with a Portuguese socialist. The Portuguese talked about the support they received from other countries during the military junta's time and what it meant for the final victory of democracy.

"We have fought for recognition for many years, for the European social democratic family to see Ukraine as important. Then everything changed with the war. But the question remains whether our partners are helping us enough to give Ukrainians a chance for a fair rebuild".
It will take a lot for Volodymyr Zelensky's successor as president to be a social democrat. But Bohdan Ferens, Ivanna Khrapko, and others are fighting for an equal and democratic future. In the midst of a war that's about just that. That the Ukrainian people have the right to determine their own future.
This material was published by the Olof Palme International Center, which is the Swedish labor movement's main organization for international solidarity and advocacy.
Article in Swedish by link.
Did you like this article?

© SD Platform 2012 – 2024

The site was developed by activists