workers in ukraine occupy the kherson engineering factory… and the local council

An abridged version of an article from a comrade in Kyiv

Over a month after 300 workers at an engineering plant in the Ukrainian town of Kherson launched an occupation of their factory in defence of their jobs and demanding the payment of unpaid wages, the movement took a step forward early this month with the occupation of the provincial government building. This followed large demonstrations through the town, also including other trade unionists and young activists.

On Monday 2nd March workers from the Kherson Machine Building Plant (KHMZ) occupied the ground floor of the building of the Kherson provincial state administration and provincial council. About 500 workers arrived at the building in the centre of Kherson and demanded a meeting with management and the council, in order to seek payment of wages in arrears.

Part of the picket – about 200 people – was invited into the small hall on the ground floor of building for an audience with Kherson’s governor Boris Silenkov. The governor said to KHMZ workers that the provincial administration had already done everything in its power and that it was now a matter for government: but more time would be necessary before the problem could be resolved.

However, as his ‘conversation’ with those angered by the lack of pay continued, voices were raised, and after the meeting workers refused to leave the office building. The leader of the independent trade union ‘Petrovets’, Leonid Nemchenko, commented “we took the ground floor of the administration building, and we will stay until our demands are carried out: until we are paid our wages and the factory is put back to work again.” Nemchenko voiced his belief that workers were prepared for three or four days of occupation, and by March 4th workers received the first news that the government would pay some of the money owed.

The leader of the provincial administration and an attorney were also expected to arrive in order to investigate the behaviour of KHMZ officials. When the occupation began on February 3rd the workers were owed £450,000. Protests have continued since then, with management paying off just £78,000 of that debt.

The main demands of protesting workers are:

– payment of wages in arrears, which have been held up since September 2008;
– nationalization of the plant without compensation to its owner;
– government security of distribution of the factory’s products.

Not only are the workers taking radical measures such as occupations, but their means of organising are also promising. As opposed to accepting business unionism or the bureaucratic machinery of Stalinist outfits, the workers at Kherson have elected a workers’ council with five representatives meeting in what was until recently the office of the plant’s technical director.

This use of democratic organisation and the factory occupation tactic is an excellent example of how workers can resist management’s right to manage and stand up for ourselves in these difficult economic times.