ITUC: Kick Putin’s union out

Mikhail Shmakov.
Mikhail Shmakov, Putin's favourite 'union leader'.

According to its website, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR) is “a national trade union centre independent of the state, political and business structures.”

Founded in 1990, it is the successor to the state-controlled labour fronts of the Soviet era, and it claims to be the largest national trade union centre in the country.

It boasts of having some twenty million members — “which is about 95 percent of all organised workers in Russia,” they say.

They are one of two national trade union centres in Russia which are affiliated to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

But it is now time to throw the FNPR out.

Because it has become abundantly clear that the FNPR is not “independent of the state,” but is a mouthpiece for the Putin regime.

As the war in Ukraine intensified and unions around the world joined with pretty much everyone else in condemning Russia’s brazen aggression, the FNPR rushed to issue a statement of their own.

It began by declaring that the FNPR “supports the decision of Russian President Vladimir Putin to carry out an operation to denazify Ukraine”. They refer to the elected leaders of Ukraine as “gangs of Bandera [followers], nationalists and accomplices of the Nazis”. They express sympathy with refugees — not all refugees, but those who “were forced to evacuate to Russian territory” and declare that those refugees (mostly from the Donetsk region) will be helped by Russian unions. The statement ends with the ringing declaration that “Hitlers and Zelenskys come and go, but international worker solidarity remains. Peace to the nations! War on the Nazis!”

Take a moment to consider that statement in its entirety. At best, we can say that the FNPR leaders who drafted it are either delusional or wrote this with a loaded gun pointed at their heads. At best. At worst — well, I’d rather not think about that.

As Frank Hoffer, a German trade unionist and former ILO staffer wrote recently for the Global Labour Column, the FNPR’s continued “membership in the ITUC is incompatible with the ITUC’s values and constitution that clearly states: ‘The confederation proclaims the right of all peoples to self-determination and to live free from aggression and totalitarianism under a government of their own choosing.'”

Hoffer also points out that while Russian individuals, companies, sports teams and others have been quickly expelled from international organisations, the ITUC has so far done nothing about the FNPR’s membership.

The FNPR’s president — who has served at his post for some 30 years now — is Mikhail Shmakov. Shmakov is a Vice President of the ITUC. He and Natalia Klimova, also representing FNPR, sit on the ITUC General Council. Shmakov also has a seat on the ITUC’s 22-member Executive Bureau.

Our trade union leaders sit with him on those bodies — leaders of Britain’s Trades Union Congress, the AFL-CIO in the USA, Germany’s DGB and the Canadian Labour Congress, among others.

As Hoffer writes, “Continuing business as usual and keeping the FNPR in its ranks will destroy any moral authority of the ITUC.”

He’s absolutely right. It is time for the ITUC to do the right thing.

This article appears in this week’s issue of Solidarity.