I attended the first ever Social Forum in Kiev, Ukraine. Called by a coalition of Ukrainian independent trade unions and left wing groups for 1 and 2 May 2008 it included speakers from trade unions, and the anti-fascist movement, and special guest Dashty Jamal, an Iraqi trade unionist and refugee rights campaigner.
The Forum started with a demonstration and march from Kriesthatyk to counter the state Stalinist-influenced May Day trade union march. 100 independent campaigners from Ukrainian anarchist and social movement organisations most notably antifa, a leading anti-fascist group. Dashty Jamal addressed the demonstators, speaking of the importance of making links between Iraqi and Ukrainian workers.
The Forum started that afternoon. The first session discussed the role of trade unions and was opened by Ivan Franko, leader of the Independent Ukrainian Trade Union. Ivan spoke of the difficulties of organising and recruiting Ukrainian workers. With taxes running high in the Ukraine, many workers are left owing the state money if they declare their earnings. Many Ukrainians are forced to work in lowly paid insecure jobs to avoid declaring their income. Ukrainian workers fear joining trade unions calling for better wages and better working conditions for fear of being replaced.
Dashty Jamal spoke of the political problems facing trade unions and socialists in Iraq. The final session of the day addressed gender and womens rights in the Ukraine.
The second day of the conference was opened by an Antifa activist. The speaker spoke about being targeted by far right organisations. Six Antifa activists had been killed over the last year. Dashty Jamal spoke about the racism experienced by Iraqi refugees from individuals and European countries such as the UK, Germany and Sweden. These countries had persecuted Iraqi asylum-seekers, denying them support and not allowing them to work in an attempt to make Iraqi asylum seekers lives so difficult they have no option to return to Iraq, despite the dangers. The UK and Germany have forcibly returned Iraqi asylum seekers who have refused to return voluntarily.