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Steelworkers show wartime solidarity

12 April, 2022Steelworkers in Germany and Belgium are sending aid convoys to Ukrainian steelworkers defending the ArcelorMittal plant in Kryviy Rih from Russian attack.

The ArcelorMittal plant in Kryviy Rih in Eastern Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest steel plants, employing 24,000 workers in an integrated process that includes iron ore mining and processing, and steel production. The plant is organized by IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the Trade Union of the Metalworkers and Miners of Ukraine.

Shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, Russian troops advanced to within 10km of Kryviy Rih. The company’s top management, many of them expats, were evacuated to Poland, leaving local managers, the union and the workers to safeguard the operation.

The mining operations were closed first, over fears that miners could be trapped underground if the electricity supply was interrupted. Then, on 3 March, the workers carefully shut down the blast furnaces – a complicated process that takes seven to ten days to do safely - dug anti-tank defences and built shelters.

Despite regular air raid sirens and bombs landing close to the site, trade union activists remained behind to coordinate relief efforts to the military, territorial defence forces, hospitals and workers, and to help with the evacuation of women and children. Close to 1,600 workers were drafted into the territorial defence force and had to urgently locate protective equipment.

The head of the union at the plant, Natalya Marynyuk, sent an impassioned plea to steelworkers in other countries, asking for political support and humanitarian assistance, saying:

“The Ukrainian people are very grateful to you for you all standing with Ukraine these terrible days. Many of you joined in demonstrations for peace, demanding an end to Putin's war against the Ukraine and our people. It is your actions that are forcing hesitating governments to take action and impose sanctions against Russia.”

She included a list of essential humanitarian supplies that were needed.

Workers at the ArcelorMittal plant in Bremen, Germany, were first to respond through their union, IG Metall, sending a convoy of medicines, warm clothes, sleeping bags, fire extinguishers and generators to the Polish border, where the goods were received by their Ukrainian counterparts.

The Bremen plant sent a second shipment in early April, and members of all the unions at the ArcelorMittal plant in Ghent, Belgium – ACV, ABVV, ACLVB, BBTK, and ACV Puls -  also organized a shipment.

By the end of March, Russian forces had been repelled to about 70 kms from the plant, and although danger persists, the union argued strongly that production should restart to maintain the economic base of the city. On 2 April, work began on restarting blast furnace no. 6. The furnace was blown on 9 April, and pig iron can now be produced and steel manufactured. The union has demanded that management return from exile to run the plant. The plant now faces the difficulty of transporting steel, as the Black Sea ports are not accessible. Workers still feel unsafe as fighting continues nearby, and those who left the city have not yet returned to work.

Union members at Kryviy Rih thank IG Metall

Marynyuk thanked the steelworkers who sent support, saying:

“International solidarity aid is incredibly important for our trade union in wartime, because it inspires and raises morale, because we feel that we are not alone in the fight for our country, for freedom and European values, and also because thanks to our amazing colleagues from foreign trade unions, we have the opportunity to provide the necessary things to our employees, who are now defending Kryvyi Rih and Ukraine.”

Support unions in Ukraine

  • IndustriALL is raising money to support trade unions in Ukraine. You can donate here.
  • Steelworkers who wish to arrange union solidarity directly with Kryviy Rih can coordinate this through the head of the local union, Natalya Marynyuk.