by E.A.S.T. (Essential Autonomous Struggles Transnational)
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, as EAST we have tried to reimagine our political initiative in a context in which the extreme destruction of a new war has been reinforcing patriarchal violence, racist hierarchies and worsening living and working conditions for workers, migrants, women and LGBTQI persons. In this spirit, we have attended the meetings of the Permanent Assembly Against the War and on May 1st, we called everyone to strike the war and turned the usual celebrations on Workers Day into an occasion to show our connections and build together a transnational politics of peace. In view of the next meeting of the Permanent Assembly Against the War on July 3rd, and as a preparatory step toward the transnational meeting in Sofia, we publish a reflection and report of our discussion on the war in Ukraine and the struggles in social reproduction.
It is urgent to give visibility to the conditions that refugees and migrants, women, LGBTQI persons, and workers are facing within the new context the war is creating. Thus, it is of pivotal importance to assume a political stance that goes beyond the geopolitical power analysis and puts the struggles of all those performing essential labor in Central and Eastern Europe at its core. The war in Ukraine has rendered invisible these conditions in social reproduction – dismantlement of welfare that made women bear the burden of reproductive labor, at home and abroad; surrogacies as a way to make up for impoverished salaries; labor, agrarian and prosecution reforms worsening the conditions of workers. At the same time, the war in Ukraine has further exposed years of neoliberalising reforms in the EU, its racist citizenship and belonging policies, and the hypocrisy of EU humanitarianism. This racist neoliberalism, of course, is experienced daily by migrants and precarious workers in the EU countries and on its borders. As feminists we have the task to make visible these crises that have been exacerbated by the war, as the transnational feminist movement has done with the public contestation and hence visibilization of patriarchal violence.
The war is divisive, and it is precisely for that reason that as EAST we must tackle the deep contradictions emerging from this new war-like normality. We have the problem of paying attention to local differences, which especially in the former socialist countries emerge as harsh polarizations of public debate. For instance, while some countries in the region like Bulgaria and Serbia are experiencing massive mobilizations of pro-Russian fascist parties and movements that support Putin’s invasion in Ukraine, countries like Romania, Poland and the Baltics states are facing the renewed strengthening of the NATO project and expected to be “the Eastern flank” in the war against Putin. What unites these seemingly “polar opposites” is that both of them are strengthening nationalistic and (ultra) right-wing positions in the respective contexts.
Such dynamics affect social movements, unions and all those who are searching for ways to struggle against the war and its effects. Our task is to understand the source of these local differences and build a different discourse that can go beyond them. Starting from our struggles in social reproduction – while women, LGBTQI persons, workers and migrants are struggling also in these new circumstances but under harder conditions – we must translate our transnational political initiative in local contexts. Capitalism advances through war and this advancement looks differently at the global scale, at the scale of different nation-states around the world, at the scale of our daily lives. With EAST, we seek to develop a position which operates at every level; a position that can stand against the war in Ukraine and the many wars around the world, with repercussions being more or less felt in Europe.
In order to navigate together this complexity, this web that links together war and militarisation, economic crises and economic policies, workers’ struggles and social reproduction, we highlight several important points:
– Critique of militarization and false dichotomies. We need to overturn the public campism that forces us to side either with Putin’s regime or with the neoliberal democracies of the so-called “West”. Military expenses, both in Ukraine and in other EU countries, are paid through the increased labor burden on women, who are in charge of making ends meet in desperate situations. The increased military build-up is one more reason to make women stick to their subordinate roles in social reproduction. We are struggling for the freedom of women and LGBTQI persons in all countries, for not being forced to work for poor wages as domestic workers, cleaners, waitresses, in the factories and warehouses, or to engage in military action and not be allowed to leave Ukraine because of being identified in their passports as “men”. National self-determination is not our goal if it strives towards inclusion in a neoliberal society where rewards and the price paid are so unequally distributed between genders, sexes, ethnicities and classes.
– Integration of Ukraine in the European neoliberal project. In the public debate it is said that Ukrainians are fighting a “European war”. But the process of integration or association with the EU means valorization of the Eastern peripheries as reservoir of cheap labor force, curtailment of labor rights, attack to collective bargaining and precarization of labor and life, the hierarchization of the European space according to “degrees of whiteness” and imposition of racist hierarchies among migrants and refugees according to their skin color and to the nationalistic interests of the receiving countries (e.g. pushbacks on the Polish-Belarusian border; in the Balkans; in the Mediterranean; deals between EU and Turkey). Our problem is how to not be strangled in a battle between the brutal authoritarianism of Putin on the one hand and the European neoliberal project on the other. We draw attention to the continuous “war against the poor” which severely cuts down the lives of precarious and informal workers. As in many other places of the world and in previous epochs, war is used as an opportunity for neoliberal reform in Ukraine. Labor reform, agrarian and prosecution law dovetail the plan to “build back better types of neoliberal reforms”. For example, the Center for Economic Policy Research presents the reconstruction of Ukraine as “a unique opportunity to rebuild the country in a modern, secure, and Eurocentric manner”, to de-Sovietize public policy and public space (not unlike the Shock Therapy reforms of the ‘90s) while it draws inspiration from the “reconstruction” after other military ventures like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The post-war reconstruction will be a battlefield among different social movements, sources and types of investment capital, paths for public policy. Not only is the EU involved, but also IMF funds will be allocated, conditioned by neoliberal terms. The global capital is already involved: real estate investment funds declare on their platforms that they want to support the reconstruction, while at the same time buying very cheap land in Ukraine in order to build future profitable developments in the country.
– Conditions of migrants in Europe and beyond are being reconfigured by the war. In Russia out of 1 million refugees from the 2014 war only a few (0.2%) received their displacement legal status; the others had to deal with different status legislations. Many people displaced by the war in Eastern Ukraine are deported by force to Russia, including allegations of forcible transfer of Ukrainian children as part of ostensible humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Groups in the EAST network already know about such difficulties from previous or ongoing wars, such as the war in Syria: for instance in Turkey, 95,000 refugees are on 90-day visas, not granted refugee status. The identification of Eastern European women with sexual preys has been revived by the refugee wave and increased violence against them. In Italy, the war is impoverishing the remittances and wages of migrants – most of whom are essential workers and especially women – who have been in the country for many years and are now supporting their fleeing friends and relatives. Institutional racism is already hitting Ukrainian refugees under the blackmail of the residence permit that ties their life to work contracts. Refugees are pitted against each other by the EU neoliberal regime, forced to compete for work in inadequate conditions, for precarious wages, and for the possibility of receiving permits. In Italy there are enormous difficulties in getting visas if you are not a EU citizen, due to long waiting lists; the free appointments for the visa offices are now reserved for the Ukrainian refugees and, if you are not Ukrainian, all you can get are very expensive appointments. In connection to this, racism and new hierarchies among precarious groups are enhanced e.g. toward Roma people. In Bulgaria, refugees have been hosted in hotels, while owners received public funds for this. But as this public aid was planned until the 31st of May, the situation is now chaotic: people are being relocated to winter tourist resorts that, unlike the hotels on the seaside, are far away from healthcare and childcare facilities and the options to find a job are very limited; others are directly put in the same refugee camps where Syrian, Afghanistan and Northern African refugees have been struggling under extremely bad conditions for years; some are left to the unknown to survive on their own without any housing options. This is why right now more Ukrainian people are leaving Bulgaria and going back to Ukraine than are arriving in the country to seek refuge. As in other countries, like the Czech Republic, there is no concrete plan for refugee aid, and some refugees are already going back to Ukraine in lack of other options. But not all of them will leave and there will be a strong need to engage in long-term political action with migrants, for the freedom of all people on the move.
– Wages, energy prices, environmental crisis. High inflation is strengthening the command on labor, and millions of people around the world, especially in the Global South, are risking starvation because of speculation on food and energy prices. In Russia, the war meant cuts on everything: education, health care etc. even before the invasion. There are harsh economic consequences for the people in Eastern Europe and the Balkan countries, caught in-between conflicting powers (Russia, NATO, EU) and, upon these, caught by the demands of capital to continue extracting profits through and throughout the war. In practical terms, it means a scarcity of gasoline, unaffordable prices for basic products and further limitations on mobility – where the pandemic has already made migrants’ movements harder. Ukraine is important to Russia in part as a transit route for Russian gas exports. At the same time, the West’s ability to respond to Putin has been limited by Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels. Instead of moving away from extraction, the fuel mining industry is using the war in Ukraine to call for more extraction and often using more environmentally dangerous methods (such as hydraulic fracturing for shale gas or experimental nuclear power plants). Ending dependence on fossil fuels would mean circumventing Russian aggression in Ukraine, as well as other resource-rich states such as Saudi Arabia that uses violence with no international consequences due to its strong economic position as an oil exporter, and settler colonial states like Canada and the US that engage in resource extraction by way of displacing and dispossessing Indigenous peoples. Ultimately, the negative effects of resource extraction and climate change are borne by poor and dispossessed communities, shouldered by women globally. Accelerating the green transition, stopping dependence on fossil fuels, and tackling climate change at large is a working-class issue, therefore it must be accompanied by substantive policies to alleviate its socio-economic cost.
These difficult conditions pose the challenge of how to create a political communication among all those who are experiencing the immediate consequences of the war, in Ukraine where the war does not only mean mass killings and rapes but it is also instrumentalized by the government to pass a labor reform in silence; on the borders and in receiving countries where new hierarchies among migrants are imposed; in the EU labor market, where workers are pushed to build military equipment which will be used to kill other people, bringing high profits to the “defence industry”; in the workplaces and in the everyday life where higher prices mean poorer wages, lower remittances, and where long-time migrants are bearing the burden of welcoming family and friends from war-torn zones.