Nothing about Ukraine without democracy

Let’s Stand with Peace, and Shame on Peace Deniers

Click here to read the speech on the plenary “Civil Society Movement and Peace Voices against the War from Russia and Ukraine” by Dr. Yurii Sheliazhenko at the International Summit for Peace in Ukraine.

As the war in Ukraine escalated, the debate around the anti-war Motion 5 at Congress was all about how the war and suffering could be stopped. After a lengthy and considered debate, Congress agreed with the movers of this motion that pouring weapons into Ukraine was not the best way to achieve peace. Recent talk of NATO troops taking part in the fighting directly makes the argument for peace even more urgent.

The motion was raised and supported through the union’s democratic structures by City and Islington College and University of Brighton, Grand Parade UCU.

However, a motion submitted to the NEC by Bijan Parsia, a supporter of UCU Commons (a faction within UCU favoured by the GS), attempts to undermine the decision delegates made at Congress. The motion is profoundly undemocratic, misunderstands procedure, is unimplementable and would set a dangerous precedent if passed by the NEC. The motion sets out, according to the proposer, to be an attempt at ‘harm reduction’.

His argument is that Motion 5 on Ukraine passed by UCU Congress is offensive for two reasons. First, because Motion 5 contains a resolution which ‘calls upon Russia to withdraw its troops and for [the UK] government to stop arming Ukraine.’ Second, the proposer states that ‘this motion passed without deep involvement of Ukrainian people, especially, but not only with UCU members.’

Those who wish to undermine the UCU policy passed by Congress try and do so by attempting to portray those who successfully proposed the motion as having done something wrong, undemocratic and morally repugnant. Fine, that is their prerogative to respond in that way.

But let us be clear: this is a legitimate debate. When wars break out, there have always been differing views. Some people support the call to arms, others oppose, whilst still more remain on the side-lines not convinced by either side. All positions are legitimate.

What is not legitimate are attempts to vilify or intimidate those who hold a certain position, like the movers of Motion 5 have had to endure since Congress. Our UCU college twitter accounts have been hacked, articles have been written intentionally attributing positions that the motion did not carry, and we have been sent abusive messages.

In the notes to the proposed motion to the NEC, the proposer says ‘UCU respects the principle that decisions involving marginalised groups should involve maximal engagement with them.’

Of course, the authors of a motion that seeks to put an end to death and destruction should base their views on those it seeks to protect and support. But marginalised groups are not homogeneous. There will be many different points of views on how their liberation can be achieved. Whilst many on the left in Ukraine support the call for the British and US government to supply arms, not all do so. There are voices within Ukraine that share the views of the movers of Motion 5. However, these voices are marginalised.

It should not be the case that just because many in Ukraine support more weapons to be poured into the country, it automatically means that we have to fall into line with this position. For example, in 2003 many Kurdish communities were calling upon those in Britain and the US to support the bombing of Iraq in the belief that a victory for Bush and Blair would lead to Kurdish independence.

Rightly, the UK Stop the War movement and the US anti-war movement opposed this call. We understood why many Kurdish people made this call – the gassing of Kurdish people by Saddam Hussein – but a strategy based upon “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” would not bring liberation for the Kurdish people. Unfortunately, the Stop the War movement here and in the US were proved correct.

The proposed motion to be debated by the NEC also attempts to set a precedent which, if passed, would have serious repercussions for UCU democracy. All three ‘resolves’ points one way or another can only be implemented if the International Working group and the GS can come up with a statement that a ‘wide set of Ukraine groups’ inside and outside of UCU can agree upon. Whether it is possible to come up with such a statement will depend on which groups are asked and which ones are not.

More importantly what this motion would do, if passed, would make possible for any group that does not like the outcomes of Congress and are offended by a certain motion to be able to change these outcomes. They don’t have to be delegates to Congress, or even members of the union. As long as they register their complaints loudly enough, policy made by the democratic sovereign body of UCU can be overturned.

Members at branch level who carefully construct motions, take them to their branches to debate, pass them and then go to Congress to gain support for their branch’s motions can then be overturned by a certain group that doesn’t like those outcomes.

For example, Congress this year passed a number of motions and amendments in support of the Palestinian people’s fight for justice. There will be some within and outside UCU who are deeply offended by Congress for supporting these motions. We would be surprised if the GS has not had complaints already about them. We remember the former GS informing the NEC she had over 3,000 emails sent to her complaining about UCU Congress passing a motion in support of BDS. Despite this, rightly, the motion was upheld.

There are many motions that are passed in the trade union movement that we can feel angered, upset and offended by. The motion passed at the TUC last October calling for more arms spending is one of the most recent ones we feel enraged by. But we do not call upon the TUC not to implement that decision. Instead, we attempt to get motions (like NEC’s Motion 16 to Congress which was unfortunately not debated) to the TUC to overturn that decision.

Finally, the proposer of the motion to the NEC attempts to make an argument that there are clear tensions between Motions 5 and the other motions on Ukraine passed by Congress – Motion 6. That is to say, there are ‘consequentials’.

Our first response to this is that it is CBC’s role to determine consequentals of motions and not the NEC’s. Delegates have an opportunity to challenge the CBC at the beginning of Congress if they believe that the CBC report is mistaken.

CBC were correct to not suggest that there were consequentials if Motion 5 was passed because there is no contradiction between the two. Nowhere in Motion 6 does it state that UCU should support or call upon government to arm Ukraine. If it had done, then perhaps CBC would have ruled that if Motion 5 passed then Motion 6 fell automatically.

But nowhere in Motion 6 does it say this. It may or may not be something the movers of Motion 6 believe, but this position is not stated in the motion. Motion 6 mainly outlines the need to build solidarity with those in Ukraine fleeing war, which the movers of Motion 5 in theory and practice support. The motion also opposes ‘all manifestations of imperialism’ which is perfectly compatible with Motion 5.

The author of the NEC motion goes through many contortions to arrive at his position that there are ‘clear tensions’ between the two motions. There aren’t. It is a spurious attempt to construct a difference that does not exist.

We call upon NEC members, however you voted on Motion 5 at Congress, not to support this motion. Union democracy is not a luxury – it is a necessity. As we all move into further struggles of our own, we will need to strengthen the union’s democratic decision-making processes, not undermine them.

Sean Vernell, City & Islington College UCU & NEC
Mark Abel, Brighton University NEC & NEC

Congress 2023 Motions 5 & 6

5  Composite: Stop the war in Ukraine – peace now – City and Islington College Camden Road, University of Brighton, Grand Parade 

Congress notes:

  1. one year after the brutal invasion, Ukraine has become a battleground for Russian and US imperialism
  2. it is estimated that 150,000 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians and 200,000 Russian soldiers have died since invasion
  3. Putin has threatened the use of nuclear weapons and unleashed war crimes
  4. the 2022 NATO summit committed to a US military base in Poland, a brigade in Romania, air missile systems in Italy and Germany and two additional F-35 squadrons in Britain
  5. Volodymyr Zelensky says he wants Ukraine to become a ‘big Israel’—an armed, illiberal outpost of US imperialism.

Congress believes:

  1. wars are fought by the poor and unemployed of one country killing and maiming the poor and unemployed of another
  2. we should say, ‘Russian troops out, no to NATO escalation and expansion’
  3. we should stand in solidarity with ordinary Ukrainians and demand an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops
  4. NATO is not a progressive force: escalation risks widening war in the region
  5. only through a peaceful resolution can lives be saved.


  1. UCU to call upon Russian to withdraw its troops and for government to stop arming Ukraine
  2. UCU to call for a peaceful resolution to the war
  3. Congress resolves to support protests called by Stop The War, CND and other anti-war organisations.


5A.1 University of Leeds

Delete point 5 under Congress notes.

In ‘b’ add, after ‘Russian troops out’, ‘self-determination for Ukraine’.

In ‘c’ delete ‘ordinary’.

In ‘e’ add, after ‘a peaceful resolution’, ‘based on freedom and independence for Ukraine’.

In ‘i’ delete ‘and for government to stop arming Ukraine’.

In ‘ii’ add at end ‘acceptable to the Ukrainian people’.

Delete bullet point iii


6  Solidarity with Ukraine: supporting education and humanitarian work – National executive committee 


  1. condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 
  2. recognises Ukraine’s right to self determination  
  3. notes courageous work of Russian anti-war activists and journalists despite state oppression and personal risk  
  4. condemns all manifestations of imperialism 
  5. reaffirms UCU’s commitments to international solidarity; protecting human rights, workers’ rights, education for all; defending and promoting rights of all displaced people, all fleeing conflict.

Congress resolves to:  

Campaign for:  

  1. the UK government to waive visa restrictions and provide safe routes for all refugees and asylum seekers 
  2. full college / university scholarships for all refugees and asylum seekers 
  3. cancellation of Ukraine’s national debt.

Task the International Working Group to: 

  1. develop, and widely publicise programmes of practical solidarity work based on this motion and UCU’s humanitarian and education policies, including online meetings inviting Ukrainian trade unionists and feminists  
  2. foster links to support international labour movement activists, educators, and students  
  3. support Russian workers, educators, students and activists who oppose war. 


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