Scottish trade unionists in Ukraine, 1951

Nathan Hennebry examines a 1951 report written by a delegation of Scottish trade unionists who travelled to Ukraine to learn about life as a worker under socialism
Nathan Hennebry examines a 1951 report written by a delegation of Scottish trade unionists who travelled to Ukraine to learn about life as a worker under socialism
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In August 1951, a delegation of Scottish trade unionists was sent to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as delegates. These delegates had the opportunity to visit the USSR for three weeks and compile a report that covered the daily activities in the Soviet Union.

The reports themselves are focused on the individuals’ areas of expertise and industries. Based on the individual opinion of each delegate, the report reveals what they heard and saw during their time in Moscow and Ukraine. The delegates have collectively stated that their freedom of movement within the USSR was not restricted in any shape or form. These delegates indicated what they wanted to see, and so they saw. The delegates also saw things, in their opinion, that the Soviets needed to improve on.

The criticism that these delegates had were merited through their understanding (during the time of their visit) of 2 important facts: 

1 – The Soviet economy had only, truly, began to build from 1917

2 – The Soviet economy and infrastructure, especially that of The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, was severely damaged during the Great Patriotic War.

The delegates were privileged to see the Soviet people’s efforts in increasing productivity and improving technique for the benefit of the state. They were able to see engineers, miners, scientists, and a variety of other workers happily and energetically engaged in their fields of work. The delegates were able to meet, observe, and talk with these workers. These delegates noted that the workers showed a demeanour “that is that of a people who are their own masters.” (page 4) The delegates, aligned with the Soviet people, understood the vitality of peace.

“Peace, in our opinion, is the one thing upon which all people, irrespective of race, colour, or religion are united. Let us then accept the hand of friendship so freely offered to us by the Soviet people, ensure world peace and an opportunity for all peoples to achieve their own destinies and win for themselves a better life.” (page 4)

Members of the 1951 delegation: 

  • Councillor William Anderson, J.P., Ormiston – elected by the National Union of Mineworkers, Ormiston Branch
  • Councillor Michael Cook, Lochgelly – elected by the National Union of Mineworkers, Lochgelly Branch
  • John Johnstone, Dundee (secretary of delegation) – elected by the National Union of Vehicle Builders, Dundee Branch
  • Councillor J.P. Marshall, Falkirk – elected by the National Union of Vehicle Builder, Falkirk Branch 
  • James Milne, Aberdeen (in a personal capacity) – Aberdeen Trade Unionist 
  • Mrs J. Mackenzie, Dundee – elected by the Amalgamated Engineering Union, Dundee District Committee
  • Arthur Tran, Glasgow – elected by the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, Glasgow No. 86 Branch
  • George A. Wemyss, Edinburgh (chairman of delegation) – elected by the Associated Society of Locomotive and Firemen, Edinburgh No. 1 and 2 Branches
‘Express’, by Arkady Shaikhet, 1939

L’Comite Locomotive Plant, VoroshilvogradG. Wemyss

According to George Wemyss, this plant was one of those visited by the delegation. Mr Wemyss was eager to compare the conditions and quality of labour to those of the railway shops in Scotland. The manager of the Vorohsilvograd plant gave the delegation a historical survey of the plant. This lesson included the experiments conducted by technical experts on improvements to both the site and unique improvements to engine types. It was noted that the site was built in 1896 by a German, Garkman. Production began in 1898, and the first engine was produced in 1901. In 1905, the workers revolted against the tyrannical overlords, and a piercing class struggle took place; sadly, they were forced to submit to such a brutal force. The result of the 1917 October Revolution meant that the workers were able to reap, not only the fruits of their labour but the whole tree. A worker’s settlement was built, along with a kindergarten, nursery, and medical clinic. During the invasion of the USSR by fascist Germany, the workers and their families were forced to evacuate. The plant, and town were destroyed. In 1945, the town and factory were rebuilt to practically normal conditions, and in 1947, the site was awarded the Order of Lenin for the production of the workers employed there.

Wemyss notes that a new and high quality kindergarten, nursery, and medical clinic were built in the town. An impressive canteen was built into the site, along with a library, and instituted by the workers. Wemyss was ecstatic to see so many well-known British authors and classics among the collections. The entire site had been beautified, as had been seen throughout the USSR. It was also noted that information on wages was free on demand:

Furnaceman and workers in the hot sections of the L’Comite Locomotive Plant were paid 1,500–2,000 roubles per month.

Workers in the rolling mills were paid 1,000 – 1,8000 roubles per month

Machinists and fitters assistants were paid up from 900 – 1,300 per month

(Women form 15% of the workforce and have equal pay)

Wemyss goes on to talk about the fantastic holiday benefits, sick leave, trade union resorts, and other wonderful benefits.

Soviet Trade UnionsJ. Johnstone 

Mr. Johnstone observed that the trade unions in the USSR played a vital role in all industries; the president of the Works Committee of the trade unions was present at every site visit by the Scottish delegation. The main task of the TUs (trade unions) is to settle labour disputes as quickly and effectively as possible. For instance, if a worker is sick, is paid short, has a dispute over safety conditions, or feels their pay is inadequate, they would report their issue to the factory committee. They hear their complaint, and if they found that management was (in their opinion) in the wrong, they would immediately approach the manager. If management disagrees with the factory TU committee, then the TU committee has the power to call for an immediate meeting of a joint council composed of representatives from the TU committee and management; the decision taken by this body determines the resolution to the complaint. The speed and effectiveness of this procedure ensure a resolution to problems, happier relations between workers and management, and a stable and happy work environment. 

The TU’s focus their efforts on monitoring for safety violations, and if (in their opinion) they feel safety arrangements haven’t been met, then they meet with management and provide suggestions for an allocation of funds for certain areas requiring additional safety equipment. Most factories also operate on a “progressive bonus scheme” (page 13) as a payment for excelling production levels. The TU’s ensure that records of employee production are correct and recorded so that this bonus reflects upon their hard work.

Johnstone goes on to talk about the important work that the TU’s do in the operation of state social insurance, fields of culture; sport, literature, art, etc.), and how the TU’s “make representations to the government on behalf of the workers on matters of labour welfare or culture…” and run local and national newspapers all on their own.

Religion in the USSRJ.P. Marshall

Marshall strictly states that any idea of suppression of religion within the USSR is “totally and completely false.” (page 15) The delegation visited a variety of cities and towns throughout the Soviet Union, each having its own church/churches (dependent on population). People were seen worshipping Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and Catholic deities. The delegation visited a cathedral in Kiev, which they were toured through and where they witnessed a religious ceremony. Marshall recalls meeting a couple in a miner’s house in Gorlovka who were both passionate supporters of Stalin and worshipped God.

Marshall states that “there is no religious discrimination. There is freedom to worship for those who desire.” (page 15)

Women and Children in the USSRJ. Mackenzie 

Women played vital roles in all areas of work and, in numerous cases, held high positions in many fields of work. The delegation found that Article 122 of the Constitution of the USSR (which accorded women with equal rights to men within all areas of political, cultural, economic, and other public activity) was held true, it was not just a paper promise, but a practical enforcement found evident amongst the day to day running of life. Mackenzie notes that, at Stalino, the president of the building section of the TU was a woman. She proudly toured the delegation around the buildings and displayed an extensive knowledge of them (how long they had taken to build, how many workers were employed, the type of materials used, etc.). 

The delegation also visited the No. 3 Sanatorium in Odessa, where the doctor’s manager was also a woman. She talked the delegation through the many treatments that are provided at the facility, and the doctor answered any and all questions on disease and the social lives of the patients.

Mackenzie rightly states that after travelling throughout the USSR, the many women the delegation met had a high degree of skill and understanding in their profession. Mackenzie also noted that many of these women were married and had families. How were these women able to participate so freely in society while having children to care for? The answer is very simple: “Before birth both the child’s and its mother’s futures are secure. During pregnancy a woman who is working is given a change of job if the one she is doing may prove detrimental to her health; also her wages will remain the same level as they were previously to the change of job.” (page 16) This is something we do not see in the western world, or in any capitalist state today. 

Mackenzie goes on to discuss the additional assistance that the state provides to mothers, their children, and ensuring a balanced work and lifestyle. She also talks about the delegation’s visit to kindergartens and schools, which included a visit to a girl’s school in Kiev. The delegation was also informed about what children do during their vacations: they attend Pioneer camps. Mackenzie concludes that “Truly the life of the Soviet woman and child is an ideal one and given the peace they fervently desire and strive for, can reach even greater heights in the construction of their country, which suffered great devastation during the war with Nazi Germany.” (page 16)

Women’s team of miners of the Kirov mine, 1942

Visit to a Donbas MineM. Cook

Mr. Cook first visited a factory in Kiev, a footwear factory. He notes that the delegation found evident a “very strong sense of co-operation” (page 18) — this was noted throughout every factory that the delegation visited. The first mine that was visited was the Ilich mine, a very old mine. Before the October Revolution, the mine produced 100 tonnes per day. The Stalin five-year plan rejuvenated the mine and its practises, thus bringing production up to 1000 tonnes per day! — The mine was also mechanised and expanded at the start of the Great Patriotic War, increasing production to 2,000 tonnes per day. The mine still suffered great damage as a result of the war and required total refurbishment.

These stone miners and strippers were noted to be paid up to 4,000 roubles. These workers have their own cars and, in some cases, motorcycles. 

Upon visiting the next mine, No. 13 Bis, the delegation examined the safety equipment and measures at the mine. They were toured into the baths and given an undersuit, a light suit on top, a strong suit of jacket and trousers, white wrappings for their feet, and a pair of boots. Before heading into the mine, they were also given a nose grip, a pair of safety goggles, and a respirator. Before entering the mine, the group was given two checks, one to give to an assistant and the other an identification disc. The group explored the mine and conversed with workers

Cook goes on to talk about the overall conditions of the mine and provides criticism of the mine itself, mainly that the baths at Bis were not up to date. Cook also goes on to talk about the delegation’s visit to a miner’s sanatorium/rest centre by the Azov Sea in Zhdanov, noting that the facility was of terrific standard. “He (the soviet worker) is proud to tell you that its Socialism that has brought all their reforms.” (page 21)

Cook also tells us of his conversations with the women of the Soviet Union. A question they would always ask the delegation was, “What are the people of Scotland doing for peace?… Surely there will be no more war – we have seen plenty of it. We want our husbands and children beside us always. We as workers want peace in the world. Do your best to fight for peace.” (page 22)

The Dneiper DamA.Tran

The delegation paid a visit to the Dneiper Electricity Plant. The tour saw them explore the engines and generators in action, they were lubricated with water as opposed to oil. It was explained to them that lubrication by oil would be ineffective as the vast amount of water would wash away the oil. The delegation was in agreement that “allowed to work without fear of war, the vast energy produced by the plant and used by the collective farms will help bring success to the efforts of the people of the USSR.” (page 23)

Cooks goes on to talk about being toured through the Hall of Culture, which contained a reading room, and the cinema, which is used by the workers at the plant.

Miners’ WelfareWM. Anderson

The delegation continued to view a number of sanatoria/rest homes during their visit. This was done in order to examine and understand the “right to rest” (page 23), which was enshrined in the TU constitution. Anderson recalls his time spent at the sanatorium at the Azov Sea, and he is specifically captured by its beauty, its lush exterior and landscape, and its fantastic facilities. Each room has its own balcony and accommodates four beds. The delegation was shown around the sanatorium by its director, a woman. She explained the treatment of patients and the equipment used. From mud baths to sun-ray lamps, the patients received the highest level of care. The facility was also equipped with a fully stocked library, game rooms, dining rooms, and even a lounge. 

Anderson goes on to talk about the respect that these workers receive, and the benefits of the rest and recovery at the sanatorium. “The miner of the Ukraine is considered of great importance to his country and his welfare is properly catered for during his 28 days stay here and is assured that he (or she) will return perfectly rested, mentally and physically; one hundred percent fit.” (page 24)

Building MethodsJ. Johnstone 

On this subject, the delegation notes that the greatest challenge facing Ukraine’s soviet people is the damage done to the country as a result of fascist Germany’s barbaric destruction during the Great Patriotic War. Despite reconstruction, the wounds of war remained. The workers of Ukraine faced a monumental task with the need for inhospitable houses to be demolished and growing requirements for housing due to the growth of families. Despite the size of such a task, the people of Ukraine worked tremendously, building new “blocks of flats, factories, schools, universities, kindergartens, places of culture, theatres, and other buildings including the reconstruction of the destroyed Dnieper Dam.” (page 25)

The delegation observed effective organisational structures for the restoration of Ukrainian buildings and infrastructure. There was one person responsible for the supply of building materials to the whole country, and under them were a series of local/regional officers who held responsibility for a district – this is the same for any planning departments and the supply of building materials to trade workers. All three of these work in unison to ensure any and all commissions are completed fully. The workers themselves have their safety assured at all times; they are always provided with the necessary safety equipment so that they can complete their jobs as safely as possible. After meeting with a number of construction workers, Johnstone calls on his Scottish colleagues to show solidarity with Ukraine and all former Soviet republics. “As a building trade worker I appeal to my workmates in the industry – let us also extend the hand of friendship to the Ukrainian building trade workers so that we may have peace to assist each other in building better countries for our people.” (page 27)

Johnstone also talks about the structure of the new buildings and the shifts and holidays of the workers.

The first truck to roll off the assembly line of the U.S.S.R’s GAZ automobile factory, Nizhny Novgorod, 1932

Workers’ CarsJ.P. Marshall

The delegation visited a car factory in Moscow, where a they were given information on car types within the USSR as well as cost. The cost of the car produced at the factory they toured was 4000 roubles, meaning that an average miner could afford to purchase one within 4 months wages. How long does it take for a worker in Scotland to afford a car…?

The type of car that the delegation saw had a well-crafted exterior and interior, though Marshall claims that it “lacked the finished touch of home-produced cars.” (page 27) The factory itself employed 1000 people, 40% of whom were women. The average monthly wage at this factory was 1000 roubles; facilities included a kindergarten, a palace of culture, a nursery, and even their own sports stadium. These weren’t the only benefits that the workers had; they also had access to the factory’s “Home of Rest” (page 27), a sanatorium located in the Caucuses.

Marshall concludes by stating that he was unable to see certain vehicles in construction, such as the one in which the delegation was toured, but made no harsh criticisms of the Soviet hosts.

General ImpressionsJ. Milne

The delegates were able to see places and things they wanted to see, and they were able to freely converse with the workers and other citizens. The delegates definitively state that there were no attempts to limit their movements within the USSR.

At each plant/factory, it’s noted that they are all well equipped to effectively produce their products/commodities and ensure the safety of the workers in their employment. Men and women did the same or similar work for the same or similar pay. Again, the delegation noted that the Ukrainian people would always ask what Scotland and Britain were doing to ensure peace.

Milne takes note of the scale of production throughout the USSR, a result of the tremendous labour efforts of the Soviet people and the effective running of factories, plants, and mines. The sanatoriums provided by these workplaces served the workers well; they ensured they were treated for any ailments and received the rest they required. 

Milne goes on to discuss the general wages of workers as well as the extracurricular activities in which they participate, both cultural and academic. Most importantly noted is the continuing question that the Soviet people would ask the delegates: “What are the Scots doing to preserve peace?” (page 30)

Concluding remarks

This report from this Scottish TU delegation is a vital one, especially today with the current Russia-Ukraine conflict. The delegates debunked, not through bias or mission but with their own first-hand experience, the anti-Communist myths that are still perpetrated today. The stark contrast between working conditions, wages, and benefits (such as sanatoriums) in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic compared to what we see here in Britain is frightening. This highlights the very potential that is stolen from us by the capitalist state, the bourgeoisie are hell bent on maintaining state power through enforcing hardship against the working class as one of the many ways of ensuring divisions between our class – in the workplace and in day-to-day life.

“What are the people of Scotland doing for peace” was the most frequent question asked by the men and women of the USSR. They have experienced the brutality of it, with nearly 30 million Soviet citizens, many of them Ukrainian, having died saving the world from fascism. The barbaric assault and invasion on the USSR left countless nations, towns, and cities decimated. The Soviet people wished to never experience such conflict again. Yet, today, we see two sister nations, Russia and Ukraine, spilling the blood of working-class men and women on what was once comradely shared soil. The wishes of the Soviet people have been betrayed –– war now rages on each other’s doorsteps. The current conflict, a direct result of the illegal overthrow of the USSR. NATO and the many colluding capitalist states are the only ones benefiting from this conflict. The winners won’t be Russia or Ukraine; it’ll be the arms companies rolling in the riches provided to them through the deaths of the proletariat of both nations.

How can we, in Scotland and in Britain, achieve the peace that the Soviet people in 1951 dreamt and worked for? The world will always be a dangerous place if NATO expansion and aggression continues to take place. USA, British and EU imperialism, organised in the NATO alliance, are the fundamental threats to peace and national sovereignty today. The youth of Scotland, England, Wales, and the world must reject NATO militarism and war, demanding an immediate end to the current conflict in Ukraine. The workers of the world can’t afford for NATO to expand. It must be dismantled by working people. We must stand hand in hand with our comrades and young people around the globe as we fight for peace.

In our domestic fight for better jobs, working conditions, and lives, we must not grow content. If we want a truly dignified life for us and our communities, our fight won’t be against just one Tory prime minister or one government. It also won’t be a fight that is won overnight. It’s a long battle against the ruling class and capitalism. The broad left labour and progressive movement must seize moments of crisis, with rising industrial militancy, to seize the initiative and awaken and develop the class consciousness of working-class people. Together, we must build a mass movement of working people and youth based in and strengthened in our communities and workplaces, as well as uniting the labour, student, and tenant movements. Only a broad movement of this type can lead and win the fight against Tory austerity, poverty, and unemployment. Together, we can fight for jobs, housing, healthcare, education, and public services. As always, Britain’s Communists will be on the frontlines of this battle, playing a leading role in building this movement. 

If you want to play your part in liberating and elevating the working class you must get involved, active and build the class struggle wherever you are. 

It’s vital you join a trade union and a tenants union, organise within your workplace, your campus and your community.

Join the fight for a real victory over the ruling class!

Fight to secure and rekindle the flame of peace that the Soviet people had fought so bravely to maintain

Join the YCL and the Communist Party!

Report Source: Scots T.U.’s Explore The Ukraine – published by the members of the delegation, supported by The Scottish U.S.S.R Society, 1951

Nathan Hennebry, is a member of the YCL’s Glasgow branch

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