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What the Western-backed regime is planning for Ukrainian workers

by Julie Hyland

World Socialist Web Site

15 March 2014

Behind incessant rhetorical invocations of a “democratic revolution,” Ukraine’s newly-installed government of former bankers, fascists and oligarchs is preparing draconian austerity measures.

The plans being drawn up are openly described as the “Greek model,” i.e., the programme of savage cuts imposed on Greece by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Union (EU) that has caused Greece’s economy to collapse by nearly 25 percent in five years and produced a massive growth in unemployment and poverty.

In the case of Ukraine, however, this social devastation is to be unleashed against a country that has already been subjected to the scorched earth economics of capitalist restoration. Even before the latest events, Ukraine was the 80th poorest country in the world based on gross domestic product per capita, behind Iraq, Tonga and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

More than one quarter of its population—11 million people—live below the official poverty line, which is set at a meagre 1,176 UAH ($127) per month. The situation is far worse than official figures indicate, however. With an average monthly wage of only 1,218 UAH ($131), or 79 US cents per hour, millions more survive barely above subsistence level.

The official unemployment rate of 7.5 percent masks large numbers of unregistered and underemployed workers. It is, moreover, held down by high emigration, with tens of thousands fleeing the country in search of jobs. The equivalent of 15 percent of Ukraine’s population has left the country, giving it one of the largest diasporas in the world. Between 1991, when the Soviet Union was dissolved, and 2010, Ukraine’s population shrank from 51.7 million to 45.9 million.

Besides migration, the population decline is a consequence of Ukraine’s contracting birth rate, which is among the lowest in the world. Tragically, the country also has the highest maternal mortality rate in Europe, part of a health crisis that has seen incidences of HIV/AIDS grow to epidemic proportions, with 57 new cases a day identified in 2012.

Poverty has played a major role in the spread of HIV/AIDS—especially in parts of the formerly heavily industrialised regions of the east and south, where conditions are already depression-like.

In poverty’s wake has come an explosion of all manner of social diseases—from drug abuse and alcoholism to prostitution, with every sixth prostitute reckoned to be a minor. This is an underestimation, as Ukraine is a major hub of human trafficking, for the purposes of both sexual exploitation and forced labour.

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