Peasant strikes in Galicia and Bukovyna

Peasant strikes in Galicia and Bukovyna. In the first years of the 20th century Ukrainian peasants in Galicia and Bukovyna who hired themselves out as agricultural laborers on landlords' estates participated in a series of mass strikes accompanied by other forms of agrarian unrest. Members of the Ukrainian Radical party, particularly Ivan Franko and Viacheslav Budzynovsky, had begun to propagate the idea of agrarian strikes, which they took from the example of Irish populists in the mid-1890s. Sporadic strikes of agricultural laborers broke out in Bukovyna and Galicia in 1897 and 1898, but the first large-scale strike occurred in Borshchiv county, in Galicia, in 1900. In 1902 a wave of agrarian strikes of unprecedented magnitude encompassed some 400 villages in eastern Galicia. In Husiatyn and Terebovlia counties over two-thirds of the landlords' estates faced work stoppages. Another strike wave of roughly equal magnitude broke out in eastern Galicia in 1906; in 1905–7 over 20 agrarian strikes took place in Bukovyna. The outbreak of the Revolution of 1905 across the border in the Russian Empire helped to motivate the latter wave of strikes, especially since neighboring Right-Bank Ukraine was also the scene of massive agrarian unrest.

The strikes were precipitated by low wages, the maltreatment of laborers, and disputes over access to forests and pastures. In the course of the strikes the peasants sometimes engaged in violent confrontations with strikebreakers and occupied seignorial land, especially pastures. County authorities called in the military to quell strikes and related unrest and made the village communities quarter the soldiers at their own expense. Hundreds of peasants were arrested in 1902, and dozens in 1906. The backbone of the strike movement tended to be small-holding peasants; landless agricultural laborers, who were traditionally excluded from collective decision-making in the village, and who were also much more dependent on their daily wages, tended to stay in the background. As a result of the strikes agricultural wages rose throughout almost all of Ukrainian Galicia and Bukovyna.

Although the strikes arose primarily in response to socioeconomic conditions, they were not without political and national dimensions. The major strike waves broke out spontaneously, without prior organization. But once under way the strikes were supported by activists of the major Ukrainian political parties. Among the most prominent activists in the strike movement was the social democrat Semen Vityk. Members of the Ukrainian Radical party and the Ukrainian Social Democratic party emphasized the social aspects of the strikes, but the National Democratic party pointed out that they had a strong national component as well, since, in the main, Ukrainian peasants were using the strikes against Polish landlords. Most Polish political parties in Galicia, with the prominent exception of the Polish Social Democratic party, condemned the strikes as a threat to Polish hegemony in the region. The strikes contributed to the exacerbation of Polish-Ukrainian tension in Galicia. They also demonstrated that the Ukrainian village was capable of co-ordinating effective actions in pursuit of its interests.

Najdus, Walentyna. Szkice z historii Galicji, 2 vols (Warsaw 1958–60)
Franko, Ivan. ‘Bauernstreiks in Ostgalizien,’ in Beiträge zur Geschichte und Kultur der Ukraine: Ausgewählte deutsche Schriften des revolutionären Demokraten, 1882–1915 (Berlin 1963)
Botushans’kyi, Vasyl’. ‘Pidnesennia straikovoï borot’by selian Pivnichnoï Bukovyny na pochatku XX st. (1900–1907 rr.),’ Mynule i suchasne Pivnichnoï Bukovyny, no. 1 (1972)

John-Paul Himka

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

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