Thursday, October 6, 2011


Jan jerzy Kulakowski (1930 - 2011)
Recently I was informed by a former colleague of the World Confederation of Labour (WCL) that the former secretary general of the WCL, Jan Jerzy Kułakowski, had passed away in Warsaw, Poland on 25 June 2011 following a long illness. He was 81 years of age.

Jan Kułakowski had a remarkable career. And during his career he never forgot about his Polish background. How could he? In 1944, when he was fourteen years old, he took part in the uprising in Warsaw as a Liaison Officer of the BASZTA Regiment. After the war he fled to Belgium where he studied Law at the Catholic University of Leuven. After his Doctor degree he joined the Belgian Christian Trade Union ACV.

From 1976 to 1989 Jan Kułakowski worked as Secretary General of the Social Christian oriented WCL. Before that he had been the General Secretary of the European Organization of the World Confederation of Labour. This European Organisation was disbanded (1976) because the WCL member-unions became affiliated to the in 1973 founded European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). Exactly 40 years after the WCL itself was disbanded itself. Together with the Socialist-oriented International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) they merged into the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in Vienna, Austria (2006).

Personally, I have spoken only occasionally with Jan Kułakowski. In the mid-seventies I was approached by him to join the WCL. In the ensuing conversation I got to know him as an amiable and modest man. Shortly after, however, I got the opportunity to be appointed as an assistant in a project of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Costa Rican Institute for Land Reform in Costa Rica. Since I wanted to gain more international experience, I decided to accept this opportunity.

Our next conversation took place many years later (1995) during a reception at his home in Brussels. In the meantime he had become Ambassador of Poland to the EU, while I had become Confederal Secretary of the WCL. During the conversation we merely exchanged pleasantries on politics and the WCL. At the reception I also had a lengthy conversation with the British trade unionist John Monks, who later was elected as General Secretary of the ETUC (2003). My plea for international trade union pluralism fell in arid soil. As I expected he was more orientated towards class-struggle and therefore focused more on unity than on plurality.

In the eighties of the last century Jan Kułakowski was very involved with the struggle of the Polish trade union Solidarnosc against the Polish Communist dictatorship. As Secretary General of the WCL Kułakowski organized strong international support for Solidarnosc. Particularly in the period that it was banned from public life by the Polish Communist Government. At the end Solidarnosc succeeded to defeat the Communist Government through peaceful actions. After the fall of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989, he became the first Polish Ambassador to the EU. As such, he was closely involved in the negotiations on Poland's accession to the EU. Because of his involvement and commitment to solidarity, he was appointed as honorary member of Solidarnosc. Later he became an Member of the European Parliament for Poland (2004-2009).

As has been stated by President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, Jan Kułakowski was a great Pole, “who was also a distinguished and respected European diplomat, intellectual and humanist. His name is a symbol for Poland’s accession to the EU. Jan Kułakowski was also among his people’s first representatives in the European Parliament”.

Jan Kułakowski was a great European and International trade unionist who believed in international solidarity strongly supporting Solidarnosc when it was needed most. We should not forget him.

With thanks to reporting by: ACV, Euronews, European Commission, European Liberals and Democrats

(To be continued)

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