Saturday, August 31, 2013


Waiting for our host. From right to left: WCL Vice-President Kristoff Dowgiallo, the translator, WCL secretary general Carlos Custer, Bundes-sekretär Karl Klein, myself and Kaszimirus Uoka from Lithuania.(23 march 1992)

Immediately after our Polish tour for the WCL International Trade Federations, I traveled to Vienna to participate for the first time in a meeting of the WCL Coordination Committee for Central and Eastern Europe (22th of march 1992). Like the meetings of the European section, the meetings of this Committee are informal. As vice president of the WCL for Central and Eastern Europe, Kristoff Dowgiallo was president of the meeting. I had never been before in Vienna. Before the fall of communism Vienna did not belong to the list of cities like Paris, London, Rome and Madrid. Vienna was the end of the world, enclosed between the Iron Curtain. Thanks to my work for WCL, I saw over the years Vienna changing into a vibrant European city.

The meeting was organized by Karl Klein, Confederal Secretary of the Christian Group FCG within the Austrian confederation ÖGB. Within the ÖGB the FCG is a significant minority. The Socialists have the majority in the confederation. Within the trade union of the private employees GPA (trade and banking sector), the Christian Group is a large minority. In the trade union of Public Servants GÖD the Christian group has the majority. The ÖGB is the only European confederation, in which trade union pluralism has been organized in a formal way. I believe that this model should have been the minimum basic model for organizing the ETUC and recently the ITUC. It is my conviction that without this model, that guarantees formal pluralism within unity, the WCL should not have merged with the ICFTU.

I was picked up from the airport by the official driver of Karl Klein. We drove to a meeting of Secretaries of the GPA where Karl Klein introduced me as the new Confederal Secretary of the WCL and Executive Secretary of the World Federation of Clerical Workers. Over the years, I learned to know Karl as a gentleman, sometimes more a diplomat than a trade unionist but nevertheless always very sensitive to the trade union movement. In 2003 he became chairman of the FCG and vice-chairman of the ÖGB. He died much to young at the end of 2007 on the age of 59.

The Prime Minister (lef centre) next to Karl Klein, held a kind of round table discussion with all the guests. In front of him Carlos Custer. On the right of Carlos you see Milan Katuninec, an important Slovakian trade union leader and professor on the University of Trnva. In front right Michel Rizzi from ACLI, Italy a member of WCL. In spite of many efforts it was not possible to get involved ACLI in the WCL activities in former Communist Europe.

With his invitation to the Coordination Committee to meet in Vienna, Karl Klein made it clear that he and the FCG wanted to play a role in the WCL regarding Central and Eastern Europe. Understandable, since the fall of Communism, geopolitics were changing fast and Vienna as the capital of Austria came to lie in the middle of Europe but now surrounded by countries looking for democracy and capitalist economy. At that time the participants in the meeting were still mainly Western European members deliberating on the future policy of the WCL in Central and Eastern Europe. Winning new WCL members was obviously our most important task . As new members arrived, the Coordination Committee grew into a platform where WCL unions from East and West learned to know each other.

At a certain moment, the Committee succeeded in arranging a regular annual budget with contributions from a number of Western European members. In addition, many confederations and International Trade Federations succeded in organizing activities from its own resources for new members in Central and Eastern Europe. The Belgium ACV and the Dutch CNV set up their own special fund for Central and Eastern Europe. Their international departments supported the activities in Central and Eastern Europe with knowhow and money. Despite its limitations, the WCL could therefore be very active in Central and Eastern Europe with special missions, seminars to be held in different former communist country like Rumania, Poland, Hungry, Ukraine, Lithuania and so on.

To forge closer ties between East and West and the new members to get acquainted with the European trade union movement and the ETUC, meetings of the Coordination Committee were later held prior to that of the European section in Brussels which in turn convened before the General Board meeting of the ETUC. That way within the WCL a dialogue at European level developed slowly but surely. It was an open dialogue because nobody had experience with the transition from communism to democracy and capitalism and nobody had any idea what the future would bring.

Richard Paiha was not so much a manager of his union, as well as somebody who, if necessary, did the job himself. He was a man with a great sense of social duty. Here you see him working on a typewriter finishing a text for the annual seminar that he and Toni Liedlbauer organized for leaders of trade unions in the services sector in Central and Eastern Europe. This picture was taken during the seminar held in Poprad, Slovakia in 1998.

For the next day Karl Klein had organized, together with the FCG Liaison Office for Central and Eastern Europe, a meeting with the Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia in Bratislava. Also were invited leaders of the new Christian-oriented unions in the former communist countries. Bratislava is an hour's drive from Vienna in Slovakia, the eastern part of then still undivided Czechoslovakia. At the end of the year of 1992, Czechoslovakia split peacefully in two countries: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. From January 1, 1993 Bratislava was the capital of Slovakia and Prague the capital of the Czech Republic.

WCL general secretary Carlos Custer and vice-president Krzistoff Dowgiallo were also present. It was a meeting with on one side the formal protocol associated with the reception by a major high political host and on the other hand an almost informal meeting on which ideas on the future of the trade union movement and Europe were exchanged freely. It was an inspiring round table discussion, an example of what I hoped would be the future of a united Europe.

To me, West Germany had already given the example by the reunification of East and West Germany into one country (1990). However, at that moment such a development into a united Europe was not yet foreseen. In the case of the reunification of Germany, Great Britain with Prime Minister Thatcher even feared a united Germany while France was looking for some kind of accommodation. This attitude to Germany is best demonstrated by a much quoted pronunciation of the French writer Francois Mauriac: “ I love Germany so much, that I am glad that there are 2 Germanies to love.” For French President Mitterand the price for the unification of Germany was the agreement of Germany on the introduction of the Euro currency as a way to get some French control on the growing economic weight of Germany in the European Union.

Finally, I would like to note that, despite this initiative of Karl Klein, the FCG did after all not play a major role in the Coordination Committee. Repeatedly Karl Klein promised to strengthen ties with the WCL but in practice little or nothing happened. On the other side, the Christian Group of the GPA union under the guidance of Central Secretary Richard Paiha was from the outset very active in Central and Eastern Europe. For example Paiha organized together with his right hand and GPA Secretary for Trade Toni Liedlbauer every year a seminar for leaders of democratic and independent unions in the services sectors (trade and financial services) in different countries of Central and Eastern Europe, he participated in missions (for example to Croatia and Albania) and supported projects both financially and materially. Richard himself was personally very involved in this. He died in 2011 at the age of 72 years.

To be continued

The above story is a personal testimony of what happened at the end of the last century and the beginning of the new millennium in the international trade union movement, in particular in CLAT and the WCL.

Friday, August 23, 2013


Visit to Gdansk during the seminar in Sopot.From right to left: Dan Mogadescu from Cartel alfa, WCL Vice-President Kristoff Dowgiallo, Tadek Oruba from Belgium ACV and Mihael also from Cartel alfa.

During the WCL Congress in Caracas (1989) I heard for the first time I was a candidate to become confederal secretary. The newly elected general secretary Carlos Custer even said he was counting on me. Some time later Jaap Kos, president of the WCL international trade federation WFCW (World Federation of Clerical Workers which is now WOW), invited me for an interview with him and two Austrian boardmembers. The WFCW wanted me to be their executive secretary. To convince the WCL they had decided to pay an additional contribution to the WCL. Some time later CNV chairman Henk Hofstede called me, asking if I wanted to work in Vienna instead of Brussels. There were plans to open a WCL liaison office in Vienna which is near to the former European communist countries and Russia. For me this was okay but finally it became nevertheless Brussels.

Finally in November 1991 in Gdansk, the decision was taken on my appointment as confederal secretary. Starting in Brussels in January 1992, it appeared that I was the successor of Emiel Vervliet, WCL confederal secretary and also executive secretary of the WFCW. An article by him in the Flemish journal 'Maatschappelijke Gids', in which he made ​​a plea for a merger between WCL and ICFTU, went too far for secretary general Carlos Custer. Much later I learned that opinions about my appointment at the WCL were divided. That was of course unfortunate but it did not affect my work.

It became a flying take-off. My first encounter with new union leaders from the former communist European countries and Russia was at a seminar organized by Solidarnosc in Sopot, Gdansk (29 February to 4 March 1992). There I met the Polish WCL Vice-President Kristoff Dowgiałło. I spoke with many new democratic leaders such as a delegation from Lithuania headed by Aldona Balsienne, chairman Olexander Iwanchenko of the UkrainianVOST, the miners' leader Victor Utkin from Russia and a delegation of Cartel alfa. The Romanian federation Cartel alfa had already joined the WCL prior to my arrival to the WCL.

The WCL European Section meeting presided by Vice-President Kristoff Dowgiallo. On the left Secretary General Carlos Custer. On the right Confederal Secretary Roger Denis.

So the WCL had a nice position for take-off. My WCL mission began with the support of two major trade confederations in former communist Europe, both known for their battles for an independent, free and democratic trade union movement. At the seminar in Sopot it became clear that for these new leaders Solidarnosc was an example that deserved to be followed. Therefore probably the WCL also would have a certain appeal to these new leaders. Moreover, I thought, the ideas on man and society of the WCL were in line with those of the new leaders. After the failure of communism they were looking for a renewal of their society and state, based on human and spiritual values others than communism. The WCL could offer these coming from its Christian and humanistic background that it cherishes since its foundation in 1929.

Just a few weeks after the seminar in Sopot I went along on tour in Poland with Leo Dusoleil, President of the World Federation of Industrial Workers Federation WFIW, and Roel Schepen of the CNV Wood and Construction Trade Union, to visit the Solidarnosc unions with the aim to affiliate them to the International Trade Federations (ITF's) of the WCL (14 they - March 21, 1992). Our interpreter was Tadek Oruba a Belgium trade unionist of Polish descent. During our visit to the miners union in Katowice we laid flowers at the monument to fallen miners in the fight against communism. In Krakow we visited the metal union. In Nova Huta we had a conversation with the President of the textile union. In Wroclav we spoke with board members of the energy and chemical union and so on.

Unfortunately, despite our efforts, no Solidarnosc trade union ever joined the WCL International Trade Federations. I know the WCL Textile Federation and the Building and Wood Federation have long taken pains to  the Solidarnosc textile and construction union to make join them but it never happened. It stayed with vague promises and commitments during visits to Ghent and Brussels. Despite the enormous efforts of the European Miners with many seminars and missions organized and financed, also the miners union of Solidarnosc never became a member of the WFIW.

Katowice. WFIW President Leo Dusoleil, surrounded by 4 board members of the Solidarnosc Miners Union and Tadek Oruba, ready to put flowers before the monument commemorating the miners who have fallen during strikes and opposition to the communist dictatorship

I never could figure out why the unions of Solidarnosc did not join the WCL International Trade Federations. It could not be money. The financial contributions were low, like those of Solidarnosc self to the WCL. In addition, there was an agreement to invest the contributions in seminars and other activities in the country itself. May be the ITF's were not so credible anymore because some ACV and CNV unions no longer were a member of an WCL International Trade Federation? They had joined the ICFTU oriented ITF's. Anyway, the many times I've asked, such as Solidarnosc President Krakliewski, Andrej Adamčik from international affairs and some regional presidents of Solidarnosc, I was assured that Solidarnosc was committed to the WCL but otherwise it remained quiet.

On the contrary, the Romanian trade federation Cartel alfa had the policy to their members to join as much as possible the WCL International Trade Federations, in many cases successfully. Therefore the relations between Cartel alfa and WCL became stronger than those between Solidarnosc and the WCL. I felt sorry, not only because the WCL became less stronger internationally than I had hoped but also because personally I felt involved in the fate of Poland and in particular that of Solidanosc.

Between the seminar in Sopot and the Polish tour I took part in a meeting of the European Section of the WCL for the first time on March 7, 1992. The European section meeting was a kind of informal meeting of all Western European trade union confederations of the WCL where European issues were discussed and views exchanged. In fact it was a meeting of the WCL fraction in the ETUC but it could never be named like that. The informal nature of the European Section meeting was strongly emphasized. It gave me the impression that we were doing something, we actually were not allowed to do because of the unity within ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation). Apparently, the international trade union movement became infected with a kind of enlightened Leninism (Lenin is the creator of the ban on factionalism in the Russian Communist Party, that later became known by the name of Democratic Centralism used by all communist parties). WCL members could never present themselves as a a group in the ETUC. The WCL had lost therefore its identity on European level. The question was if it could be maintained on international level. That is what still had to be figured out.

to be continued

The above story is a personal testimony of what happened at the end of the last century and the beginning of the new millennium in the international trade union movement, in particular in CLAT and the WCL.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


The following story is a personal testimony and not a historical record of what happened at the end of the last century and the beginning of the new millennium in the international trade union movement, in particular in CLAT and the WCL.

On the 18th of June 1979 in Hotel Irazu, San José, Costa Rica, the so called Junta de Gobierno de Reconstruccion Nacaional de Nicaragua was presented by the Sandinist priest and poet Ernesto Cardenal. We see from left to right Alfonso Robelo, bussiness man and founder of the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement MDN. Violeta Chamorro wife of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro who was assasinated in 1978. Violeta Chamorro took over his newspaper La Prensa and continued his struggle against the Somoza dictatorship. Sergio Ramirez writer and leader of the so called group of 12, a group of leftist intellectuals that supported the Sandinistas. The other 2 memebers of the Junta, Daniel Ortega and Moises Hassan, both from the Sandinist Guerrilla Forces fighting in Nicaragua, were not present on the press conference. TheJunta took power in the city of Leon, Nicargua on the 18th of July 1979. The Junta was immediately recognized internationally. (photo Petrus Nelissen)

So far we have looked from a Dutch perspective to world history, but what was really going on in the big world? There was a lot of commotion in Latin America, North America and Western Europe and also the Netherlands because of a revolution in a small Central American country. I mean the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua (1979) that I witnessed more or less while I was living in Costa Rica, and to some extent even participated in it.

It was a leftist revolution that got broad support against the right-wing dictator Somoza (traditionally supported by the U.S.) after the Sandinistas had succeeded to unite its 3 fractions, there had been held much (international) political deliberations and a lot of international pressure for example of the Organization of American States (OAS) with a major role of US President Carter. After the victory (July 1979) the Sandinistas got most credits for the revolution and they considered themselves as the real owners of the revolution. Instead the Sandinistas established a democratic regime like for example in their neighbouring country Costa Rica, they started copying the Cuban model with the traditional support of Russia and Communist Europe. The recent elected, traditional anti-Communist U.S. President Reagan (1981) was firmly against it. The result was a civil war with the help of the U.S. between the Sandinista leaders and Contra's (including disappointed Sandinistas) with a high price paid by the population: new deaths and injuries, no peace and especially no economic recovery.

What astonished me was the ease with which European leftist intellectuals left their critical attitude towards the Sandinista leaders. Renowned journalists from leading newspapers and TV defended for example censureship of the Sandinistas against the newspaper La Prensa. The key issue for them was to be anti-North American and especially anti-Reagan, who was always called scornfully a former Hollywood B- actor. At that time communism was rather commonplace in circles of the European democratic left, to a certain extent tolerated by the Socialist International.

More surprising was what happened in almost the same period in Communist Europe. A trade union called Solidarnosc, supported by the Catholic Church and its Polish Pope Paul II challenged the supremacy of the Polish Communist party. No one ever could imagine that something like this would ever be possible. The world held its breath. Would the Soviet Union not retaliate?

Not so initially. The Polish Jaruzelski government (Jaruzelski was considered to be a moderate nationalist) signed an agreement with Solidarnosc that was led by the brilliant former electrician Lech Walesa surrounded by keen advisers. But the recognition of Solidarnosc did only last until december 1981. Moscow forced the government to announce martial law. Solidarity was banned to become illegal. Many members were arrested or went underground. The underground struggle was supported by US President Reagan, the North American union AFL-CIO (member of the world trade union ICFTU) and the WCL, that thanks to its general secretary Jan Kulakowski of Polish descent, had special relations with Solidarnosc.

European political leaders on the other hand did not know what to do. Of course, there was much sympathy for Solidarnosc but it was feared that it would end as did the Hungarian uprising (1956) and the Prague Spring (1968), that is to say beaten down by Russian tanks. In 1988 the Polish government was forced by strikes to start again negotiations with Solidarnosc. In 1989 Solidarnosc was legalized and participated in the first free elections held under a Communist regime in Europe. It was the beginning of the end of Communism in Europe and the Soviet Union.

The Latin American CLAT was downright enthusiastic about Solidarnosc. A union that was able to achieve a political revolution was for decades the dream of CLAT. CLAT also recognized in the anti-communist struggle of Solidarnosc its own anti-communism . This anti-Communism made that CLAT had a very critical attitude towards the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, the Marxist guerrilla groups in El Salvador and Guatemala and all other groups that used Marxist oriented violence as an instrument for change. For this reason in the Netherlands leftist progressive circles turned away from CLAT and the Dutch association CLAT Netherlands that supported CLAT in Latin America since 1969.

In September 1993 a delegation of the WCL led by General Secretary Carlos Custer visited the Polish President Lech Walesa, former leader of Solidarnosc. At the head of the table you see President Lech Walesa. Beside him a government interpreter. On her left WCL secretary general Carlos Custer. Next to him an interpreter of Solidarnosc and myself. On the back you see Kristoff Dowgiałło. At his left Teresa Szabza from the International Department of Solidarnosc.

CLAT sent in 1981 a message to the first legal Congress of Solidarnosc: "The Latin American Workers Central CLAT, together with all its member organizations, feels related from the outset with the values​​, interests and aspirations of the independent trade union movement Solidarnosc. Despite the different political circumstances in which both organizations find themselves, CLAT and Solidarnosc are inspired by the same ideas about man and society, labor and worker, dignity and freedom, justice and solidarity." In 1982 CLAT invited six leaders of Solidarnosc to a meeting on its training institute UTAL in Venezuela.

On the occasion of that meeting CLAT General Secretary Emilio Maspero wrote an introduction titled "The struggle of the free trade union movement in Poland and Latin America." Maspero signals that two irreconcilable models opposed. On the one hand, the totalitarian models advocated by fascist right (eg the Pinochet regime in Chile) and Marxist-Leninist left (eg the Cuban regime of Fidel Castro) and on the other hand, the democratic-humanistic model itself stands for. Maspero defined the relationship between CLAT and Solidarnosc as the common struggle for democratization: in Poland against communism in Latin America against capitalism.

How great the enthusiasm was for Solidarnosc could one see during the visit of Solidarnosc leader Lech Walesa to the 22th WCL Congress, held in Caracas, Venezuela (november 1989). To confirm friendship between WCL and Solidarnosc, Kristoff Dowgiałło from Solidarnosc was elected vice-president of the WVA. Also for the first time in the history of the WCL a general secretary from Latin America was elected,  Carlos Custer from Argentine and a member of the CLAT board who previously had been already confederal secretary of the WCL. CLAT was now more than ever committed to the WCL. ACV President Willy Peirens was elected President of WCL. The future looked bright for the WCL.

To be continued...

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Below you find a reaction on the earlier published blog on German Mini Blogs (July 12 2013), written by Adalbert Ewen, President of the German Metal Union CGM affliated to the German Christian Confederation CGB. The CGM is affliated to the World Organization of Wokers WOW.

At the beginning of the new millennium, Germany was considered "the sick nation of Europe". How could it therefore be possible to reverse this situation and to grant Germany a role model– whether rightly or wrongly?

In the years from 2001 onwards, the Schröder government underlined the importance of national and international labor market reforms, particularly the so-called "Hartz reforms" of the years 2003 to 2005. The federal government applied the so-called flexicurity, that is, demanding a stronger activation of jobseekers, by fully deregulating the legal basis of individual forms of atypical employment opportunities. Thus, the creation of minor employment was considered the alternative to unemployment, especially in the expanding service sector. Nevertheless, during high times of the new economy, one resisted the temptation to expand this sector further, especially in the financial sector. Instead, all Länder-governments wanted to maintain and further strengthen the industrial 'Germany', including special support for the middle class with a total of 1,400 companies, belonging to the world market leaders. Here, the relationship between trade unions and employers has played a major role. The social partners established security of employment as a major element, which has been crucial for the German success and for our competitiveness.

Therefore, the importance of labor market reforms is often oversubscribed. Very flexible labor agreements with the trade unions contributed to strengthen the equity base of the companies and to increase profitability. Therefore, even at the peak of the financial crisis in 2009, closure of a larger number of companies could be avoided, among others due to short-time working.

Nevertheless, there is a correlation between high growth rate and income inequality. In Germany, thanks to reforms, unemployment has been reduced from five to three million. The appropriate wage policy secured many well-paying jobs in the industry. Therefore, Germany has a higher share of industrial employment than France or England, for example. Moreover, Germany presents a high trade surplus, because a large part of industrial productions goes into the world market.

The beginning of the millennium showed a real wage loss, but from 2005 onwards, trade unions increasingly managed to reverse this trend. The only problem left over, in fact, was the greatly increased number (more than 7 million) of atypical employments (mini-jobs, part-time and temporary work). As much as these jobs contributed to more flexibility on one hand, on the other, they also led to significant revenue losses for the social security institutions, and they will lead to increasing poverty among the elderly, especially women, whose average pension is already significantly below that of men.

So-called "mini-jobber" are not insured against unemployment and not affiliated to the statutory pension insurance of self employed. The latter has recently been made possible – though quite inadequately. Mini-jobs put increasingly tariff rates (rates established in collective agreements) under pressure, because since ten years, the former limitation to a maximum allowable working time has been dropped (crowding out effect of regular employment).

  • Unemployed people bear the greatest risk of poverty. About 56 percent of them are at risk of living in poverty (poor people perceive less than 60 percent of average earnings in Germany).
  • Nearly 59 percent of the poverty threatened is able to escape poverty by means of a low-wage job.
  • According to my union, this mini-jobber need better legal requirements, most notably the elimination or significant reduction of the minimum threshold of compulsory social security.
While maintaining a minimum threshold, the (re)introduction of a limit for allowable working time in hours (previously 15 hours per week) is essential, in order to allow an hourly wage corresponding to a minimum wage of 8.50 € for a monthly salary up to 450 € - as requested by the unions.

Adalbert Ewen

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Wim Spit (left), vice-president of the FNV and president of the NKV received in march 1979 a delegation of Latin American women of CLAT. Here you see him talking with Maritza Chireno of the Dominican Republic with the help of Leo Sijbes (left of Maritza) from CLAT-Nederland. Wim Spit deceased last month at the age of 89.

The following story is a personal testimony and not a historical record of what happened at the end of the last century and the beginning of the new millennium in the international trade union movement, in particular in CLAT and the WCL.

I do not know if during the WCL Congress where the French CFDT decided to leave the WCL, there was already some talking about a possible merger between WCL and ICFTU but during the merger between NKV and NVV in the Netherlands it was the case. Remarkable if you take in consideration that this happened just after a few years that the so-called "bible of Maspero' with the strategic options of WCL was approved.

During the Confederal Board meeting of WCL in Montreal (March 1980) NKV President Wim Spit (recently deceased) declared that his confederation only will stay in the WCL if the WCL will declare as its political intention to merge with the ICFTU into a new democratic world organization. The continental organizations of WCL in Asia (BATU), Africa (ODSTA) and Latin America (CLAT) strongly opposed the proposal. The Dutch CNV therefore proposed a resolution that advocated for cooperation between ICFTU and WCL but no merger at all between the two world organizations. This was accepted by all participants, except the NKV delegates. (Circular No. 846 of April 29, 1980 by J.M.W. van Greunsven, secretary of the FNV Federation Board addressed to the members of the Federation Council.)

The result was that in the above referred circular the FNV Federation Council was proposed to choose alternative b, which reads as follows: "…..there are no longer sufficient grounds to remain a member of the WCL. From this point of view, the NKV can come to no other conclusion, after having postponed on several occasions its decision taking or not to implement decisions already taken, then to terminate its membership of the WCL per December 31, 1980 in compliance with the time limit according to the statutes, ie by September 30, 1980.

At this point the NKV must conclude, after having spend for so many years its best efforts for the strengthening and renewal of the international democratic trade union movement, to have failed in the intensive efforts to achieve an acceptable political decision on unification between ICFTU and WCL.

This failure is mainly due to the unwillingness of the WCL to cooperate in providing acceptable solutions for the ICFTU, but also for NKV. The strengthening of the international trade union movement is by termination of membership in fact not at risk, because also in maintaining the NKV membership there is no prospect for a unified world trade union movement.

The situation that only the NKV as a confederation will be a member of the WCL and little or none of its unions member of the WCL International Professional Federations – insofar as they still are functioning - is politically highly undesirable, although this possibly could be bridged for the short term. Confederal and professional action should be aligned and coordinated. Issues such as international restructuring, control of multinational companies and solidarity actions demand strong Confederations together with strong Professional Federations.”

What exactly is meant by strengthening and renewing the international trade union movement is not entirely clear. The emphasis is on strengthening by increasing the power by numbers in this case that of the ICFTU. The issue of relations between industrial action and ideas about the future of mankind, society and state do not arise. In the quote we read about what indeed would become a weak part of the WCL, the weakness of the professional action through its International Trade Federations. This subject will therefore certainly come back further in the story.

For now we can conclude that with the departure of first the French CFDT and later the Dutch NKV, the Belgian Christian Trade Union Confederation ACV as the strongest confederation in the WCL, had great responsabilities in maintaining the WCL, followed at a distance by the Dutch Christian Trade Union Confederation CNV. Fortunately both confederations mentioned posessed well equipped and financially strong NGO's to continue to support international solidarity activities for the development of the WCL affiliated trade unions.

The departure of the two federations meant not only a financial weakening of the WCL. The WCL got the image of an organization that is losing slowly its members. The Dutch merger also brought new ideological tensions between the international trade union organizations. It was considered by opponents of the WCL as a proof that Christian trade unionism is outdated. Many believed that soon the WCL will disappear.

This believe was not new. Indeed in 1973, the year of the WCL Congress in Evian, the European organizations of the WCL and the ICFTU agreed on the foundation of the European Trade Union Confederation ETUC. Obviously in the new ETUC, the unions affiliated to the ICFTU had the majority. Part of the deal was, however, that the confederations could remain its membership to their respective world organizations. It was also agreed that trade unions, belonging to those confederations affiliated to the ETUC, could become a member of to the European Trade Federations without leaving the WCL International Trade Federations.

The ETUC had to be a unified trade union organisation without some kind of internal organized pluralism. Was it lack of understanding by the WCL or excessive confidence that they did not agree on for example the formation of a social-Christian group within the ETUC ? Remarkable because it was a well-known phenomenon in some European confederations. The Austrian Confederation ÖGB has formally structured fractions based on internal elections. Within the German Confederation DGB exists a group of Christian Democratic oriented members.

To be continued

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Published in "CLAT Nieuws", july/august 1973. 

The following story is a personal testimony and not a historical record of what happened at the end of the last century and the beginning of the new millennium in the international trade union movement, in particular in CLAT and the WCL.

The formal merger in 1982 (in the years from 1976 until 1982 both confederations worked together very closely) of the Dutch Catholic Confederation NKV with the former social democratic NVV meant in a certain sense the beginning of the end of the international labour confederation WCL, the Christian-oriented World Confederation of Labour, the oldest world federation, founded in 1929 in Luxembourg by the NKV, the Dutch Christian trade union federation CNV and other European trade union confederations. During the merger between NKV and NVV it was agreed to join the international social democratic trade union confederation ICFTU, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The departure of NKV meant a considerable financial loss for the WCL.

The NKV was not the first confederation to leave the WCL under the influence of the shift to the left brought by the sixties. That honor belongs to Christian French Trade Union Confederation CFTD, then headed by general secretary Edmond Maire. I happened to be at the WCL Congress in Evian (1973) where this was happening. It was my first appearance in the world of the international labour movement, in this case as an observer on behalf of CLAT Netherlands, a Dutch NGO linked to the former Latin American Workers' Confederation CLAT. In those years CLAT Netherlands was one of the larger and well organized NGO's in the Netherlands.

As an observer, I was not involved in the WCL internal debates on the decision of the French CFDT to leave but I noticed that there was a lot of hassle. European trade union leaders, but also Latin America represented by CLAT general secretary Emilio Maspero, attempted to convince CFDT secretary general Edmond Maire during nocturnal conversations to stay within the WCL. For Maspero the departure of the French CFTD was an extra blow now he had to present for the first time in history of the WCL a new strategic document called "Towards the Liberation of the workers by the Solidarity Struggle".

Maspero had written this strategic document for the WCL with the intention to give a place to the Third World unions in the international labour movement. The document was a mix of Social-Christian beliefs linked to a certain kind of class analysis with the goal 'to liberate' the poor by way of a social struggle. It was a mix of social-Christian and Marxist thought from what was then called Third World option against capitalism and especially the North American capitalist imperialism, against the multinational companies as the so-called vanguard of that imperialist capitalism and a class analysis that would would bring real worker's democracy and social justice instead of communist dictatorship. The kind of thinking we already knew from the Colombian guerrillero Camilo Torres (1929-1969) and what later has become known as the Catholic Liberation Theology.

Published in "CLAT Nieuws"; september/october 1973

I remember that some NKV leaders did not agree with what they called a crypto- communist manifesto, remember that the Cold War was still in full operation, while others from the same NKV embraced the manifesto as a new combative beginning that the WCL would give a new start and new members. Although the document was adopted by a majority (almost 70%), a lot of Dutch, Swiss and Austrian delegates saw little merit in the new course. The Belgian ACV welcomed the document but had made some reservations. However, for the French CFDT the document came too late. They left the WCL. Moreover, the shift to the left of the French federation CFTD led to a separation of a more conservative part of it - the CFTC, which stayed affiliated to the WCL.

After the French CFDT in 1973 had departed, it was now in the late 70's that the NKV left the WCL. A federation with about 400,000 members which as already observed, meant a considerable financial loss for the WCL. Despite the new Third World course the WCL, which is now graced with the title of World Confederation of the Poor, had not affiliated new financially strong members.

The NKV had stipulated during the merger with the NVV a transition period for international solidarity. Although now affiliated to the ICFTU, the new FNV would stay involved in WCL unions in the Third World under the flag of the former NKV solidarity organization "Us and Them". The story was that the Third World unions were not to be allowed to become victims of the new relations in the Netherlands. This agreement was not always warmly welcomed by everyone in the FNV. So it appeared that "Us and Them" and the new FNV had great difficulty in the 80's with the political choices of CLAT during the political conflicts in Latin America, mainly in Central America.

As a fundamentally democratic organization CLAT was against any kind of leftist dictatorship. She was only willing to go in armed conflict as there was broad public support for it but even then CLAT remained cautious, not to say suspicious. The lesson was learned in Cuba. Who has the weapons, has the power and when the new rulers are not clearly democrats this would ultimately lead to the loss of trade union independence and pluralism. Hence CLAT was very critical on the armed Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the leftist guerrilleros in El Salvador and Guatemala. Thanks to former contacts between NKV leaders within the FNV leadership and the Dutch NGO CLAT Netherlands it was possible to discuss the matter on the highest levels of CLAT and FNV. The result was that FNV and CLAT stayed on speaking terms.

To be continued