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

1 comment:

  1. Very interessting history. I am looking forward to the continuation.
    Rolf Weber, Denmark