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