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.

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