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.


  1. Estimado Piet:
    Excelente resumen, nos permite revivir nuestra historia dentro de la CMT y ofrece una versión a quienes no tuvieron la oportunidad de estar en ese proceso.
    Gracias por poner una foto donde aparezco.
    Maritza Chireno

    1. @Maritza Chireno. Muchas Gracias. Me gusta mucho trabajar a estos artículos.