Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Man with 'Smiling Face', Totonac. 600-900, Las Remojadas, terracotta, height 37 cm, Museo de Antropologia de la Universidad Verucruzana, Xalapa. The face of this standing naked man is known as a smiling or laughing face. The man is wearing a headdress on which the upright, stair-meander motif coming from the architecture is shown in relief. (...) Such figures are found in large numbers. No less often, only the broken heads found so one has thought of Ceremonial beheading. They give the impression of ecstasy, touched by the gods perhaps consuming a hallucinogenic mushroom or cactus. The figures can be seen as mediators between man and the gods. Sometimes they are depicted with a musical instrument so that associations with the gods of dance and game are also obvious. (Ted Leyenaar and Felipe Solis, Mexico a divine journey, De Nieuwe Kerk Amsterdam / Waanders Publishers 2002 blz.213)

We trade unionists are so occupied with the daily struggle for better wages and working conditions that we do not have time to reflect much about what work means for mankind. According to the Bible work is considered as a punishment given by God to Adam and Eve when they still were living in the earthly paradise. The story tells us why mankind was doomed to work for a living.

17. “To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18. It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19. By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are and to dust you will return.
20. Adam named his wife Eve,because she would become the mother of all the living.
21. The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.
22. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
23. So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.

(Genesis 3: 17-19)

So far the Jewish/Christian view on labor. The Mexican poet, writer and Nobel prize winner Octavio Paz wrote about the view on labor of the pre-Colombian culture of the Totonac tribe in the Mexican region of Veracrus on the Atlantic coast in an essay called "Laugh and Punishment", a preface to "Magia de la risa" (Magic of Laughter) a book with pictures of pre-Colombian Mexican figurines, Mexico 1962). I read a Dutch version of this essay in Octavio Paz, The Art of Mexico, Meulenhoff, 1993.

Paz starts with an analysis of the smile that he sees on the faces of ceramic figurines found in many places in Veracruz, Mexico. He wonders what that smile means. He believes that the laughter of the figurines is a kind of 'cosmic smile', a smile that can be compared with children's laughter.

"Today, only children laugh in a way that recalls that of the Totonac figurines. The smile of the first day, a fierce smile that was close to the first cry : in agreement with the world, a dialogue without words, fun (...) The child's laughter restores the unity between world and mankind, but also announces their final separation. Children play the game look to each other in the eye: first laughs lost. Laughter has a price. The laughter has ceased to be contagious. The world has become deaf and can henceforth only be conquered with effort or sacrifice, labor or rite. "(page 68)

Here Paz goes from laughter to work or labor. His conclusion that the world has become deaf and laughter has ceased to be contagious is perhaps a bit exaggerated but contains some truth. Our laughter is often acidic, just to hide embarrassment or to make others ridicule or even demonic. Laughter is usually not giving us a sense of freedom even though we sometimes do our best to make us feel free. Laughter is also close to crying. Sometimes you are surprised how quickly a smiling child changes in a crying child. It seems that laughter and crying are each others counterpart.

The gods are free to laugh everywhere and as much they want. Gods exist with laughter. We people are no longer awarded with the gift of free laughter after we have broken with the gods. We can only exist through labor and "as the sphere of labor expands, is that of laughter limited. Being human means learning to work, learning to behave seriously and formally. "

After this conclusion Paz goes further. "By humanizing nature (through work) work deprives mankind literally from his humanity. And not just because work changes workers into wage slaves ( Marxism has a especial eye for this), but because through working, life and profession become confused . It makes mankind inseparable from his tools, brands him with his own tools, and all tools are serious. Work destroys the essence of mankind: his face tightens, prevents him to cry or to laugh.”

To a certain level Paz is right but I believe that work still can also be a way of playing freely with nature and world, not only artists but also artisans who dare to turn their phantasy into reality by building cathedrals, palaces and houses but also bridges, cars or computers. Work is the way we build culture and culture is not just punishment. Culture in the boadest sense of the world makes us human.

Paz too has an eye for this. "Sure, mankind exists thanks to his work: but there must be added that he only can be human when he can disengage himself from his job or when he knows how to turn his job into a creative game" (p.68) . This conclusion is a nice answer to our question whether work is punishment. It is a punishment when we don't know how to work playfull or when we can't work playfully because of conditions created by ourselves or others. Then work becomes deadly serious and our smile a grimace and yes that is a punishment.

Friday, October 25, 2013


The photograph was made in Ibagué, Colombia where we visited local organizations of the CGT (1987). On the right Emiel Vervliet, on the left Julio Roberto Gomez, Secretary General of the Colombian trade union confederation CGT.

It will have been no coincidence that around the same time that Lucien Stragier wrote his letter about the LBC-NKV leaving the WFCW, Emiel Vervliet wrote an article in the prestigious journal 'De Gids op Maatschappelijk Gebied' (The Guide on Social Affairs), a publication of the Belgian Christian Workers Movement ACW, in which he also questioned the future of the WCL. Emiel was at that time confederal secretary in the WCL and Executive Secretary of the WFCW and as such he worked closely with Lucien Stragier. WCL General Secretary Carlos Custer told me that the article prompted him to ask the ACV to remove Emiel from the WCL. When I started working at the WCL, I took over the portfolio for Central and Eastern Europe and as I already wrote, I became also the Executive Secretary of WFCW.

I had already met Emiel in 1987, when he still worked at the WCL. He and I were together with Novib staff member and later politician Ad Melkert member of an evaluation committee set up by the Dutch NGO Novib and CLAT. For many years Novib supported financially training projects of the Colombian trade union confederation CGT (member of CLAT). Our task was to investigate the results of these years of support. The discussion focused on the support of the trade union trainingcentre INES in Bogota. As part of the investigation, we visited Colombia. Our conclusion was that INES had contributed to strengthen the CGT.

The photo is a copy of the one published in the weekly 'Volksmacht' (power of the people) from the Belgian ACW  on the death of ACV President Jef Houthuys ( 22 March 1991). On the left Jef Houthuys. On the right his successor Willy Peirens, also President of WCL. Peirens called Houthuys a man of the people. As far as I've experienced, Jef Houthuys was indeed a man of the people: jovial, friendly and a staunch trade unionist. I recognized in Jef Houthuys my father who was also a trade unionist, former CNV President Henk Hofstede and trade union President Ton Bastiaansen, also member of the board of CLAT Netherlands.

At that time, I did not hear great criticism from Emiel on the WCL. However, I knew that a debate was going on in the ACV on the position of the CLAT unions in Central America and especially in Sandinista Nicaragua. In the mid 80s, I was invited by Maurice Walraet of ACV to speak at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee ACV. As international trade unionist and former election observer on behalf of the Dutch government in the presidential elections in El Salvador and Nicaragua, I was considered an expert on the subject. *

Within the ACV like in the rest of Western Europe, opinions were divided on the course to follow in Central America. Opposition to the Sandinistas and the guerrillas in El Salvador was considered te be a betrayal of the global social(istic) revolution, the liberation movement, the theology of liberation and worst of all as support to the aggressive policy of U.S. President Reagan. At the end of my speech, which was in line with the views of the trade unions in Nicaragua and El Salvado affiliated to CLAT, President Jef Houthuys spoke the encouraging words that Jesus Christ had also started but with a small group of 12 apostles. I concluded from this that the majority of the committee did not share the views of the CLAT unions in Central America.

Because of these and other experiences, I realized that within the ACV, the WCL was no longer considered as self evident. It was increasingly doubted the WCL had a future. Could there be something done about it? I thought so, even if it is difficult. To convince the doubters within the largest funder of the WCL, success should be fast. As a former UNDP and ILO staff member I knew that international work is always hard and slow. There are simply to many different parties and also different interests involved.

The WFCW did not give up despite the departure of LBC-NVK and the Union BLHP. Congress and Board were determined to go on despite limited financial resources both at European level and internationally. A lot had to be done: winning new members in Central and Eastern Europe, if it is possible also in Western Europe, improve the sections and the regional organizations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. However, the most important was to insist on EURO-FIET to respect the established European rules and to admit our members freely to EURO-FIET, without linking it to a membership of FIET.

About the European trade union rules the following was written by Willy Buschak (German historian and trade unionist) in 'The European Trade Union Confederation and the European Industry Federations'.

When the European Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ECFTU) was founded in 1969, the European sectoral committees acquired an advisory voice within its organs. When the ETUC was founded, the matter of relations between European trade unions and the ETUC needed to be redefined. In June 1973 the ETUC’s executive committee defined the conditions under which these sectoral committees would be officially recognised by the ETUC. They had to organise throughout the European Community, they had to be open to all unions in their industrial sector that were members of an umbrella organisation affiliated to the ETUC, and they had to be independent bodies with a number of permanent structures.

ETUC Secretary General Bernadette Ségol (left) was Secretary General of EURO-FIET at that time.This photo has been made during a protest meeting organized by the ETUC in January 2012.

The first of these industry federations to be recognised by the ETUC were: the EMF, EFA, EURO-FIET, EGAKU, the Coal & Steel Committee and the IPTT’s European committee. By the end of the seventies these had been joined by the Gewerkschaftliche Verkehrsausschuss in the EC, EPSU and EC NGG/ECF-IUF. In 1983 the EFBWW followed, then in 1988 the ETUF- TCL and EFCG. Conflicts have repeatedly taken place between the ETUC and some of its industry federations on the matter of membership – according to the ETUC statutes, all European industry federations must accept any union that is a member of an ETUC affiliate. However, this rule has not always been respected in practice
( European Trade Union Organisations Inventory of the Archive of SocialDemocracy and the Library of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, published on behalf of the Friedrich-Ebert- Stiftung by Uwe Optenhögel, Michael Schneider, Rüdiger Zimmermann. Bonn, 2003, pp 9 – 19) 

About Euro-FIET:

EURO-FIET was founded in 1972 as the European regional organisation of the international white-collar federation FIET (the International Federation of Commercial, Clerical, Professional and Technical Employees). It was the only FIET regional organisation to levy its own fees, but still received subsidies from its international parent body. EURO-FIET and its successor UNI-Europa are less independent of FIET and the international trade secretariat UNI than their European counterparts in other structures. In 1975 EURO-FIET received early ETUC recognition as an industry federation. (page. 9)

* I was an official election observer on behalf of the Dutch government in the presidential elections in El Salvador in 1984, also in Nicaragua in 1984 and Suriname in 1987. In 1990 I was part of the Dutch delegation to the UN Mission for the elections in Nicaragua. The presidential elections in El Salvador were the first elections in modern history where election observers were used to verify that the elections would be democratic.

To be continued.

The above 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 the WCL and CLAT.

Friday, October 18, 2013


The WCFC Congress Table from left to right: Hernan Baeza (FELATRABS), Necie Lucero (ABCW), Jaap Kos (President), Eduardo Garcia (Deputy Secretary General CLAT), Piet Nelissen (executive secretary), Ivo Psenner (EO/WFCW) and Horacio Mujica (FETRALCOS)

On September 21 in the year 1992 I went along with secretary – assistant Chris Lenaerts by train to Amsterdam where we flew to Santiago de Chile, towards a new experience and challenge. It was not a large World Congress . The WFCW had no regional organization in Africa . At this conference a start was made with the foundation of an African organization. Koffi Zounnadjala of CSTT in Togo promised that in collaboration with the WCL regional organization DOWTAU and the African training center Fopadesc he would organize the Panafrican Federation of Employees. Under the leadership of president Necie Lucero from the Philippines and supported by the WFCW Secretariat together with CNV Aktie Kom Over the Asian Brotherhood of Clerical Workers ABCW had been founded. In Latin America the WFCW did have two regional organizations: FETRALCOS for workers in the informal economy and trade sector with Secretary General Maritza Chireno and FELATRABS for employees in the banking and insurance sector with the Presidency of Hernan Baeza .

The EO/WOW board in Zürich, Swiss (August 27, 1992) from left to right: Jaap Kos (President WFCW), Richard Paiha (FCG-GPA Secretary general), Charles Steck (treasurer EO/WFCW and WFCW), Ivo Psenner (President EO/WFCW) and Piet Nelissen (Executive Secretary WFCW and EO/WFCW)

The European regional organization EO/WFCW was the best organized because it had sufficient resources and a well functioning board with the Austrian President Ivo Psenner of Vorarlberg. Ivo personally went to great lengths to keep the WFCW together and if possible to expand further. He had regular consultations with German speaking unions in of course Germany, but also in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and the German speaking part of northern Italy. It was difficult to get new members in Western Europe, that also could strengthen the financial backbone of the WFCW.

The organizational preparations for the congress had been difficult. The final administrative settlement with the hotel was a disaster. There were no clear agreements made. The hotel had made a mess from the administration. With the necessary improvisation, repeated consultations with the hotel management about their accounts and checking of the participants and their obligations, we could close the financial affairs after a long night. You can safely say that on this first world congress hard lessons were learned.

View if the Congress Hall. In front Chris Lenarts from WCL and working as secretary/assitant to WFCW and EO/WFCW.

Politically speaking the future did not look very bright for the WFCW. For two European organizations this 27th World Congress was an immediately farewell to the WFCW, namely the Dutch Unie BLHP and the Belgian LBC-NKV, member of the Belgian Christian Trade Union Confederation ACV. That made the departure of the last one extra bitter because the ACV was one of the main pillars of the WCL. The departure of one of the largest unions of the ACV made indirectly the support of the confederation ACV for WCL smaller.

"As promised in Turkey, I let you become below in my personal capacity some concerns about the future of the WFCW, which in my view, is closely linked to the future of the WCL," wrote Lucien Stragier, general secretary of the LBC-NKV on May 21 1991 in a letter to WFCW chairman Jaap Kos and EO/ WFCW President Ivo Psenner. In his letter, Stragier writes the following: "I feel that we are experiencing the same problem as the WCL. On the one hand the WFCW is NOT ready to go to FIET and defend within FIET its own values. On the other hand, we are too small to have any real significance on the world stage. Only a further expansion in the continents outside Europe may contradict this statement. Question is of course, whether it is in the interest of trade unionism to have opposing organizations or organizations that seek maximum cooperation. The WCL is struggling with the same problem but some people do not even see the problem. Yet even the WCL will have to choose between an inglorious downfall or a redefinition of its mission but then in proportion to its size and resources. "

In his letter Stragier wrote that the EO / WFCW is not a representative union and that recruitment opportunities for new members are limited. According to him, there is nothing more to recruit in Western Europe. He does not have confidence in the possibilities for EO/WFCW in Eastern Europe: "In Eastern Europe, everything is so vague and one can wonder whether in these countries they ever will and want to convert the present Christian ideology into own international structures. So I think that the EO / WFCW as a trade union is doomed. However, I would still support any suggestion that aims to survive and thus to prove the opposite. "

The rest of the letter is devoted to the proposal to transform WFCW and EO / WFCW into a foundation. "If we say that the WFCW is not ripe for a merger and therefore wants to continue, this is only important for the other continents rather than for Europe. Europe, however, is important for the other continents. There must be a bond with Europe and I think that the modest EO / WFCW therefore is far too small. So we should find something at European level but NOT as a trade union. Not as a union, because this is prohibited in the FIET-construction. (despite all the arguments here, but facts are facts). "

I'm sorry to say this but the analysis of Stragier is quite confusing. The WFCW and EO / WFCW were and are indeed small in the amount of members compared to the FIET as the WCL also was small compared to the ICFTU. Internationally WFCW and WCL are a minority, but a minority with its own views, its own values, its own vision of man and society, different from FIET and the ICFTU. If this would not be the case anymore, a merger is obvious. Unfortunately Stragier writes nothing about this subject.

A minority indeed can not use power politics but is that bad? A minority must use its persuasiveness, its commitment, its diplomacy, creativity and dynamism. History shows that despite their political power limitations, minorities are able to get their rights. Secondly. Why would after decades of communist dictatorship, trade unions in Eastern Europe not want to join a trade unions with Christian roots? After all the Eastern and Central European countries have the same ancient Christian roots as Western Europe. Thirdly, it is disappointing that Stragier bows his head to the Leninist principle that like-minded members of the FIET may not have their own circles of consultation and cooperation.

Trade union pluralism is not mentioned in the letter of Stragier. Instead, he talks about "opposing organizations" that would make cooperation impossible. But in national and international politics opposing organizations many times work together indeed. Why should that not be possible in the (international) trade union movement? WFCW and WCL have always declared its willingness to cooperate with other international trade unions, also with FIET and ICFTU.

Sjef Houthuys speaks in this YouTube film about trade union pluralism in Belgium. it is unfortunate but it is only available in the Dutch language. 

Former president ACV Jef Houthuys (preident of ACV from 1969 until 1987) said in an interview in1976 that trade union pluralism is still a necessity for the trade union movement. "I believe that the workers in our country are well off with the trade union situation as we know it. That means trade union pluralism and therefore if it is possible, collaboration between trade unions. We see here in the first place that there is a need for two different unions because of two different conceptions of man, labor, society and so on. Secondly, I believe that cooperation does not make impossible for each one to have its own principles and doctrinal statements for the great vision and a program in the long run.I believe this is rather a advantage. "

I met Jef Houthuys for the first time in 1975 during his visit to Mexico together with Henry Molina of CLAT. This picture was taken during a tourist visit to the pyramids of Teotihuacan near Mexico City. Far right with camera is Jef Houthuys. He was very interested in the living conditions of the Mexican workers. Second from left is Henry Molina. In the middle my wife Diny together with two friends Eric (far left) and Greet from Belgium.

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 the WCL and CLAT.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


De Belgian ACV Industrial Workers Union delegation. On the right in front Leon van Haudt. Next to him Michel André. Behind Leon sits President  Leo Dusoleil  with next to him Karel the translator.

Back to Sao Paulo. The aim of the seminar was to exchange experiences between European and Latin American unions and to strengthen solidarity. The hot topics of the seminar were of course liberalization (free market) and privatization. After the fall of communism, capitalism was the only remaining social-economic model on world level. Thanks to the former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the former English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher the so-called neo-liberal model was introduced worldwide as the only model for social-economic development.

During the seminar a semi-final match for the European Championship was held between Holland and Denmark. The Brazilian paper Sao Paulo combined in an article seminar with sports (23 of June 1992). After 2-2 the match was decided by penalties. Denmark won.

Our Latin American friends feared and hated this model. Capitalism had never worked out well on their continent. In Europe it was different. Since World War II capitalism had been transformed and became the foundation for the welfare state. Thanks to the European social dialogue, Europeans looked therefore to the neoliberal model on a more pragmatic way. On the contrary, our Latin American friends saw the neoliberal model as a new attempt by the U.S. to expand its economic power in Latin America. It was considered a new threat to their already weak position compared to the position of employers and politicians.

Our Brazilian friends organized a grand closing ceremony of the seminar together with one of the large metal unions of the region.

For European trade unions neoliberalism was a new challenge that they could face with a certain confidence, because in their own country and in the European Union trade unions are considered as serious social dialogue partners of employers and politicians. The Latin American unions didn't have confidence in politicians or employers because they don't hesitate to use repression against trade unions or at least to put them aside. Latin American unions distrust therefore any social dialogue. They see it as a trap with the aim to reduce their influence and resistance.

While I was in Sao Paulo, General Secretary Maritza Chireno of the Latin American Federation of Trade and Services FETRALCOS, held a seminar in a union training center on the coast. She had invited me to visit the seminar so she could introduce me as the new Executive Secretary of the WFCW, to which FETRALCOS belongs as a regional member. I felt honored by the invitation. Besides I wanted to share with her some of my preocupations regarding the upcoming World Congress (September) of WFCW in Chile.

Until then I had no communication with Hernan Baeza, president of the Union of workers at the National Bank and responsible for the organization of the World Congress. With less than three months to go, I had not received any information on the reservation of the hotel, the arrangements and the costs, the congress hall, the translation system with its booths etc. This was my first World Congress so because of this lack of information I became 
very nervous.

Visit of one of the slums in Santiago de Chile with Hugo Flores, President of the Association of slum dwellers Solidardidad (left). On the right Gerrit Pruim, secretary general of CNV Aktie Kom Over. (Jnue 1991)

On a previous visit to Chile, as an advisor of the CNV Aktie Kom Over (June 1991) together with secretary general Gerrit Pruim, I had met Hernan Baeza in his office at the bank. Following talks with leaders of slum organizations in Santiago, I proposed him to ensure together with his union that the slumdwellers could open a savings acount despite their low and irregular income. This would allow them to save for the purchase of the land on which their houses stood. Of course, they also should become the legal owners of their land. From our meetings with the slum dwellers we had learned that the legal uncertainty about the property of land and their house makes it difficult for them to get out of poverty. At the end of our conversation I had to conclude that Baeza was not interested in our proposals.

I assured Maritza that if I did not get the guarantee that the necessary preparations for the World Congress in Chile were not taken, I would propose the WFCW board with urgency to held the WFIW worldcongress in Europe. Maritza shared my concerns. She would discuss it urgently with CLAT. After all, as one of the founders of FETRALCOS Deputy Secretary General Eduardo Garcia was Honorary President of FETRALCOS. That would certainly help, as we thought and it did. The Congress was held in Chile.

In the middle Jan Dereymaekr of ACV Belgium, On his left side Amrita Sietaram of CNV Netherlands. On the end of the same row Guy Drillaud of CFTC French. In front the translator of LWU. The woman between Jan and Guy is also a translator.

Just before the WFCW World Congress (11 to 13 September), the Lithuanian LWU held its regular congress in Vilnius. There were indications that at the congress the decision would be taken to join the WCL. A reason to be present at the congress with a large delegation: Amrita Sietaram (CNV, Netherlands), Jan Dereymaeker (ACV, Belgium), Guy Drillaud (CFTC, France) and myself. Guy was there because his predecessor, CFTC Secretary General Jean Bornard had made the first contacts with LWU president Aldona Balsienne. Jean had even ensured that Aldona as a guest could be present at the meeting of the European section on the 17th of March in Brussels.

On the left Aldona Balsienne, President of the LWU. On the right Jean Bornard, Secretary Genral of the CFTC.

For reasons I don't remember but to our great disappointment the decision on joining the WCL was postponed . I had already been surprised that the ICFTU had been invited to the conference. I considered it as a not so good sign. I believed that the good contacts between LWU and the Polish Solidarnosc I had experienced during our mission led by Krisztoff Dowgiałło, would be of importance for the choice of LWU. We also had supported the LWU as much as possible , politically and financially. Of course, the WCL had limited financial resources, but I assumed that not only money plays a role in the decision on international membership or is this too idealistic ? If so, then so it will be. The WCL does not benefit from members who are only interested in money. And in case money was needed, we could find it always. A matter of faith in the good cause .

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 the WCL and CLAT.

Friday, October 4, 2013


Breakfast of the delegation of CNV Industry Union delegation with board members of the union of the Paraguay Sugar Factory. At the head of the tabel Pedro Parra of the CNT. On the right of Parra sits coming President Doekle Terpstra. On the left of Parra the outgoing President Frits Hanko. Next to him Treasurer Wim van der Jagt. 

As Dutch delegation we were told that the Dutch Honorary Consul Juan Bosch in Paraguay made life of the union in its sugar factory very difficult. So we went there to have a look. Wim van der Jagt, one of the members of our group, wrote about that visit in the Dutch magazine Latin America, a publication of the solidarity association CLAT Netherlands (number 4, 1992).

"Thursday, June 18. After a journey of nearly two hours we arrived at the sugar factory 'Azucarera Paraguay SA' . First we had a meeting with the board of the trade union there. We spoke to one of the two fired leaders of the trade union. He told us that he had received his salary till the end of 1991 by the CNT. We promised him on the spot that our union will pay his wages for the whole year 1992. Furthermore, we gave extra money for his union. Moreover, we have made ​​an agreement for 'adoption' of the union, so they always can turn to us for material of immaterial support. We hope by this way to force the management of the sugar factory to take serious the union. Mr. Bosch (Honorary Consul of the Netherlands in Paraguay and also one of the owners of the sugar factory), who was aware of our arrival, had agreed the day before our arrival the first collective agreement ever in his company. That would not have happened if we had not been there! "

The delegation then went with great interest of bystanders in procession to the factory. There was held a meeting with Bosch. "First Mr. Bosch criticized Jaap Kos, president of the Dienstenbond CNV, who in 1991 had brought in publicity the company. By the way Kos was at that time not permitted to visit the factory. Bosch spoke into detail on the relationship of the company with the employees. Actually, according to him, a collective agreement is completely unnecessary ..... The company was founded in 1905 and you could see it well. The little good that the company has done is donating 80 pieces of land and providing interest-free loans so that people could build their own homes. When we told him that we had adopted the union in his company, Bosch was shocked visibly! "

Upon return, the CNV Industry Union wrote an official letter to the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs about Bosch, requesting to point out Juan Bosch on its obligations and if necessary to take measures so he could not be any longer Dutch Honorary Consul.

The participants of the WFIW Seminar in Sao Paulo. Standing on the right on his feet Laerte Texeira da Costa. 
He is currently Secretary for Social Policies at the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas TUCA, Central Autonomous Workers - Member of CAT en CDES - Presidency of the Republic. To his right Carlos Gaitan,at that time Secretary General of FLATI. Next to him Leo Dusoleil, President of the WFIW and President of the ACV Industry Union. To his right  Michel André and Leo van Haut, both members of the board of ACV Industry Union.Sitting in the centre of the group is Frits Hanko, President of the CNV Industry Union. Behind him Siegfried Ehret, President of the German CGM. Behind André Michel is Reinhart Schiller who succeeded Siegfried Ehret as President of CGM.

We went to Sao Paulo, Brazil where during the last week of June 1992 the WFIW seminar was held. Meanwhile also delegations had arrived from Belgium ACV Industry and the German Christian Metal Union CGM. From Latin America trade unionists took part from host country Brazil, from Argentina and Paraguay. The Argentinian Carlos Gaitan, Secretary General  of the Latin American Federation of Industry Workers FLATI, was responsible for the organisation and coordination of the seminar.

It was my first acquaintance with members of the board of the German CGM led by Chairman Siegfried Ehret. It would become the beginning of what I would call the German affair in the WCL. While CGM was a member of the World Federation of Industrial Workers WFIW and the German BranchUnion DHV member of World Federation of Clerical Workers WFCW, their confederation, the Christian Trade Union Federation of Germany CGB, was not affiliated to the WCL. One of the reasons that was buzzing around within and outside the WCL, was that members of the German Christian trade union would have a Nazi past.

Before judging I decided to see for myself what was really going on. That was not difficult. CGM chairman Siegfried Ehret invited me after some time for a visit to his organization and to meet his boardmembers. I had a frank discussion with them. I learned to know also other active members of the DHV during WFIW branche meetings and the yearly seminar for the German-speaking members of the WFIW.

Through the European Christian Miners Federation I learned to know old and new leaders of the German Christian Miners Union. The board meetings of the European Federation were held in the border region of Germany, France and Belgium. If there is one area that you could call European, it is the region that stretches from the French Alsace and Lorraine with cities like Metz and Strassbourg and the neighboring German Saarland with the city of Saarbrücken to Flemish Limburg with the city of Hasselt. Thanks to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community after World War II, the predecessor of the European Union, the miners were the first branch to be involved in the European social dialogue. Their mutual European cooperation stemmed from the obvious camaraderie that exists between miners.

It became clear to me that the rumors were completely inaccurate. Presumably they were purposely spread by circles around the German trade union IGMetall. This giant among European trade unions with millions of members conducts a war of attrition through long standing legal procedures against the CGM, that with its several hundred thousand members plays a modest role in major German car companies like Audi, BMW, Volkswagen and Porsche in Bavaria, the largest state of the Federal Republic of Germany.

It is purely a political power struggle, a union unworthy. Since 1957, the Government of the economically dynamic and rich Bavaria is in hands of the Christian Social Union CSU. The last state elections (15 September) has been won by the CSU with an absolute majority. Maybe IG Metall fears that this strong position of the CSU eventually can affect its dominant position? Anyway, instead to cooperate with the CGM for collective agreements, IG Metall prefers to make war. A deplorable mentality for a union that claims solidarity and democracy as its core values. This is not a good sign of a union from a country that let bleed Europe and even the world during World War II owing to its democratic failures.

The CNV delegation during the WCL European Section meeting on the 7th of March 1992 when Henk Hofstede was still President of CNV. In the foreground  WCL treasurer Eelke Jongsma, President of the CNV Transport Union.Anton Westerlaken looks into the camera lens. On his left CNV President Henk Hofstede. On his right Jan Jacob van Dijk for European policy.

So there was no reason that the CGB should not become a member of the WCL. Moreover, because of its budget constraints, the WCL could use well the extra contribution. I suggested CGB Chairman Peter Konstroefer, who I met during a meeting in Saarland, to talk with CNV chairman Anton Westerlaken who was also Vice-President of the WCL. At his request a meeting was foreseen on March 8, 1993 in Oisterwijk in the Netherlands instead of Brussels, that I had proposed. Unfortunately Anton Westerlaken appeared over an hour late for the appointment. That's been a bad omen. The meeting did not get any follow up and then the CGB has never joined the WCL.

I can only guess the reason for this state of affairs. IGMetall will certainly have put pressure on the Belgian ACV Metal Union and the Dutch CNV Industry Union . Both unions were already some time member of the European Metalworkers' Federation, of which IGMetall is one of the main members. The accusations on the CGM were made by some leaders of these unions as well as negative comments on CLAT in Latin America and also the WFIW. Add to this the possible pressure of the mighty German DGB trade union confederation through the ETUC into the direction of CNV and ACV. Anyway, this state of affairs made clear that the much needed expansion of the WCL without permission from major European Trade Unions was not possible unless ACV and CNV were willing to take heavy risks.

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.