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.

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