Saturday, November 30, 2013


On the cover of the book a photo of his father August as a young man.On the backside we read the following: "My father was a great trade union man. From Europe he brought the Christian trade union movement to Africa, Asia and Latin America. My father was a great catholic.He was one of the first laymen who got access to the Second Vatican Council. And yet he pointed Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus towards his trade unions."
Geert van Istendael, son of the former secretary general of the International Christian Trade Union Confederation August Vanistendael (see previous blog), is a writer, poet and essayist. He wrote a book about his father, titled "Gesprekken met mijn dode god" (conversations with my dead god). It contains the following passage about his father's work in Latin America.

"Most he loved Latin America. There he had started with $ 300 and only one man. From Tijuana to Punta Arenas , from the pampas to the Popocatepetl he had to conjure out of nothing the trade union. The brave one has disappeared long ago into the past, the trade union federation even in this ultra- Catholic half- continent remained a minority , but fighting spirit it had, like no other one. They could tease him until his death, these Latinos , they conspired and intrigued as wild wood spiders. In a letter to his home, he calls the trade union there a pigsty . They like to live in disorder, they proclaim chaos as the fundamental principle of workers' struggle . But in 1954 the Confederacion Latinoamericana de Sindicalistas Cristianos (Latin American Confederation of Christian Trade Unionists CLASC) was founded, in 1968 it was renamed or should I say de-baptized into Central Latinoamericana de Trabajadores (Latin American Confederation of Workers CLAT) , which then again in 2008 has been absorbed by the broad social democratic trade union movement " ( Geert van Istendael, Amsterdam / Antwerp 2009 , p.158 )

Indeed, Latin America is chaos and disorder as a result of political instability, bureaucratic arbitrariness, corruption and poverty. You may become annoyed about this, but at the same time admire the talents of the common man to stay upright. Latin Americans are masters at improvising. Despite the political, economic and social chaos, they know to make the best of it. What a contrast with Europe, where enthusiasm and joy often perish between rules and bureaucracy.

It is very strange to see the image of Stalin in Mexico City on the 1 May Parade (1978) while former Soviet Leader Leon Trotsky during his exile in Mexico City was brutally murdered by  a secret agent of Stalin in 1940. 

But trade unions were not new in Latin America. Partly thanks to the European immigrants, trade unions have been around in Latin America since the 19th century, mostly anarchist or Marxist-oriented (see for example “Historia del Movimiento Obrero en America Latina” written by Victor Alba, Liberos Mexicanos Unidos 1964). New was the idea of a social-christian oriented trade union movement. The classic trade union movement preached class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat, some of them were political fundamentalists, or they were bribed by Government and political parties. It went so far that some trade unions had no problem to cooperate with a military or party-dictatorship in their country. The trade union was not so much a movement for the emancipation of workers as well an instrument of one or another political party. The gap between rich and poor stayed as it ever was. CLAT wanted to change this by giving back the trade union movement to the workers so they could decide for themselves about their destiny. That is why CLAT used the slogan “Solo el pueblo salva el pueblo” (only the people can save the people).

The Cuban Revolution (1959) and the subsequent revolutionary movements in Colombia like the ERLN with the priest Camilo Torres and the communist FARC (still existing and nowadays negotiating a peace agreement with the Colombian government in Cuba), the Tupamaros in Uruguay, the Montoneros in Argentina, and much later, the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua (1979) brought no real change. The liberation theologians with their so-called grassroots groups and the labor movement generally proved powerless.

That the position of the new star trade union star CLASC would become difficult between the existing trade unions, governments and polictical parties including the leftist revoltionary, became already clear inmediately after the victory of the Cuban revolution (1959). CLASC secretary general Maspero went inmediately after the victory of the revolution to Cuba, where he gathered with young leaders from the Catholic Working Youth, an organisation to which he had belonged also. They had risked their lives by supporting the revolution in the cities. Together with these young men Maspero made a press statement in which the position of CLASC was explained (original text in Spanish).

José Gomez Cerda is a trade union leader from the Dominican Republic who has had also  some international positions like for example Secretary General of the World Federation of Agricultural and Food Workers (WFAFW) and nowadays he is Persident of the Latin American regional federation for retired workers CLATJUPAM. On his website "Accion del Movimiento de Trabajadores en Internet" ACMOTI you find a lot of data on the trade union movement in the Dominican Republic as well as Latin America and International. 

"We fully support all revolutionary intentions aimed to implement of agrarian reform, industrialization, economic development, tax reform, fair distribution of wealth, full employment, 
 economic independence, political sovereignty, provided that all these efforts will not be used to consolidate the revolution as an end in itself, but to allow more full and effective exercise of human freedom and the construction of a new and fair society.”

... We declare finally that the Social Doctrine of the Church, inspired by humanist and Christian values, human dignity, social justice, freedom and social solidarity, are strong and effective enough to serve as a foundation for all revolutionary efforts to
build a new and better economic, social and political order ... " (José Gomez Cerda, "Emilio Maspero:el dirigente syndical").

From left to right: Mercedes Barcha, Gabriel Marquez (Gabo), Teresita Gonzalez and Reinol Gonzalez Photograph taken during the visit of Gabo and his wife in Miami where Reinol and his wife Teresita live in exile.  Reinol wrote also a book on his time in jail on Cuba called "Y Fidel creo el Punto X, un testimonio revelador sobre el régimen de Castro",Saeta Ediciones, Miami-Caracas 1987.

But Castro had become communist. Democrats and former revolutionaries like Reinol Gonzalez were put aside and then eventually disappeared for years behind bars. Others, such as Jose de Jesus Plana and Eduardo Garcia Mouro, had fled the country. CLAT and August Vanistendael have worked a long time to get out of jail Reinol Gonzalez. With the help of the Colombian writer Gabriel Marquez (Gabo) he was released in 1977. He then had been in jail 16 of the 30 years for which he was convicted. Jesus Plana came to work at the UTAL, the workers' education and training centre of CLAT in Caracas. Eduardo Garcia was elected deputy general secretary of CLAT and became one of the main fellows and friends of Emilio Maspero.

Second from left Emilio Maspero during the opening of the UTAL in 1975. On his left Eduardo Garcia followed by Henry Molina, José Jesus Plana (first Director of UTAL) and Acacia Maspero.

Despite this setback in Cuba, Maspero continued following his own path for what he called the liberation of Latin America. He refused to accept the Cold War for Latin America and to stand at the side of the U.S. He did not succumb to the pressure of the North American State Department and the AFL-CIO. “In September 1960 Maspero was invited by the State Department of 
the United States and met with key leaders of the AFL-CIO, including George Meany (president of the AFL-CIO from 1955 until 1979), Rumualdi and Serafino. These meetings were conflictual and have not contributed anything positive to the relations between CLASC and the AFL-CIO." (idem José Gomez Cerda)

From left to right: Rangel Parra (Secretary General of the Federacion Campesino Latinoamericana FCL), Sjef Houthuys (President of the Belgium trade union confederation ACV, Emilio Maspero (Secretary General CLAT) and Eduardo Garcia (Deputy Secretary General of CLAT). UTAL was financed by European trade unions like the Belgium ACV and the Dutch CNV and for a large part also by the German Christian Democratic "Konrad Adenauer Stiftung" and the Dutch NGO "NOVIB". 
So Maspero was not the man to surrender whatever the situation may be. He refused to compromise or to moderate his positions even when this brought him a clash with August Vanistendael, the man who had stood also at the cradle of CLASC.
"Emilio Maspero had its own personality, and was always provocative, both with governments, employers, international organizations ... 
 as within his own organization, but always with his own positions and alternatives to problems. His first internal conflict, in early 1961, was with the President of CLASC (José Goldsack) and General secretary August Vanistendael of the International ChristianTrade Union Confederation ICTUC (predecessor of the WCL), about the positions of the Christian trade unions in Colombia. While Goldsack and the Secretary General of ICTUC advocated a prudent policy towards ORIT organizations in Colombia (
there existed already Christian trade unions before CLASC was born) Máspero faced the sectors with another trade union affiliation.” (idem José Gomez Cerda)

to be continued

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Minimum wage statistics, as published by Eurostat, refer to monthly national minimum wages. The national minimum wage usually applies to all employees, or at least to a large majority of employees in the country under consideration. Minimum wages are gross amounts, that is, before the deduction of income tax and social security contributions; these deductions vary from country to country. The national minimum wage is enforced by law, often after consultation with social partners, or directly by national intersectoral agreement.
As you can see on the map there are considerable differences in minimum wages between European countries. The highest established minimum wages you find in Luxemburg, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, all neighboring countries of Germany.The lowest minimum wages are in Eastern European countries where costs of living also are lower. In between those two groups are Spain, Portugal and Greece. Remarkable is the fact that Italy, Swiss and the Scandinavian countries with strong unions do not have such a minimum wage arrangement.

It looks that after years the Germans wil get their national minimumwage. The establishment of this minimumwage results from what is called in German “Die grosse Koalition”, the grand coalition. It refers to the coalition between the two big German parties the Christian democratic CDU/CSU and the social-democratic SPD. It was the SPD that supported the proposal of the German trade union confederation, the mighty DGB, to establish a minimum wage rate for all workers in Germany. Such a minimum wage rate should make an end to what is called 'wage dumping', which would lead to modern slavery. May be the word slavery is somewhat exaggerated but it is a fact that in the modern developed German economy people need to work 60 of more hours for having a decent standard of living.

Although the CDU/CSU from Gemany's prime minister Angela Merkel won the elections without any problem, it was not enough to govern alone. Because their preferred political partner, the liberal party FDP, lost the elections Angela Merkel had to look for another coalition partner. Based on only the election figures, it was possible to create a left wing coalition existing of the social democratic SPD, 'die Grünen' (the Greens) and 'die Linke' (the Left ) with a majority in the German Parliament. However, this was only theory. The political divisions between these parties are to big to make a stable political coalition for the next years. That is why the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats were sentenced to one another.

Because of the lack of a minimum wage rate, Germany has become a so called 'low-wage country' in Europe. Dutch and Danish companies are relocating to Germany, where, in particular Polish workers and Eastern Europeans do the heavy and dirty work in abattoirs, metalworking and cleaning companies. People work for 2 to 5 euros per hour while just on the other side of the border wages of 10 to 20 euros per hour are paid.

The lack of a fair minimum wage rate in Germany leads to a lack of fair European competition. Germany competes with other European economies by lower wages. German workers and especially the migrant workers, who are coming from all corners of the world, have to pay the price for a competive German economy by making long working days and weeks and having a lower standard of living.

The level of the minimum wage rate that is buzzing around in and outside Germany is an hourly wage rate of 8,50 Euro. Of course everybody who matters is discussing the question if this is good or bad for Germany. As an export directed economy Germany has succeeded the last years to keep production costs low, compared to other European countries with the result that German products are the best priced quality products on the European and international market. Compete with Germany does not only mean to produce high quality products but also low priced.

Some economists, some politicians and of course a lot of employers fear that an established minimum wage rate will be bad for Germany's export economy and therefore for the whole German economy. Less export means less employment, so at the end the unemployed will pay for the employment of the others. However, others believe that a guaranteed minimum wage rate will give an economic boost to Germany's internal market. Germans are by nature cautious consumers. Because of the financial and economic crisis the Germans are even more cautious by saving more than to spend.

The last months Germany is even critized by the US and the European Commission for not consuming enough. The Commission recently announced to start an investigation of Germany's internal market. The lack of demand of the internal German market would limit the exports for other European countries like for example Italy, Greece and Spain that are in desperate need for a growing export economy. It is seen as not fair that the Germans create wealth, without sharing it with other European economies. It is said that the minimum wage rate could be the correct pulse for the internal market that on its turn would help the other European economies to restore.

Friday, November 22, 2013


During the VOST Congress in Kiev (1995) I spoke to Mr. Mark Tarnawsky of the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI) in Kiev. In the picture above we see standing from right to left Marjon Oostveen from the Dutch CNV, Pol Buekenhout from Belgium ACV, VOST President Olexander Djoulik and myself.

During several trips I tried to come in touch with people of the Free Trade Union Institute / AFL-CIO. In Moscow it failed. In Lithuania, I spoke with a member of the Free Trade Union Institute in Poland during an evening meal at the home of LWU President Aldona Balsiene. It was a friendly meeting from which I have deduced that the LWU received support from the FTUI. I believe, that after its initial enthusiasm for the WCL, that support ultimately led to the affiliation of the LWU to the ICFTU.

At the 4th Congress of VOST in February 1995, I spoke to Mark Tarnawsky of the Free Trade Union Institute in Kiev. VOST joined the WCL after its second congress in 1993, where Olexander Djoulik had been chosen as President of VOST. Tarnawsky acknowledged that their support to several unions in the Ukraine had been unsuccessful. According to VOST the FTUI had been too generous with financial support, resulting in infighting in stead of cooperation between the new unions.

It became clear that the AFL-CIO favored support to new democratic unions, ie unions that have had nothing to do with the former Communist trade union-nomenclatures. The ICFTU however maintained good contacts with what was going to be called post-Communist trade unions, ie the former Communist confederations that after the fall of Communism were democratized. Sometimes members of these old communist union-nomenclatures managed to maintain all or part of their positions.

In the picture above Jan Deremaeker sits next to Amrita Sietaram (now working at the ILO). Next to Jan we see Christophe Jussac from the French CFTC. On the head of the table is key note speaker Professor Lindemans (Belgium) at the seminar "WCL for new trade unionism after communism" in Budapest 1993.

We should not forget that many West European trade union leaders had already for some time before the downfall of communism, contacts with members of the Communist trade union-nomenclature from the time of the detente during the Cold War. Also members of the WCL had such contacts, as for example the Belgian ACV. Jan Dereymaeker, in these years head of the International Relations Department of the ACV, writes about this in his article "Chronicle of the ACV policy in Eastern and Central Europe" published in De Gids op Maatschappelijk Gebied (The Guide to Social Life , Number 2, 1997, p.197 )

" Like many other Western European trade unions ACV also had in the past contacts with (political controlled) organizations behind the Iron Curtain. A number of countries had put tentative steps towards liberalization ( Hungary , Yugoslavia ... ) and it was also common in the European trade union movement to take part in the peaceful coexistence rather than to give in to the - too cold - war ideology . That led to diplomatic trade union contacts which led sometimes to mutual invitations of 'observers ' or ' journalists ' ( but never guests or participants ! ) at congresses. Here and there study visits were made ( to be informed on the ' developments in the field' ) and during the anual ILO Conference, with the simplicity and clarity of the then world, there was mutual consultation: we as WCL or together with the ICFTU and on the other side the WFTU . " (The WFTU has survived the fall of communism with a limited number of small communist unions)

About the WFTU the following is said in Wikipedia: "The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) was established in 1945 to replace the International Federation of Trade Unions. Its mission was to bring together trade unions across the world in a single international organization, much like the United Nations. After a number of Western trade unions left it in 1949, as a result of disputes over support for the Marshall Plan, to form the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the WFTU was made up primarily of unions affiliated with or sympathetic to Communist parties. In the context of the Cold War, the WFTU was often portrayed as a Soviet front organization. A number of those unions, including those from Yugoslavia and China, left later when their governments had ideological differences with the Soviet Union." 

The pursuit of international trade union unity is as old as the trade union movement itself. It started already in the time of Marx and Engels, the ideological founders of the Communist trade union movement. It goes back to the Marxist analysis that due to the global development of capitalism a global class struggle will arise. International trade union pluralism as a condition for the development of democratic trade unions never has been an option in this view.

In the foreground right August Vanistendael during the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of CLAT in Caracas, Venezuela. Behind him Dr. Arnold van Niekerk. The woman next to Vanistendael was the assistant of the Committee. August Vanistendael was president of an Evaluation Committee of the three Dutch NGOs Cebemo (now Cordaid), Novib and ICCO. These three NGOs funded development projects of unions affiliated with CLAT, as well as projects of CLAT itself. Dr. van Niekerk and myself (on the left) were members of that committee.

Since the WCL was an independent and autonomous world organization, the Americans had little or no effect on the WCL policy. The State Department however has tried to interfere directly with the WCL or should we say tried to intimidate the WCL? August Vanistendael (1907- 2003), general secretary of the International Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (predecessor of the WCL) , told with a certain pride about his experiences with the North American State Department. When he began to expand the WCL to Latin America, Asia and Africa in the 50s, he was invited several times to visit Washington. It was made clear to him that the WCL was not welcome in Latin America. The State Department considered Latin America as the exclusive sphere of influence of North America, also with regard to the trade union movement.

Apparantly the nineteenth century Monroe doctrine, according to which European intervention in Latin America was out of the question, was still alive. However, Vanistendael just went through and strengthened WCL ties with Latin American unions and those in the rest of the world. The U.S. togethether with the AFL-CIO must have been unhappy with the establishment of the Latin American Christian Trade Union Confederation CLASC (the predecessor of CLAT) in 1954. Especially when the CLASC started to attack the US involvement into Latin America as a new kind of imperialism that hindered Latin America to determine its own future. CLASC considered the former Inter- American Organization of Workers ORIT (member of the ICFTU) dominated by the AFL-CIO as an instrument for US intervention in Latin American trade union affairs.

to be continued

Friday, November 15, 2013


Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa holds up the George Meany Human Rights Award as AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland applauds during the AFL-CIO convention in Washington (Nov. 14, 1989). 
J. Scott Applewhite / ASSOCIATED PRESS

I suspect that the outspoken anti-Communist legacy of Munkastanascok, just like that of Solidarnosc, was one of the reasons for the special interest of the North American AFL-CIO. President Imre Palkovic told me once that he personally had been invited by AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland to visit him in Washington officially but also at home. An unusual state of affairs. That Munkastanascok had a special meaning for the AFL-CIO, was confirmed in april 1994 when I had a lunch with three staff members of the AFL-CIO in Washington about their policy in Central and Eastern Europe. At the beginning of the lunch they congratulated me with the affiliation of Munkastanascok to the WCL as if we had won a kind of super prize.

"From 1979 to 1995 Kirkland was president of the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). On the international front, Kirkland's support of the Solidarity movement in Poland contributed to the decline of communism. According to Michael Szporer's Solidarity: The Great Workers Strike of 1980,[6] American Unions under the leadership of Lane Kirkland contributed $150,000 shortly after the successful Solidarity Strike, as early as September 1980. At the time, the Carter administration, including its two prominent Polish Americans, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Ed Muskie advised against such aid fearing Soviet reaction. Kirkland boldly took the initiative persuading Zbigniew Brzezinski of the wisdom of supporting the Solidarity movement. In all US union support of Solidarity far exceeded its European counterparts. Solidarity aid was part of Lane Kirkland's internationalist vision for the labor movement and the building of the global consensus on human rights. After the changes in Eastern Europe, Kirkland became a mentor for many prominent labor leaders who saw him as a visionary and visited him in his office at the George Meany Center. He befriended Lech Walesa as well as Marian Krzaklewski who replaced Lech Walesa at the helm of Solidarity. Kirkland was awarded posthumously with the highest Polish award, the Order of the White Eagle."

While the AFL-CIO was a member of the ICFTU, it had its own policy in Central and Eastern Europe. This policy was executed by offices of the AFL-CIO through the Free Trade Union Institute FTUI in various capitals in Central and Eastern Europe and even in Moscow.

The Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI) was created in 1977 when the AFL-CIO resurrected and renamed the moribund Free Trade Union Committee (FTUC). The purpose was to increase U.S. influence with European trade unions, especially in Spain and Portugal. (16) It was almost defunct in 1983 when Congress began funding the newly-created National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and FTUI has been the largest grantee ever since. (3) NED's purpose is "to encourage the establishment and growth of democratic development in a manner consistent both with the broad concerns of United States national interests and with the specific requirements of the democratic groups in other countries which are aided by the endowment."(14) FTUI is one of four core grantees of NED. The other three are the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), National Republican Institute for International Affairs, and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. In 1988 NED received over $20 million from the U.S. taxpayers. (15) Congress authorizes U.S. Information Agency (USIA) funds for NED which in turn gives money to FTUI and other grantees. FTUI then funds overseas projects which are usually managed by AFL-CIO's three regional labor institutes: American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), Asian-American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI), and the African-American Labor Center (AALC). (2)”

FTUI says it "supports programs that provide assistance for democratic education, training in basic union skills, and organizing assistance... sponsors exchanges between trade unionists... and supports research on labor rights and human rights..." ( see: Right Web of the Institute of Policy Studies

The direct involvement of the AFL-CIO in Central and Eastern Europe had been started with Solidarnosc in Poland. On support for Solidarnosc we read the following on the afore mentioned website:“Poland: The largest recipient of FTUI grants from 1985-1989 is the Solidarnosc. (8) With its funding Solidarnosc was to disseminate information, sustain union ativists, maintain its adminstrative infrastructure, and through its Brussels-based office disseminate information to the West on worker rights violations in Poland. (15) Jerry Milewski, director of Solidarnosc's Brussels bureau said the grants were used for a social fund for Solicarnosc members, and for printing and communications equipment. Radical factions within Solicarnosc criticise the tight hold on funds by Lech Walesa and the union leadership. (8)”

On the same webpage we find Portugal, Spain and France. In Portugal, the support went to the social-democratic oriented trade union confederation UGT as a counterweight to the Communist-oriented CGTP. The WCL maintained friendly relations with a group of Christian workers within the CGTP. In Spain, the Basque nationalist trade union confederation ELA-STV  was supported as a counterweight to the radical left terrorist group ETA. ELA-STV was like Solidarnosc member of both ICFTU and the WCL, these two federations were the only ones in the world with a dual membership. In France FTUI / AFL-CIO supported the trade union confederation Force Ouvrière as a counterweight to the then socialist government of President Mitterand, according to the website.

Photo taken during the Cartel Alfa Congress in 1995 in Rumania. On the right Amaia Betel, international relations ELA-STV. in the centre WCL President Willy Peirens. The Spanish Journal El Pais published on the 18th of June 1988 an article on the funds ELA-STV was receiving from the United States.

I assume that European Social Democratic Parties and Trade Unions were at least aware of this AFL-CIO policy in Europe. It can be concluded that the Cold War was waged also in European trade union country by the AFL-CIO. Given the network of AFL-CIO/FTUI offices in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, the mission of the FTUI / AFL-CIO had apparently not yet completely finished after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989).

Photograph taken at the meeting of the ITF-WCL mission to Poland (march 1992) with the Presidents of the Solidarnosc National Federations for Chemistry (Christoph Hnatio) and Energy (Ludwik Zagwojski) talking to Leo Dusoleil, President of the World federation of Industrial Workers (WFIW) of WCL on the left).The man on the right is the translator. 
"Then there's a discussion between the two presidents. Zagwojski seems not won for joining ICF (International Chemistry Federation), given the socialists of Western Europe in the past have always adored Communism and now suddenly changed track." (report L. Dusoleil, March 1992. 

During our trip through Poland along the various national sectoral federations affiliated with Solidarnosc at the beginning of this year (1992), regularly we heard about North American trade union assistance. A few times, we met some North American trade unionists, usually with a Polish background. They were involved in some kind of solidarity program of a national federation or regional organization. So Ryszard Dabrowski, President of Solidarnosc Wood and Building Federation, told us that his union gets help from Canada, Italy, Sweden and North America. "The help from North America consists mainly of technical training of steel benders, masons and carpenters. The North American people are giving this technical training. "(Report, L.Soleil, March 1992) Of course, it is not surprising that Polish migrants in the U.S. like to help their former compatriots to rebuild their country and trade union.

Bob Fielding listening to a presentation at the seminar on "World Federation of Labor for New Trade Unionism after Communism", Budapest March 1993. On his left writing Marleen Mens, one of the very capable WCL secretaries.

I was soon introduced to the North American Bob Fielding who worked at the International Department of Solidarnosc. When I asked how he had become involved with Solidarnosc, he told me that while he was studying in Poland during the rise of Solidarnosc, he had become active in the clandestine Solidarnosc. His stay in Poland and his involvement with Solidarnosc pleased him so much that he decided to stay in Poland and help Solidarnosc with its international contacts. A few years later he told me he went to work for the AFL-CIO in one of the Caucasian republics. I believe he mentioned Georgia, but I can be wrong.

To be continued

Thursday, November 7, 2013


During the Confederal Board meeting in Bucharest, October 1992, host Bogdan Hossu, President of Cartel alfa, tells about the Romanian Revolution of December 1989 on a cemetery in Bucharest. In the wake of the revolution, 1,104 people died, 162 of these occurring in the protests that took place from 16 to 22 December 1989 and brought an end to the Ceauşescu regime and the remaining 942 in the riots before the seizure of power by a new political structure, the National Salvation Front.

My first WCL Confederal Board was in October 1992. This was held in Bucharest, in a typical Eastern European hotel with a cheap imitation 19th century decor that covered a soulless twentieth century architecture. I remember a much too large and high room in which we seemed to swim around. Typically Communist architecture designed to feel yourself small and insignificant as part of the megalomaniac power dreams of “great” leaders. The sharpest expression of this intimidation culture is the People's Palace built by dictator Ceausescu. It is a successful example of Romanian Stalinism. For its construction, including secret passage and a subsequent large-scale ranging boulevard for the high ranking Communists, entire neighborhoods including many churches of ancient Bucharest, were demolished.

Given the circumstances it was well organized by the trade union confederation Cartel alfa. For most members of the Confederal Board, this was their first encounter with Cartel alpha and post-communist Romania. A still messy Romania , but you could not blame the country and its people for this after forty years of Communist dictatorship. Romania was not different from the other post-communist countries. While Western Europe after World War II, thanks to the help and support of the Americans, soon became prosperous and got increasing individual freedom, Central and Eastern Europe moved in the opposite way: less individual freedom and growing poverty.

The Palace of the Parliament (Palatul Parlamentului) in Bucharest, Romania is a multi-purpose building containing both chambers of the Romanian Parliament. According to the World Records Academy, the Palace is the world's largest civilian building with an administrative function, most expensive administrative building and heaviest building. The Palace was designed by architect Anca Petrescu and nearly completed by the Ceaușescu regime as the seat of political and administrative power. Nicolae Ceaușescu named it the People's House (Casa Poporului), also known in English as the Palace of the People.

For me the Confederal Board was an opportunity to learn to know many leaders of unions affiliated to Cartel alpha as well as trade unionists from Asia (BATU) and Africa (ODSTA). The Latin Americans of CLAT I knew already a long time thanks to my work at CLAT Netherlands. I also had a brief encounter with Gerda Verburg of the CNV board, from then on she had the WCL in her portfolio. As always, she was not lacking in ambition and competitive spirit, I noticed early in the morning at breakfast. She had already made her morning run and invited me to go outside with her and explain in ten minutes how WCL worked. I've obviously done my best. At the urging of WCL President Willy Peirens I left before the end of the meeting for Brussels. As managing Director of the WCL Solidarity Foundation I should attend a meeting of World Solidarity, the organization for international development of ACW.

I knew Gerda from Tour d'Haii! an activity organized by the solidarity movement CLAT-Nederland in 1991 with the aim to collect money for the Haitian trade union. She won the Tour making 7 rounds of 30km each. After being a board member of CNV she became a member of the Dutch Parliament. From 2007 until 2010 she was Minister of Food and Agriculture. Since 2011 she is the permanent representative of the Dutch Government at the FAO in Rome.(Photo copied from Latin America, magazine of CLAT-Nederland, nr.5 1991)

In November, I was invited by the Christian Democratic Academy to give a lecture on a seminar in Budapest about the WCL and the trade union movement in Central and Eastern Europe. That gave me the opportunity to visit a number of Hungarian trade unions that maintained good contacts with WCL . The oldest contacts, before my time at the WCL, were with the Christian Trade Union Szamket led by Laszlo Lantzky. The official application for membership of the WCL was dated November 1991. However, there were many doubts about the nature, scope and significance of Szamket.

Especially the report of Günther Engelmayer of FCG / ÖGB, who in August had attended a seminar organized by Szamket, sowed doubts again. Engelmayer came to the conclusion that the confederation did not amount to a lot and that "Laszlo Lantzky's pride, ambition and poor ability to delegate" was not enough to build a movement of workers and activists.” He wrote that Lantzky lacked expertise and realism. During my visit Lantzky claimed that his confederation would have 40,000 members. He proudly told me that he was admitted as the 8th member of the Council of six confederations. This was indeed a certain recognition of his federation at national level.

The Council was established by the six main confederations in Hungary. They entered into a mutual agreement on the distribution of the assets of the former communist trade union unity SZOT . Szamket and the other " little " union Solidarity would also get some of the old possessions of the now defunct communist trade union confederation SZOT. An agreement on the distribution of union assets was important for their existence. Without possessions they would have little chance to survive, let alone develop. Voluntary membership and a culture of self-financing through membership dues payment as an expression of independence and autonomy, the basis for dignity of every worker and every self-respecting democratic trade union, was unknown in Communist times. The new trade unions had still to teach this culture to their members and that would certainly take time, so much time that most unions would have vanished before they were well and truly begun. Thanks to these former trade union assets like office buildings, leisure centers , training centers, hotels etc. they had more chance to survive.

After Lantzky I spoke with Judit Gulyas, president of the federation EDDSZ in the healthcare sector (about 100,000 members). She was also Vice President of EUROFEDOP, one of the WCL International Trade Union Federations. EDDSZ had recently joined EUROFEDOP along with two other unions (the Union of Hungarian Civil Servants' Federation with 70,000 members and the smaller Federation of Costum Officers). This expansion of EUROFEDOP was partly due to the EUROFEDOP Liaison Office located in Vienna, supported by the Federation of Public Servants GÖD affiliated to the ÖGB. Their liaison officer Erwin Kofler wrote in a report to the WCL Coordination Committee on Central and Eastern Europe on March 24, 1993 on activities in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, the former Soviet Union, Bulgaria and Lithuania. EUROFEDOP was the only WCL International Trade Federation with a liaison office for Central and Eastern Europe.
Imre Palkovics during a seminar in Budapest (1993)

My last appointment was with President Imre Palkovics and some members of the National Federation of Workers' Councils (MOSZ - Munkastanascok). We had already met in Prague during the European Forum. Then Palkovics indicated that he wanted to become a member of the WCL. On national level Workers' Councils was also a member of the Council or Trade Union Platform. The Confederation has a Christian Democratic signature but has also Social Democrats and Conservatives in its ranks. Using Workers' Councils as the basic structure, MOSZ indicated clearly that they consider themselves as heir to the Hungarian uprising or revolution of 1956.

Crowd surround a captured Russian tank during the anti-Communist revolution in Hungary, 1956. Hulton-Deutsch collection/Corbis. Photographer: Jack Esten

“In 1956 the Hungarians revolted against the communist regime. During the uprise workers' councils were formed within enterprises. It was a democratic movement which tried to act as a rival political power. Not only workers' initiatives was at stake, but also the Communist power monopoly as such (that is the core of the Communist Soviet model). When the party leadership promised to end the Communist power monopoly and announced the country's neutrality, Soviet troops invaded the country and shattered the revolt in a fortnight. The workers' councils none the less continued to function and to represent the ideas of resistance, but there functions were limited, while Communist party and union leadership were restored. In January 1957 the new government did not recognize the workers councils movement anymore. The workers' councils were then phased out.” (Floor Nelissen, Industrial democracy in Hungary on the right track?, Doctoral thesis political sciences, Nijmegen 1996 and Wikipedia)

Friday, November 1, 2013


The impression I have got from Philip J. Jennings during our meetings as well as later during brief encounters, is that of a dynamic and ambitious trade union CEO. A pragmatic man who is convinced that big bussiness must be confronted by big unionism. The bigger the union, the better it can do its bussiness. Therefore it is not surprising that by using the FIET as a starting point, he succeeded in creating the Global Union UNI (2000) which is now one of the biggest unions in the world. However,the problem is that how big an international union may be, it will never be stronger than its weakest members. That is true for any international organization be it the United Nations or an International Trade Union Federation like UNI. Only strong local trade unions can make strong an international trade union organization.The question therefore is how to get strong local unions worldwide?

The talks between delegations of WFCW and FIET / EURO-FIET (since 2000 UNI/EURO-UNI) were fruitless. FIET General Secretary Philip J. Jennings tried us just to make clear that the WFCW outside Europe does not mean anything. The talks were literally a confrontation between power politics and idealism. He did not endorse our argument that EURO-FIET should respect the rules of the European Trade Union Confederation ETUC.

The coupling of the membership of EURO-FIET to that of FIET may be justified according to Jennings, but it did not make any sense in the light of the agreed ETUC rules. Besides, we had our doubts about this presentation of the financial relations between EURO-FIET and FIET. Thanks to the status of social-dialogue partner of the European Commission, EURO-FIET could use free of charges European facilities such as meeting rooms including translation equipment and interpreters. For an international organization this means an important amount of savings. Therefore it looked to us as though FIET played a game with the WFCW in order to acquire a monopoly.

Emilio Gabaglio and Fritz Verzetnitsch - Signature of the European Framework Agreement on parental leave - Brussels - 14/12/1995Emilio Gabaglio (left) was ETUC secretary general from 1991 until 2003. He was also national president of the Christian Associations of Italian Workers . The year before he was elected president, ACLI had held a Congress under the title of “Workers' Movement, Capitalism and Democracy”. “Under the presidency of Emilio Gabaglio (1969–1972), who proposed a "socialist hipothesis", the ACLI went further to the left.” The ACLI was a member organization of the WCL without being very active on international levels during these years.
Fritz Verzetnitsch was ETUC President from 1993 until 2003 and President of the Austrian Trade Union Confederation ÖGB from 1987 until 2006.He was also a member of the Executive Board of the ICFTU (1988-2000). As a result of a financial scandal with the ÖGB Bank BAWAG, that caused great financial losses, Verzetnitsch left office on 27 March 2006 and was dismissed by the ÖGB in April.

We then decided to ask the CNV confederation as a member organization of the ETUC, to intervene officially on this matter at Emilio Gabaglio, the General Secretary of the ETUC.  We thought that he could convince the FIET to respect the agreed European rules. However, the intervention of CNV chairman Anton Westerlaken together with a delegation of WFCW did not give any result. Apparently Gablagio was powerless regarding FIET or did it not suit him to intervene?

As a last resort we decided to knock on the door of ÖGB President Verzetnitsch also chairman of the ETUC. I remember a friendly reception but that was about all. Did he not want to do anything or couldn't he do anything? Years later, the breakthrough came anyway. European trade unions could join the EURO-FIET without compulsory membership of the FIET. Why took it so much time for FIET to adapt to the European rules? Was it a case of ordinary power politics to secure its monopoly? You would think so if you look to the facts.

The WFCW affair made clear that the International Trade Federations ITF's of the WCL had no answer on the challenging and sometimes agressive positions of the large European trade union organizations. The WCL was responsible for the coordination of the ITF's, but in practice proved unable to do so effectively. Earlier, for this reason the metal unions ACV and CNV had left the WCL, in order to join the European Metalworkers' Federation (EMF). After joining the EMF the two unions wanted also to join the International Metal Federation IMF. So there was no forced trade between the European and international organization like FIET, but a deliberate choice of the two unions. However, the two unions had to wait years before they could join the IMF, as you can read below.

"Traditionally Christian unions join organizations of the WCL, the World Confederation of Labour. In the field of metallurgy, the WCL has no organization anymore. Thus was joining the IMF obvious. However, members of the IMF can block new unions from their country to join the IMF. This veto was used by the Belgian Socialist metalworkers against their Belgium Christian fellow union, the CCMB. And our trade union had a solidarity agreement with the CCMB: we join together the IMF or we do not. For the time being it was not. When over the years the Belgian attitude changed, it was then the Dutch FNV that did not want us to join the IMF. It took years before the barriers were removed. In 1991 the CCMB joined the IMF in Lisbon, and this year (1992) it was our turn. It is strange that our membership has been blocked for so many years, while our union was already for many years a member of the EMF, which has good relations with the IMF. " (magazine "Bondsbeeld" of the CNV Industry Union , 10th of July 1992)

Reading this article, I decided to write a letter to President Frits Hanko of the CNV Industry Trade Union in which I observed that it is only partly true that the WCL does not have a special organization for the metal sector. “But, and this is nothing new for you, we have a World Federation of Industrial Workers WFIW. As you know, we still want to be active internationally. Therefore, we could use the support of your metal sector as well." (letter of 4th of November 1992)

Thanks to his visits to Latin America Frits Hanko (on the extreme left of the round table) was well informed about Latin American trade unionism and the difficult situations the trade unions have to confront. This picture was taken during a meeting between CLAT and CNV (March 1989). The meeting was presided by the late Emilio Maspero, Secretary General of CLAT. On the opposite side of the table is sitting CNV President Henk Hofstede. On his left Wim van der Jagt, treasurer of the WFIW followed by CNV board member Anton Westerlaken. Between Henk Hofstede and Frits Hanko you see CNV Secretary Peter Cammaert. On the left of Maspero, CLAT Deputy Secretary General Enrique Marius is talking.

President Frits Hanko answered as follows:
"During the formation of a European front of the metal sector, we were confronted with the European Coal and Steel Community (founded in 1951 by the six European countries: Belgium, France , Italy , Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Duitsland. The ECSC was the predecessor of the European Community ). It is clear that the European trade unions wished to be involved in it and I refer to the unions organizing the metal workers .
I remember still the debates about the affiliation of CNV Industry to the EMF. These provoked a lot of discussion on principles, however, because of the fact that through the WCL the intended communication with the socialist unions was not functioning, a pragmatic decision was taken.
Years later, the discussion took place about the international connection to the IMF. Last week I visited the CMB , the Belgian metal union of the ACV. President Tony Janssen said in his congress speech that they fought 12 years for recognition and membership of the IMF . His message reads "It is unthinkable to be not organized internationally with all metalworkers.” Of course I am sufficiently well known about the existence of the WFIW . Would I forget so soon the visit to South America? I believe that , if there wil be a connection between the metal sector and the WFIW, there should be a discussion with the Christian trade unions on a double affiliation.” It must be said that CNV Industry indeed remained a member of the WFIW until the merger between ICFTU and WCL in Vienna in 2006.

This piece of union history shows that the WCL was unable to provide a strategic response to the European developments in certain sectors based on its own identity, values and vision. However, while the metal unions bowed their heads for the socialist majority (sorry, but that's the image that lingers), the European Christian Miners Federation remained for a long time active in spite of the closing of mines in Belgium, France and Germany.

I must also tell you that on the basis of the letter of Lucien Stragier, earlier quoted, the WFCW invited the LBC-NVK to join a WFCW solidarity foundation. After mutual agreement on the statutes and rules, the LBC-NVK became a member of this WFCW solidarity foundation. She remained a member until the merger of WCL and ICFTU. When it appeared that the WFCW did not agree with the merger, LBC-NVK Chairman Ferre Wyckmans announced to stop the contributions to the solidarity fund by letter. Thus came into being still a complete separation of spirits after 20 years. Although invited to do so, Unie BLHP and the Luxembourg LBC never wanted to be a member of this WFCW solidarity fund.

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.