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.

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