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

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