Friday, December 13, 2013


The last picture I made of Emilio Maspero, was in November 1991 during the general assembly of CLAT Netherlands. Second from left is Emilio Maspero. To his left is Leonie van Bladel, President of CLAT Netherlands. To his right CLAT deputy general secretary Enrique Marius. Standing in front of the painting of the Dutch Queen Beatrix, made in Haiti, Hedy d'Ancona, Minister of Culture.
Unlike the European trade unions, the unions on the American continent don't have a common project similar to the European Union. On the contrary, until recently CLAT was convinced that the North American labor movement defended interests opposed to those of Latin America. At the time of the Cold War the AFL-CIO even placed the interests of the U.S. above the struggle for democracy and social justice in Latin America by defending the foreign policy of the US sometimes together with military intervention (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Chile etc) and even supporting dictatorships (Paragua, Nicaragua) . Has this been changed since the end of the Cold War? Maybe nowadays the AFL-CIO feels more connected with the Latin American trade union struggle for democracy and social justice than before but the question remains which model the AFL-CIO sees as the most appropriate for Latin America? That of neo-liberal capitalism, which has indeed brought much prosperity for North American workers, or the European model with its social dialogue, its network of social and health services, protection of the labor market etc.?

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez identified himself strongly with the Great Liberator Simon Bolivar (digital photo composition by Petrus)

In this ongoing debate between the northern and southern part of the American continent, which was conducted by CLAT with a certain ferocity, the Twentieth-Century Socialism of Venezuelan President Chavez sowed once again confusion. Just then also died Emilio Maspero (2000), the man who had made CLAT great with his intellectual power and energy. And if that was not enough, shortly thereafter from Europe came the first rumours about a merger of the WCL with the ICFTU. For CLAT General Secretary Eduardo Garcia, who had become the successor of Emilio Maspero, it must have been difficult times. How CLAT was going to continue without the WCL because it became soon clear that particularly the Belgian ACV/CSC was serious about the merger (under pressure from the Walloon side ). Without WCL there would be no more international political and financial backing for CLAT. The merger of WCL with ICFTU would certainly lead to financial problems and that would be very bad at all for CLAT with its headquarters and training and education center UTAL in Venezuela, the very country of President Chavez.

The tragedy is, that despite the many millions of dollars in aid from Europe during the last decennia, the CLAT had not succeeded to become financially independent. There are many causes for this. First of all the overall lack of political stability in Latin America due to poverty , social injustice , undemocratic political leadership , unemployment , the place of the military in the political system ( in some Latin American countries the budget of the army is many times larger than for example of the ministry of education or social services programs ), and so on. The second cause is the inability of unions to develop a sound financial policy. Solidarity is a commonly used word in Latin America, but it appears very difficult to put it into practice. Besides, trade union members feel more like a victim without self-esteem than people with confidence in the future. Many trade unions promote this culture of "being victim", not realizing that this undermines the confidence of their own members. All this is reinforced by a widespread lack of trade union democracy and transparency, whereby many trade unionists distrust the trade union and do not see their own trade union as their own responsibility. The consequence is that the payment of trade union contribution is low and irregular.

Opening of the UTAL in 1975. From left to right: Victor Duran who became later Director of UTAL, José Merced Gonzalez who was also WCL Confederal Secretary and Rangel Parra, General Secretary of the Latin American Federation of small Farmers (FCL).

Of course, CLAT also looked for other financial sources than membership fees, to finance its budget. For an international organization this is not easy . Nevertheless, with foreign aid in the course of decades, many projects have been set up , designed to make possible self-financing of CLAT. Many of these projects failed, due to lack of entrepreneurial and management skills. To lead succesfully a business requires other skills than leading a union. For example, thanks to the support of the Dutch NOVIB , CLAT had in the seventies its own printing company in Caracas, Venezuela . Despite the support of two Dutch experts paid by the NOVIB, the company had to be sold after some years . CLAT has also tried to reduce the costs of UTAL by renting it to outsiders but also failed to a large extent and had to knock back on the doors of European donors.

On WCL Board Meetings Emilio Maspero talked about opportunities to present projects in the various bodies of the European Union to support the WCL and its regional organizations, including CLAT . He spoke at one point even about the golden mountains of the European Union. A misunderstanding that I would have liked to make clear to him, but I believed this was a matter of discussion to be led by WCL chairman Willy Peirens. As a member of the Steering Committee of the European Trade Union Confederation ETUC, he was well informed that the European Union was the domain par excellence of the ETUC. Since WCL unions are a minority in the ETUC it was hardly possible to make use of EU funds. In the framework of the Phare-Tacis program repeatedly it has been tried to present projects with the aim to build democratic unions in Ukraine and Belarus. But one way or another, those WCL projects never met all bureaucratic requirements . After being rejected two, three times, while others less well–founded projects were approved , there was no other choice but to give up.

Left we see Arie Hordijk (1927-2010), former Secretary General of CNV Netherlands. he is one of the speakers inuring a protest against cutting back aid for development before the Dutch Parliament. In the middle Gerrit Pruim, Secretary of CNV Aktie Kom Over (changed to CNV Internationaal). The Dutch confederation CNV organized  the protest. On the right you see as one of the speakers the Dutch politician Cor Kleisterlee.The other speaker was professor Jan Tinbergen, Nobelprize winner for his work on macro-economics.  Hordijk together with CNV chairman Lanser played an important role in the transformation of the International Christian Trade Union Confederation (ICTUC) into the World Confederation of Labour (WCL). Based on personal experiences and meetings with trade union leaders in the Third World, they came to the conclusion that a purely Christian international had no future while religiously inspired unions do have.

Indeed , the ACV/CSC was watching that even the possibility of a conflict between the ETUC and WCL on available European funds for the WCL or its regional members, should be avoided. Thus, the WCL was not allowed to become a member of the Christian Democratic oriented European Centre for Workers' Questions EZA (the work of EZA is supported financially by the European Union), despite the request of the then new chairman Arie Hordijk, former General Secretary of the CNV ( a key member of WCL) and EZA General Secretary Joachim Herudek. It was said that EZA was an unfair competitor of the European Trade Union Institute ETUI, the Research and Education Center of the ETUC. But to my great surprise the WCL became member of EZA inmediately after the arrival of General Secretary Willy Thys (former ACV/CSC Boardmember). I can only imagine that this was possible because of a certain kind of understanding with the ETUC on the future merger of WCL and ICFTU . The pieces on the European chessboard were slowly pushed in the direction of the merger between WCL and ICFTU while most WCL members stood outside the game.

Before his retirement Joachim Herudek was Secretary General of EZA. 

Curiously but appropriate in this setting, was the prohibition of Willy Peirens to lobby at the Christian- Democratic oriented European People 's Party EPP and other Christian-Democratic personalities at high political positions. Looking for financial support for the 23th WCL World Congress that would be held in Mauritius in 1993, Carlos Custer and myself had a conversation with Miet Smet, Christian-Democratic Minister of Employment and Social Affairs in Belgium . During that time Belgium had the Presidency of the European Union. Therefore Minister Miet Smet was also President of the European Council of Ministers of Labour. We believed she could give a financial hand to our international seminar prior to the Congress by delivering one or more speakers funded by the EU or some other kind of financial support. The WCL president rejected our efforts declaring that the Minister of Labor made life of ACV/CSC difficult. The argument that we spoke to her as the President of the European Council of Ministers of Labor and not as a Minister of Labor of Belgium, was not accepted.

The WCL Board Members at the 23 Congress 1993 in Mauritius. From left to right: Bogdan Hossu, President of Cartel alfa Rumania, Anton Westerlaken, President of CNV Netherlands, Emilo Maspero General Secretary CLAT, Willy Peirens President WCL and ACV/CSC Belgium, Akpemado General Secretary ODSTA, Michel Bovy, President International Trade Federation FIOST and Belgium Transport Trade Union. Re-elected General Secretary Carlos Custer just walks away.

In the same period I had a similar experience after a meeting with Leo Tindemans (1922-2013), former Belgian Prime Minister and former president of the Christian Democratic European People 's Party EPP . Although Leo Tindemans clearly demonstrated to be ready to establish contacts with the WCL , which he knew well from earlier times, WCL President Willy Peirens did not want to give a follow-up arguing that ACV/CSC had bad experiences with him on national policies. Again, the argument that Tindemans now is more a European than a Belgium politician was not accepted. Once again the WCL was blocked to develop contacts with one of the most powerful political parties in the European Parliament and the European Commission. I was wondering why this was happening because I was sure that ETUC and ICFTU officials maintained contacts with high ranking European Social-Democratic politicians. Also it was very frustrating that ACV/CSC representatives in the WCL Confederal Board insisted upon me as a confederal secretary for Europe, to lobby for more financial support for the WCL, but in practice I had no room for lobbying within the European Union. The result was that on European level the WCL became more and more a political orphan. How could the WCL survive in such conditions?

To be continued

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