Friday, December 27, 2013


Group photo of the seminar "The social security system in the countries of transition", Training and Education Centre of Cartel alfa in Snagov, Rumania 1993.I do not remember all the names of the participants.But there was of course WCL Vice President Krzysztof Dowgiallo, standing in the centre. On his right Marcel Savoye, expert from ACV Belgium. In de back row left to Krzisztof stands Bogdan Hossu, the charismatic but also practical President of Cartel alfa. Second from left on the back row Pekka A Aro expert from the ILO. On his left Adrej Adamcik from Solidarnosc foreign affairs department.In front sitting right is Olexandr Dzyulik, Persident of VOST Ukraïne. There was also Marc Spautz from LCGB Luxemburg and others from Albania, Belarus, Lithuania and Russia.On the right standing Marleen Mens, one of the well-trained secretaries of WCL, who functioned as an administrative assistant to the seminar.

The ongoing missions to Albania since January 1993 did not result in any new affiliation to the WCL. In early February 1993, a new mission presented itself. The Romanian confederation Cartel alfa asked advice about a possible merger with the former communist confederation CNSRL. Cartel alfa was a young federation (1991) which had justified its existence in a short time under the leadership of its charismatic president Bogdan Hossu. The board was committed to democracy and the social Christian principles. They were eager to learn as much as possible from other trade unions. This youthful elan of Cartel alpha was reflected in the WCL.

Why Cartel alpha was thinking of a merger with the so called post- communist confederation CNRSL? There were different reasons. At the meeting of the WCL Confederal Board in 1992 I had already noticed the impatience of President Luca of the strong and rich oil trade union. According to him, the WCL and Cartel alpha were not active enough. What he exactly meant with these observations, he did not make clear during the brief encounters. I did not know the background from which his criticism was coming. Anyway, I considered it as an internal matter of Cartel alfa.

Some of the participants of the seminar in Snagov. Left Aldona Jasinskiene of LWU Lithuania, Victor Kozel of CMOT Belarus and 2 representatives of Podkrepa Transport, Bulgaria.

Now, upon arrival I was told Luca had joined the CNSRL. Apparently the departure of the oil trade union had caused within Cartel alpha doubts about their future or was there more to it? According to some, the reason for the departure of Luca was that he wanted to become president of Cartel alfa, but that the presence of Bogdan Hossu as president dit not give him a chance. It could be possible. Like anywhere, personal ambitions also play a major role in internal conflicts, more often than people like to admit, especially in politically and economically unstable countries.

It was obvious that a broad survey of the situation had to be made. Not just a power analysis, but a comprehensive analysis based on the importance of Cartel alfa for its members , the existence of a pluralistic trade union movement in support of a democratic pluralistic political landscape, political and economic development of the country, meaning of their own identity based on socio -Christian values and the personal ambitions of the leaders of Cartel alfa . This led to an list of pros and cons of the merger that was finally discussed by the entire board . The conclusion was that the Romanian trade unions and Romania in general were best served with a Cartel alfa as an independent trade union confederation. In retrospect it can be established that this was the right decision. Cartel alfa developed into a strong, well-organized trade union confederation that could stand on its own feet and was also able to play an important role within the WCL.
This photo I got of Valentina Serycheva (sitting behind the desk) with members of the Womens' Committee of the Trade Unions Assembly Rossiyanki in the White House at Moscow. The White House was partly destroyed during the Russian Constitutional Crisis in October 1993.The rebellion against Sovjet President Michael Gorbatsjov was  beaten down under the guidance of Jeltsin.

As proof of its capacities Cartel alfa organized in that same year, prior to its extraordinary congress (21-23 September 1993), a WCL seminar for member organizations and observers from Central and Eastern Europe. This seminar took place in a training centre in Snagov, a legacy of the old communist confederation. The theme of the seminar was "The social security system in the countries in transition." The training center was simple and sober as is usual in Central and Eastern Europe, but thanks to the efforts of Cartel alfa useful and inexpensive.

Social security was just one of the problems the former communist countries had to deal with during the transition from a centralized and planned state economy to a free market economy based on private property. Until then, no one anywhere in the world, had any experience with such a transition from communism to capitalism. For example how to organize the privatization of some giant industrial complexes with tens of thousands of workers? No one had even the slightest idea of the true value of these companies. Who should manage such privatized factories? How labor must be organized? What was the role of the state in social security, unemployment insurance, health care, pension systems, etc. No wonder that with such an amount of unknown problems also a lot went wrong.

Bogdan Hossu, the charismatic and practical oriented President of Cartel alfa  at the seminar in Snagov (1993).
In Romania, a privatization committee of the government had decided to issue shares to employees as a way to make them owners of the company. It was a noble idea to make the workers shareholders, but what they should do with these shares? Workers in capitalist countries often do not know what to do with shares, so how could workers know what to do having lived their whole life in a communist country? Besides, they needed income because of the low wages. The result was that they often sold their shares much to cheap to the former communist executives and leaders who had positions from which they knew more about the future possibilities of a company. Of course there were those who gambled wrong and lost money with the closure of the factory, but there were also those who in a short time managed to earn a lot of money. The result was that in a few years there was a group of super rich people, the so called oligarchs.

What could we do about all this as international unions? Indeed, West European unions had gained experience with capitalism over the course of decades, but that had been a long time learning process. The welfare state exists since only after the Second World War. Before that, the unemployed, the sick and the elderly were also at the mercy of employers and the labour market. Hence, before the Second World War many were looking for radical solutions like communism. However the creation of the welfare state based on democracy and mutual responsability, capitalism was tamed by cooperation between political parties, governments, trade unions and employers. The Social Dialogue was born.

View from the lake to the Snagov Education and Training Centre of Cartel alfa.(1995)

Therefore, we organized all kinds of seminars on problems like pension systems, social security systems, about the division of tasks between government, trade unions and employers and the Social Dialogue. Seminars were organized where participants could learn about capitalism, how companies operate in a free market economy by using a kind of role play. Vik Meeuws of ACV had developed such a role play that we used at a seminar in Snagov (1995).

It may be a called a small miracle that despite all these difficulties, most countries in Central and Eastern Europe have been able to build a more or less stable market economy and political democracy within a few years. The European Union has clearly played a major role in it . Without the European Union, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe would have had much more difficulties to stabilize politically and economically. It was therefore appropriate that the trade unions in Central and Eastern Europe as soon as possible were involved in European politics even though their countries were not yet members of the EU. At the end of the year 1993 Cartel alfa and CNSRL were admitted as observers to the ETUC .

The bus with which participants arrived at the seminar centre in Snagov (1995)

In retrospect, you may wonder whether Cartel alfa was put under pressure to merge with CNSRL , as an attempt to prevent that the WCL would have an important member organization within the ETUC? Indeed, new strong WCL members within the ETUC could change the balance of power between ICFTU and WCL on European level in favor of WCL. From this perspective the future of WCL as an organization of any significance on European level was at stake and without a European stronghold the WCL would be to weak.

To be continued

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