Saturday, December 27, 2014


Eduardo Garcia Moure (centre) and Julio Robert Gomez (left on the photo) were two of the protagonists of the merger of CLAT with ORIT into the CSA. 

In May 2000 it was announced that CLAT General Secretary Emilio Maspero was deceased as a result of cancer (see my previous blog). Unfortunately, the outside world was never informed. I have no idea why this has not happened. Perhaps dying by cancer is still a taboo in Latin America. Maybe Maspero himself and the CLAT Board Members, which I assume they were aware, were afraid of political consequences and conflicts over his succession.

Maspero was succeeded as General Secretary of CLAT by the Cuban exile Eduardo Garcia, for decades a member of the Executive Committee of CLAT. It was no secret that Enrique Marius, Deputy General Secretary of CLAT for international relations, was disappointed at this turn of events. He would have loved to be the successor to Maspero. But Eduardo Garcia was much better known and more popular in Latin America than Marius. As director of ILACDE, the Institute of CLAT for international cooperation, his position was not easy. Incidentally he had to criticize member organizations of CLAT because of shortcomings in the presentation and implementation of projects.

Enrique Marius, Eduardo Garcia and Rodolfo Romero (Paraguay) were the only ones of the newly elected board CLAT who lived and worked in Caracas. The other Deputy General Secretaries of CLAT - Felicito Avila (Honduras), Julio Roberto Gomez (Colombia), Mario Morant (Argentina) and Anselmo Pontilius (Aruba) - continued to work and live in their own country. The new CLAT Board continued the policy of Maspero. Unfortunately was lost on this occasion the opportunity to make some innovations in the Board and the CLAT policy. It would have been good for CLAT, if a woman had become member of the board, as well as a representative of the trade union action. It might have led to a shift of less (party) politics unto more practical trade union work.

This photograph gives a rare view of Secretary General Willy Thys with his whole WCL secretariat with in the center the ILO Director General Somavia and WCL President Fernand Kikongi. On the left of the center: Eduardo Estevez (Argentina), Fred Pools  (Belgium) and Toolsiray Benedin (Mauritius).On the right: Necie Lucero (Philippines) and Piet Nelissen (Netherlands)

In the autumn of 2000, the WCL Confederal Board met in Washington. WCL had managed to invite two keynote speakers for this meeting: the Managing Director of the IMF, Michel Camdessus (France) and ILO Director General Juan Somavia (Chile). It proved that the WCL as a minority organization, was able to conduct a social dialogue at the highest level about social and economic policies for the benefit of workers worldwide.

Especially the Belgium trade union confederation ACV/CSC did important work in this area because of their good relations with the governor of the Belgian National Bank and the presidency of the Human Rights Workers Group at the ILO. With financial support from the Belgian government several international meetings were held in Wahington during which WCL leaders from different continents had meetings with IMF experts and World Bank staff. At these meetings, the trade unions could express their criticisms and demands on the role of the World Bank and IMF in the international debt crisis, its reform policy and its consequences for developing countries.

For this Confederal Board I had planned to raise the question about the organization of the secretariat, by not presenting the usual report on European activities. Of course, it is not customary to do so but there was no other way left. The secretary General did not want to take measures to strengthen the European secretariat. It was a personal form of protest against the state of affairs at the secretariat. Due to lack of resources and vision, all the work in de past in Central and Eastern Europe threatened to have been for nothing. That in itself was reason enough to pull the bell but there was more. By neglecting the European base of the WCL, the survival of the WCL became itself at risk.

IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus speaking at the WCL Conferral Board meeting in Washington (2000)

My protest was not successful. That the continents stayed silent, I could understand from their point of view that Europe is for the Europeans. On the other hand, I expected that high level WCL leaders would have the insight that a weak European base eventually had to have an impact on the survival of the WCL. The European unions were, after all, by far the largest financiers of the WCL, on the first place the Belgian trade union confederation ACV/CSC followed by the Dutch trade union confederation CNV.

That the ACV/CSC trade union confederation did not react and thus supported their General Secretary was logical and understandable. But that no European organization reacted, not even “my own CNV”, I found very disappointing. I had hoped that my action would have resulted in at least a debate, a debate that had come to a dead end at the secretariat. Also I did not succeed to develop a common WCL policy vision on European affairs, while on the European agenda there were new ambitious European projects like the introduction of a common currency, that is to say the Euro, that in one or another way would affect all European Union workers. Apparently such policy was the exclusive domain of the ETUC (and I believe, in consultation with the ICFTU).

My position was already not easy. It had started earlier with an overt accusation of the General Secretary on a European coordination meeting that I had organized without budgetary coverage, projects and missions in Central and Eastern Europe. I was shocked that this was not discussed beforehand because then he would have been aware of the falsity of his claim. However, during this meeting ACV / CSC policy officer Paul Buekenhout openly recognized that spendings were indeed justified in view of the financial commitments of the ACV / CSC trade union confederation itself. Later, the Secretary General attempted to dismiss me. Thanks to the CNV trade union confederation those actions had no results. Obviously the situation between General Secretary Willy Thys and myself had become increasingly difficult.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

WOW (World Organization of Workers) Annual Review 2014

Dear Friends,

I hope you enjoy the Annual review of WOW activities in 2014 published on You Tube: Board Meetings, European seminars, the ILO Conference WOW participation, WOW mission to West Africa and CLAC-WOW meeting in Santiago the Chile.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year - Feliz Navidad y Feliz Ano Nuevo -Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année - Frohe Weihnachten und glückliches Neues Jahr - Feliz Natal e um Feliz Ano Novo - Perttige Kerstdagen en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar.

Piet Nelissen

Monday, December 15, 2014


The Fifth Annual Latin American Coordination meeting "For an Integrated Humanistic Trade Unionism" took place in Santiago, the capital of Chile, between November 23 - 25. The meeting was organized bij FELATRACCS (The Latin American Federation of Workers in the Communications and Cultural Sectors) together with the Chilean Federation of Workers in the Communication Sectors (FETRACOSE). Some 40 trade union delegates from 14 different countries participated in the meetings and working sessions. Together they represented the three federations FELATRACCS, FELATRABS and FETRALCOS affiliated to the WOW. A special guest was President Oscar Semerel from Curacao of the Latin American Federation of Pensioners CLATJUPAM together with the Chilean Union of Pensioners UNAP A.G. 
The first day was dedicated to remember what happened in Chile during the dictatorship of general Pinochet (1973 - 1990) with a visit to the Museo de la Memoria and to the Circle of Journalists House in Santiago. After these visits on the Sunday morning, every Federation held its own boardmeeting in one of the halls of the hotel.

While waiting for the bus for a visit to the Museum de la Memoria, the first group picture was spontaneously taken in front of the hotel.

The Chilean Museum de la Memoria was founded with the intention that one should not forget
what happend during the Pinochet dictatorship. During the visit everybody received a red rose
that could be placed there where your thoughts go.

After the impressive visit to the Museum de la Memoria we went back to the centre of the city
where we walked along the Moneda Palace and the monument of President Allende
to the Circle of Journalists House.In the meanwhile our Chilean friends told us about the history of the palace and the putch of general Pinochet against the Government of President Allende (1973)

The Government of the democratic elected President Allende of the Unidad Popular Coalition
 was overthrown by the Chilean army led by General Pinochet in 1973. After te fall of the dictator in 1990 the democratically elected Government decided to erect a monument to honor him.

In the House of the Journalists were commemorated all those journalists and other media workers
who were killed or disappeared because of their profession with red roses placed on a special monument in the House that is dedicated to them. 

Preparing the boardmeeting of FELATRABS

Preparing the meeting of CLATJUPAM President Oscar Semerel with the boardmembers of the Chilean pensioners union UNAP A.G.

Monday was largely reserved for a conference in collaboration with the Universidad de Chile. The main theme was "communication, globalization and democracy. "As you can see on the displayed program, two panels were held. The first panel was devoted to "An integrated Latin American trade union movement" followed by a panel on "Perspectives in the exercise of social communication in Chile." The debates and discussions were interrupted by a musical performance by Manuel Sanchez, singer, folk poet, troubadour and guitarist.

After the colloquium the Fifth Coordination Meeting CLAC - WOW was officially opened in one of the meeting rooms in the hotel. Words of welcome were spoken by Abraham Armijo, President of FETRACOSE, José Jesus Trabulho, President of FELATRABS, Maritza Chireno, President of FETRALCOS, Roberto Mejia, President of FELATRACCS, Francisco Iturriaga, President of UNAP A.G., Miguel Duche, Vice President of WOW, The Local ILO representative, Piet Nelissen of the WOW World Board. The Coordination Meeting was officially inaugurated by Minister of labour Francisco Javier Diaz.

Here we see the second panel on "Perspectives in the exercise of social communication in Chile"
with Javiera Olivares, president of the Association of Journalists (left), Laureano Checa,
Director of the School for Journalists of the University of Chile (middle)
and Abraham Armijo (right), President of the Federation of Communication Workers,
Graphic Workers and Related services (FETRACOSE) and
vice president of the Autonomous Confederation of Workers (CAT).

After each panel there was an opportunity for the participants to ask questions and to make observations for debate. Here we see Zuliana Laina from the Peruvian ANP ask some questions to the members of the panel.

Before the opening of the Fifth Coordination Meeting CLAC - WOW the participants had to register themselves officially.

Minister of Labour Francisco Javier Diaz opens officially the Coordination Meeting CLAC WOW.
The participants were invited by the minister for an evening dinner.

The next day, Tuesday November 25th, the meetings took place in Parque La Auraca, a recreational centre for employees of different enterprises. The morning consisted of 4 panales:
1. "The World of Work against Neoliberalism."
2. "Trade Unionism in the XXI century and social crisis."
3. "Autonomous Workers and Trade Union Self Reform."
4. "Women, Youth and new Trade Union Action."
After these panels, 4 Working Shops on the above mentioned items were formed. After the Working Shops had finished their debates, conclusions were made up and presented to all participants. The conclusions will be elaborated as soon as possible and be send to all participants.
Alle participants received a diploma as a proof of participation. The meeting ended with a party.

It was a well organized event for which we thank the companeros of FELATRACCS and especially our Chilean friends of FETRACOSE. With their excellent job, they have set a high standard for the meetings to follow in the next years. The next meeting will be in the Dominican Republic next year.

Panel 3 on "Autonomous Workers and Trade Union Self Reform."

Panel 4 on "Women, Youth and New Trade Union Action."

Registering for the workshops.

A special working shop on "Pensioners and Trade Action" was formed. The pensioners want to become a member of CLAC-WOW.

At the end of a long working day all participants received a diploma as proof of participation.It was a well organized event for which we thank the companeros of FELATRACCS and especially our Chilean friends of FETRACOSE. They did an excellent job putting a high standard for the meetings to follow in the next years.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


IFTC Board meeting with USOC Board in Barcelona with the ail to prepare the IFTC World Congress,
February 1999.
Under the leadership of Secretary General Willy Thys, the WCL Secretariat was reorganized in such a way that the planned combination of two functions was no longer possible, the function of European Confederal Secretary and Executive Secretary of several international trade union federations. In the absence of adequate secretarial support, it was impossible to fulfill both tasks. For unknown reasons the European liaison office in Bucarest in the headquarters of Cartel Alfa was terminated. The only employee at that office was brought to Brussels, but not at the European secretariat. Despite many conversations, there was no solution. In the absence of strategic coordination and a concerted policy at European level the WCL was becoming weaker.

Despite the lack of support from the WCL Secretariat, the governing bodies of the international federations continued to work on European and World level. Because of a lack of resources, both in manpower and financially, they had to limit themselves to certain priorities. That was not always easy because each international federation had its own preferences, beliefs and networks. Moreover, the lack of a global vision, necessary for a long term policy, resulted many times in a kind of anecdotal relations and a policy based primarily on personal preferences usually for one or more persons (trade union friends), sometimes for an organization or even a country (for example ex colonies). Unfortunately, even within the WCL secretariat itself there was not developed such a long-term vision with an associated practical and workable policy based on the overall objectives set at the world congress.

FMTI-FLATI seminar in Mexico City. From left to right:
WFIW President Jaap Wienen, FLATI President and WFIW Vice President Carlos Gaitan
and José Merced Gonzalez, ex WCL Confederal Secretary and CLAT Board Member. October 1999.

The executive Secretariat must spend a lot of time on the regular executive board meetings of each international trade union federation and once a year a world board that was almost always combined with a world seminar. There were also regional seminars in Europe and in the continents, special events and of course every four or five years a world congress. The Secretariat had its hands full with just these statutory meetings which are essential for the maintenance of an international network.
International trade union movement is above all networking and exchange of experience in many areas: collective bargaining, labor conditions, trade union and human rights, the behavior of multinational corporations, the application of ILO conventions, developing a vision on (international) economics, labour market, society and politics. All these areas are very complex and require a long-term approach.

The trade union with its democratic structures and decision making, based on defined responsibilities regulated by the statutes, ensure that slowly arises a democratic culture worldwide between workers and employees. That is of paramount importance for the future, at least if one believes that the world order should be based on the principles of democracy. Experiences with the United Nations teach us how important are the development of a democratic attitude and culture for world peace and the prevention of violent conflicts.

WFIW Congress particpants in Doorn, Netherlands, March 2000.

Besides this each international trade union federation had its own internal dynamics such as rapid changes in the composition of the boards. For example, Doekle Terpstra resigned as chair of the WFIW in January 1999, just after one year of presidency. Terpstra was the successor of Anton Westerlaken as chairman of the Dutch trade union confederation CNV and therefore also as treasurer of the Executive Board of the WCL. The WFIW presidency was provisionally transferred until the next World Congress to Jaap Wienen, who had worked together with Doekle Terpstra in the CNV industrial trade union. Jaap Wienen had already some experience on international level as a board member of the FIOST, the international federation for transport and communications affiliated to the WCL.

To give an idea of the many different activities of the international federations below is given a summary of some important activities.
- In January 1999 a meeting took place of the WFIW with the Danish Trade Union Confederation DKF in Denmark.
- In the context of the preparation of its World Congress the IFTC executive board visited the Catalan USOC organization of the Spanish trade union confederation USO in February 1999. In June of the same year the IFTC World Congress was held in Barcelona.
- In early March 1999 a seminar was held for miners unions from Central and Eastern Europe in Budapest, organized by the Christian Miners Foundation and in cooperation with the WFIW.
- Mid-March, the European Council of WFCW gathered in Mulhouse, France.
- At the end of April 1999 the Pan African Federation of Workers in the Building and Wood sector was founded in the education and training institute Fopadesh of the African organization DOAWTU.
- In September of the same year, the WFIW held its World Board meeting in Madrid.
- In October 1999 in Mexico City, a seminar is held by FLATIC , the regional Latin American federation for industrial and construction workers. A delegation of the WFIW participated in the meetings.
- In March 2000, the WFIW held its World Congress in Doorn, Netherlands. Jaap Wienen is elected chairman. During the congress a text is drawn up for a code of conduct for multinationals. The code of conduct should include the five basic rights of workers: a ban on child labor, forced labor and discrimination, respect for freedom of trade unions and negotiating collective agreements. In addition, reference is made to decent work: the right to a fair wage, safe and healthy working conditions and collective insurances against sickness and disability.

The WFBWW (Building and Woodworkers) World Congress was held in Windhoek, Namibia.
From left to right: Secretary General Dick van de Kamp (CNV Netherlands),
President Jacky Jackers (ACV_CSC Belgium), Namibian Minister of Labour and Borad Member Aloyisius Yon. May 2000.

- In May 2000 the WFBWW held its world congress in Windhoek, Namibia. Main topics were the development of the WFFBWW in the world, the support of the continental federations such as the newly established Panafrican Federation of Building and Wood Workers, a world seminar every year, and according to the financial possibilities seminars in the continents.

It is clear that despite the limited financial and human resources, the international trade union federations functioned at an acceptable level. Each international federation had an international network of affiliated members. They tried as much as possible to support their members in the Third World countries. In addition, the federations functioned as a network of exchange of experiences and also as a school where leaders could experience democratic governance and decision making. As mentioned earlier, this is not only important for the development of international trade unions but also for the development of a democratic world order. 

Friday, November 7, 2014


Strike picket at the gate of the Volkswagen plant in Brussels, November 2006. Volkswagen was planning to close the whole plant.
A few days ago I heard for the first time a TV interviewer ask president Marc Leemans of the Belgium trade union confederation ACV if the trade union was not what old-fashioned? Of course the President did not agree. The trade union represents the interests of the workers and he knows what this means. As he himself explained, he is from a workers family with seven children. His mother did not have an easy life. Those times must not come back, he said. The interests of workers are therefore in good hands with him. However, this was was not an answer to the question.

In the Netherlands, on the other hand, already some time the trade unions are accused of being old-fashioned. Not by everyone, of course, but still disturbingly often. In short, the criticism is that trade unions are against any change, that they are only interested to represent their members, mostly older workers with a permanent contract and that they have no interest in the problems of youth. Meanwhile, young people are unemployed or have a low paid job without a permanent contract, lower social benefits, have to work longer and probably will have a lower pension. A gap threatens to grow between the older workers and young people. The older generation thinks only of himself, that is the allegation. In stead of solidarity, there is a generational conflict growing.

Meeting of workers of Volkswagen in front of the plant in Brussels, november 2006
The trade unions do not agree with this. They see themselves as progressive, modern, solidary, useful and important for country and people. They still have the status of official national representatives of all workers in the nation. They are the social partners of employers and politics. Their social dialogue led to social peace and political stability, the basis on which the postwar welfare state was built. The welfare state as organized solidarity.

But there were changes, partly due to the success of the welfare state itself. As a result of the welfare state people live longer, this threatens to make pensions based on the pay-as-you-go system priceless. As a result of the on going globalization, traditional industries disappeared like mining, steel, shipbuilding, textile industry etc., precisely those industries on which the sociopolitical power and collectivist solidarity model of trade unionism was based. The demise of traditional smokestack industry was followed by new industries with a growing individualization. Higher and better educated workers, also the result of the welfare state, are less charmed of the collectivistic solidarity model. They want to have part time work, have personal responsibility, if possible they want to change jobs etc. In the meantime the labor market asks for more flexible working hours and contracts, outsourcing, self-employed (millions of self-employed enter the labor market ) followed by privatization, liberalization etc. Globalization brought much turmoil on the labor market.

One of the strikers at the Volkswagen plant in Brussels, november 2006
The trade unions are since then facing two big problems: loss of thousands of members and a rapidly changing labor market as a result of individualization, globalization, liberalization and privatization. You can then try to stop this but then chances are great that you are going to miss the economic link with the world market and before you know you are losing the revenues on which the welfare state is built. More distribution of wealth will probably ease the pain, but not more than that. Economies built only on distribution of wealth, at the end bring poverty. Cuba and North Korea are extreme examples of this phenomenon. Investments are needed, preferably in the private and public sectors. Investments that also create new jobs.

The public debate in the Netherlands in recent years resulted into reforms such as raising the retirement age (within a period of approximately 2 years the pension age will be raised until 67) , a tighter and shorter unemployment insurance more focused on piloting the unemployed into a new job than financial assistance, stricter supervision of social services, limited subsidies for job creation for the disabled and stricter monitoring of care. On top of this, Governments call for more responsibility for a job, own income, health care and so on.

Meeting of the strikers at the Volkswagen plant in Brussels, november 2006
Slowly but surely, the image of the worker in the Netherlands changes from victim into an individual that is responsable for its own life. The welfare state is still there to support the workers when things go wrong but not anymore to take care from the cradle to the grave. For many unions this is like swearing in church, but their traditional power base has been undermined.

No wonder the unions are busy with themselves, looking for an answer to the lost social and political influence. Mergers of trade unions from various sectors is the answer to the loss of members. For example already a few years, the Dutch trade union confederation FNV is reorganizing its structures to bring all unions together under one roof. This means more centralism to give more socio-political body to the social dialogue. But centralism is at odds with individualization. Workers want like consumers more customized services and less imposed collectivist schemes. The mergers are therefore only the beginning of a response to the crises.

Two workers at the trade union meeting of workers of Volkswagen, november 2006
To make matters worse the new century began with an economic disaster of a magnitude that has not been seen since the crisis in the twenties and thirties of the last century. The consequences are now widely reported, but the answer is not yet found. Economists are fighting among themselves about what to do but nobody really knows. Unions are trying to save from the burning socioeconomic house what can be saved with classical solutions for example more money from the Government for all kind of investments which means also making more debts.

The trade unions do not need to be ashamed that they have no ready answers and great difficulty with the reforms, but they may be more open to suggestions. It is not constructive if trade unions do not want to talk about proposals of employers to look for ways the millions of self-employed to integrate in the social security system. The trade unions should also start a dialogue about the possibility for retired workers to continue working after they have reached the age of pensioning. Trade unions that are putting their heels in the sand, give indeed the impression of being old-fashioned.

Man at the solidarity bus is writing a message that begins with "We are not alone"

Friday, October 10, 2014

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WCL 41 (the ideas and ideals of Emilio Maspero)

Emilio Maspero speaking at the opening of the 'Asemblea de los Trabajadores y los Pueblos de America Latina' in the city of Panama, November 1978. Emilio Maspero was a passionate speaker with a great rhetorical talent, regularly putting to the test his audience. 

Emilio Maspero was not only the undisputed ideologue of CLAT but also a great idealist. All his life he believed in the values of the Christian trade union movement as basic for trade union action, was he a committed democratic revolutionary, an advocate of pluralism within the international trade union movement and an advocate for Latin American unity.

The type of trade unionism that we specifically advocate is characterized by the adjective 'Christian'.” The term Christian, as we use it, has no sectarian, religiuous, ecclesiastical, theological, or dogmatic implications. We use the term simply to refer to the social philosophy and the ethic of Christianity as they apply to trade unionism – as they inspire its orientation, its direction, and its methods. Our unionism is based on some very fundamental ideas, attitudes, and moral concepts that are common to all men of good will. Christian trade unionism is not dependent upon any ecclesiastical authority, nor is it guided by the specified apostolic goals of official Catholic action groups. In the Christian trade-union organizations of Latin America, one finds neither religious nor ecclesiastical discrimination. All workers can enter our organizations simply by accepting our principles and programs.” (page 208, 'Trade Unionism as an Instrument of the Latin American revolution', in 'Latin American Radicalism', Ed. I.L.Horowitz, Castro, J.Gerassi, Vintage Books, NY 1969.)

It is not surprising that Maspero from his Social Christian point of view has no good words for the North American labor movement. "North American unionism has always prof for processed to be a pragmatic and nonpartisan movement. Thus, it has avoided assuming an ideological, philosophical, or doctrinal character. Its only concern has leg the struggle for bread and butter and the continuing material progress of the workers."(Page 221 Maspero in L.A. Radicalism). True words which perhaps more than ever before apply on the international trade union movement now, almost 50 years after being written and nearly 25 years after the end of the Cold War. The international trade union movement has turned into a so called "bread and butter trade unionism" that only cares about the material prosperity of its members and followers, without having an eye for the spiritual needs of the workers and the people in general. This lack of spiritual inspiration in the trade union movement can be one of the causes why the trade unions appeals to fewer and fewer young people.

Part of the Presidium of the 'Asemblea de los Trabajadores y los Pueblos de America Latina" in Panama city, November 1978. In the centre Emilio Maspero. On the right Jan Kulakowski, Secretary general of the WCL.

Maspero accused the North American labor movement from a lack of respect for pluralism in the international trade union movement. “With respect to relations, we have always been granted just one alternative: that we disappear as an organization and a reality so that we might be annexed and absorbed by the trade-union organizations inspired, promoted, and financed in latin America by North-American trade-union organizations and the U.S. Government. There is not the slightest respect for international pluralism. The idea is to monopolize all in order to place it at the service of a formula, and of interests and partial viewpoints of one single sector of the democratic trade unionism of the two Americas – disavowing all the other democratic trade-union organizations which are making their own original efforts in latin America.” (page 229, Maspero in L.A. radicalism).

But with the end of the Cold War, 25 years ago, came no end to the pursuit of global hegemony of the North American trade union movement. The Canadian union confederation CLAC, a former member of the WCL, de facto was evicted from the new International Trade Union Confederation ITUC, through manipulations of the North American-oriented Canadian trade union confederation CLC. In their brochure “Highlights of an alternative labour movement” the following is said about the differences between the North American trade unions and CLAC.
Canadian mainline trade unions are monopolistic in character and reject pluralism as being divisive. North American trade unions do not favour the emancipation of workers as co-workers or partners in the enterprisen because, as such, it is feared they would identify more with the company than with the union. And that would be a serious threat to the union's power and influence. Unions represent workers over against the company. Here lie the roots of the adversary system that forever keeps management and workers apart, and it is the source of a deplorable record of days lost to labour disputes. The two parties are implacable foes when it comes to dividing the economic pie; strikes and lockouts are almost invariable over wages and benefits and rarely over other concerns. It should be noted that, in general, employers have the same perspective on labour relations. Much effort is put into keeping a union out of the workplace, and when employees do bring in a trade union, employers do what they can to minimize the role the union can play. CLAT believes that the materialistic view of work, of workers, and of the enterprise – a view shared by both managemant and unions – is the very opposite of the Christian idea of stewardship, calling, participation, service and responsibility. (page 14 and 15)

The Mexican trade union leader José Merced Gonzalez at the Asemblea in Panamay City.

The new argument for more unity in the trade union movement now was the globalization of the world economy. It was assumed that because the economy is globalized, that the unions should be globalized also in a united trade union confederation at the global level. In practice, however, a very small minority of workers has to do with the globalized economy in the form of international companies. The vast majority of employees work in a local or rather national industry with its own national laws, labor and industrial relations,wage levels and so on. Why can these not be addressed in different ways, nationally and internationally? Besides, why pluralism would be the opposite to solidarity? This is not true. It is the other way around. Pluralism and solidarity are mutually reinforcing.
Maspero judged even harder on the communist trade union movement in his continent than on the North American labor movement. “Communists have contributed very little to the cause of trade unionism in Latin America. However misdirected, the initiative of North America trade unions ahs, at least, aided in the organization of numerous groups and has rendered some positive service. Communistis, on the other hand,have always preferred to penetrate, infiltrate, and dominate the existing trade unions so that they can bring them into line with imperialistic Communist strategy.” (page 222, Maspero in L.A. Radicalism).

That Maspero for all believed in the ideal of a democratic revolution, with the emphasis on democracy, is illustrated by the following quote. “For us in the Christian trade union movement , democracy is the political form that the social revolution that we hope to wage will introduce. This democracy has nothing to do with capitalism as it now exists in Latin America. To function and to perfect itself in our environment, democracy must trannscend the present capitalist system and introduce for the firts time democratic principles, not only into the political but also into the social and economic oder. Given the value judgments that tend to attach to these words in Latin America, the penchant to picture capitalism and democracy as bedfellows has caused many to lose hope in political freedom, to reject democracy, and to incline toward totalitarianism.”(page 220-221, Maspero in L.A. Radicalism)

Indeed, the major problem in Latin America is the corruption of democracy by the political elite of the continent, as Maspero says. The brutal and violent coup of General Pinochet in 1974 against the democratically elected leftist Chilean President Allende, did make it worse for those who believe in democracy as the way to change. To make matters worse democracy was also corrupted by the Cuban revolution. “Cuba presents a very clear case. True, the Cuban phenomenon can be considered from one point of view as an accelerator of the revolutionary process on our continent. But the present Cuban experience is more a counter revolutionary phenomenon that has hindered the Latin American social revolution, which must always seek its own and original channels. Owing to the presence of international Communism the Cuban labor movement has lost its autonomy and become, in effect, counter revolutionary in nature.” (page 222, Maspero in L.A. Radicalism)

George Fortuné, Haitian trade union leader who lived for many years in exile in Caracus during the regime of Papa Doc and his son Baby Doc. (VII CLAT Congress,San José, Costa Rica, November 1977)

The result was a growing confusion in revolutionary ranks on the value of democracy as a principle and as a tool for change. Many unions and even church groups such as the basic ecclesial groups with their liberation doctrine rushed into the arms of totalitarian movements and parties in despair at the lack of real change in Latin America. The result was that the violent power struggle became even more violent and brutal than before as was the case in El Salvador and Guatemala. As always the ordinary people suffered the most. Furthermore, it led to destruction and stagnation instead of change and progress. The confusion continues to this day in Latin America, as evidenced by the events of the Bolivarian Venezuela. Once again there is the risk that democracy will be sacrificed to a socialist experiment that instead of bringing progress and development, leads to more polarization, the loss of production capacity, a financial disaster, up to the demise of the infrastructure and to more oppression of the human rights.

CLAT was also confused by these developments. I remember CLAT had no clear strategic options from the moment Chavez was elected president. What to do against this populist caudillo who let the poor believe that wealth is within reach if only they followed him? In the meantime the political elite of Christian and Social Democrats were not any more an alternative. On the contrary, they had corrupted democracy from within and outside. Within the labor movement the confusion exacerbated when the Chavez government actively began to interfere with the unions. For CLAT nothing else was left, but trying to survive in the hope that the troubles would disappear.

As if this was not enough, Maspero witnessed before his death the demise of his great ideal of Latin American unity. With his radical socialism of the twentieth century, Chavez managed to destroy in few years the institutions of Latin American Unity that were built up through difficult negotiations in many years. In just a couple of years Latin America was back to nearly zero. In his lifetime Maspero witnessed the change of Latin America from a continent of hope in the sixties of the last century into a continent of despair.

After the death of Maspero in 2000, Brazil remained true to the democratic principles, thanks to the former radical union leader Lula da Silva, who was President from 2003 to 2011. But this was too late for CLAT. In the prevailing confusion in Latin America, followed by the death of Emilio Maspero, new CLAT leaders had become vulnerable to pressure from the international trade union movement and in particular of the World Confederation of Labour WCL. CLAT bowed his head and became part of the new Latin American trade union CSA, the regional organization of ITUC.

For Emilio Maspero the European Union and the European welfare state were always an inspiring example, the answer to the North American individualistic capitalism. It is therefore particularly tragic that CLAT ultimately is seduced to merge with the ORIT by the European trade unions. We can only guess what will be the implications of this new trade union unity for the future of Latin America. It is certain that with the death of Emilio Maspero ultimately an inspiring movement as CLAT has disappeared from the Latin American scene.

For the Dutch speaking readers who are interested in the history of CLAT, I refer to the brochure "The trade union movement as an instrument of revolution in Latin America," published in the series Kosmodok, June / July 1970 jrg.3 No. 6/7. The brochure has been compiled by Gerrit Bruin, a pseudonym for Gerrit Pruim, former general secretary of the Dutch solidarity association CLAT Netherlands (formerly CLASC Netherlands).

Monday, September 29, 2014

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WCL 40 (The Death of Emilio Maspero)

CLAT Secretary General Emilo Maspero at the VII CLAT Congress in San José, Costa Rica, November 1977

Has the death of CLAT General Secretary Emilio Maspero in the year 2000 something to do with the fall of the WVA? Some believe so. They think, that if Emilio Maspero would be still alive that CLAT and WCL probably still would exist. I suspect too, but of course I am not sure about it. Why the suspicion? Because Maspero was unquestionably a man with a clear vision, self-confidence, strategic insight, authority and independence.

The Dominican trade union leader, former General Secretary of the FEMTAA (International Federation of Workers in Food and Agriculture) and now General Secretary of the CLATJUP (Latin American Federation of Pensioners) José Gomez Cerda has known Emilio Maspero for nearly a lifetime. He characterizes Maspero as follows in his in Spanish written blog “Emilio Maspero: el dirigente sindical" :

Emilio Maspero speaking at the opening of the VII CLAT Congress. 

"The charisma of Maspero had to do with his style as a speaker: frank, clear, lucid, with good intonation, clear ideas, profound messages, excellent diction, proposals for problems and a message of hope for the future of the workers. He was able to excite people, he always left a reflection for the listeners. Emilio spoke from the heart, and he believed what he said, thus convincing the audience.
After “America Latina, Hora Cero” he did not write many books, but if you would collect all his ideas, you could publish dozens of books with his works.

As ideologue Emilio had clear thoughts, he was an intellectual, a philosopher with humanistic and christian principles, he always presented the Christian social doctrine, adapted to the workers, to the trade unions, he never denied being a Christian, on the contrary he told everybody everywhere.

As strategist Máspero knew where he was going, what were his objectives (which were those of CLAT) and where he wanted to arrive. He knew to detect who the opponents were, and "how to distinguish to unite" . He knew also to listen to all sectors, to read,to study and to write, (although this looks easy, this is very difficult for an international leader who is permanently in action), what always kept him aware of all world events.

As tactician, Emilio knew how to use human and financial resources, so that they could better serve the cause. He had a natural flair for understanding situations and people.

As a trade union politician, he was an example of daily work with an incalculable production, of permanent action, at the events, where problems existed, always giving input, criteria, suggestions, ideas, reflections. He made every effort to fulfill his promises. As a good executive his first work was to fulfill and to enforce the agreements and resolutions of the management bodies.

These virtues, together in one intelligent leader with the privileged memory of time for events, people, dates and appointments, made of him one of the best international and world leaders, because his contributions were not only for CLAT, but also for his duties as Vice President of the World Confederation of Labour (WCL), which allowed him to give his views, opinions and ideas in global seminars, conferences and meetings.”

Emilio Maspero was a charismatic trade union leader and therefore 40 years the uncontested Secretary General of CLAT .
Emilio Maspero was therefore the uncontested leader of CLAT at the beginning of the sixties of the last century until his death in 2000. You can characterize him as a Latin American caudillo for trade unions. A caudillo has its positive sides, as mentioned above by Gomez Cerda, but there are also negative aspects.

Through his indisputable leadership Maspero had become CLAT over the years. The result was that after some time no fresh blood came into the organization. For a democratic organization like CLAT renewal of leadership and governance is vital so that new insights, changes and structures get a chance. The lack of innovation at the top led to stagnation in leadership and ideas and that probably has been one of the reasons that only six years after the death of Maspero, CLAT disappeared.

From right to left: Maspero talking to his wife Acacia and to Enrique Marius, Deputy Secretary General of CLAT. Enrique Marius and Acacia Maspero were responsible for ILACDE, the CLAT foundation for international cooperation that made possible the financing of many projects
Another reason is probably the lack of sufficient financial resources to maintain the Latin American trade union empire built up with the help of foreign aid. Training and education centers were distributed across the continent, with the Latin American Workers University UTAL in Venezuela as a spider in the web. The UTAL was an original idea of Maspero intended as an instrument for the emancipation of Latin American workers and the people. Led by Maspero, CLAT made training and educational the heart of its action in response to the lack of education for the common man and the high illiteracy rate in Latin America. A costly challenge for a trade union because education is expensive and could therefore not be achieved without financial support from outside.

But foreign aid is a double edged sword. In most countries of Latin America, the trade unions could not afford such training and education institutes. Also in Europe, unions are helped by their governments or employers with grants to finance their education and training structures. But financing from outside may also be an obstacle to the development of initiative and personal responsibility. It undermines self-finance of activities and structures. Maspero and CLAT have not been able to find a satisfactory solution to this issue.
 WCL Secretary General Jan Kulakowski was also present at the opening of the VII CLAT Congress. On the right  Alsimiro Herrera, Secretary General of the Costa Rican trade union confederation, member of CLAT and WCL.
This had its impact on the WCL. The WCL financially always has been a European affair. With the departure of the French (CFDT) and Dutch Catholic trade union confederations (NKV) in 1973 during the XVIII Congress of the WCL in Evian, France, the financing of the WCL became even a matter of only a few European countries with Belgium as first , Netherlands as second and France third. Although CLAT had grown in membership over the years, however, it appeared barely able to support the WCL financially.

Rather the reverse was the case. The WCL was seen by CLAT as a tool to finance the trade union movement in Latin America. Given the wealth of Europe, this appeal to European solidarity of CLAT (and unions from other continents) was understandable but the result was, that despite the democratic goodwill in the WCL, the ultimate authority stayed in Europe and particularly in Belgium, because of the enormous preponderance of the Belgian trade union ACV-CSC in WCL.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


 President Bozo Mikus of the trade union SING opened the seminar;
Recently (18 and 19 september 2014) WOW (World Organization of Workers) and the Danish trade union confederation KRIFA organized near Zagreb, the capital of the youngest member of the EU, a European seminar with the support of EZA (Europäisches Zentrum Arbeitnehmerfragen) and the European Commission. 52 Participants from 26 trade unions coming from 17 European countries exchanged ideas, thoughts and experiences with experts, scholars and trade union leaders on “Trade Unions and Youth Unemployment: is education the only answer?”

Mr. Matthias Homey of EZA was one of the first speakers of the seminar. He spoke about "What is the situation in Europe- which initiative are the EU countries taking to solve the problem with Youth Unemployment?/Europe 2020 strategy and the situation of young people on the labour market" (research IHS/EZA). Meanwhile Solveig Baekgaard Maksten (KRIFA) tried to solve a computer problem while sitting on the ground next to the speaker.

Youth unemployment is not new in Europe but since the financial and economic crisis it has got dramatic dimensions. The data of the European Commission show how dramatic.
  • Youth unemployment rate is more than twice as high as the adult one – 23.3 % against 9.3 % in the fourth quarter of 2012.
  • The chances for a young unemployed person of finding a job are low – only 29.7 % of those aged 15-24 and unemployed in 2010 found a job in 2011.
  • When young people do work, their jobs tend to be less stable – in 2012, 42.0 % of young employees were working on a temporary contract (four times as much as adults) and 32.0 % part-time (nearly twice the adults’ rate).
  • Early leavers from education and training are a high-risk group – 55.5% of them are not employed and within this group about 70% want to work.
  • Resignation is an increasing concern – 12.6 % of inactive youth wanted to work but were not searching for employment in the third quarter of 2012.
  • In 2011, 12.9% of young people were neither in employment nor in education or training (NEETs).
  • There are significant skills mismatches on Europe's labour market.
  • Despite the crisis, there are over 2 million unfilled vacancies in the EU.
At personal level the consequences for the young unemployed are also very dramatic: uncertainty, reduced self-confidence, no own family can build up resulting in postponement of getting children (with eventually demographic consequences), loss of knowledge due to lack of experience and less confidence in society and politics, which can lead to marginalization.

Irena Baselic of the Ministry of Labour and Pension System needed some assistance from WOW board member Wolfgang Pischinger and Solveig Baekgaard Maksten to solve some small technical problems before starting her speech on "Youth employment from the perspective of a local job centre-practical approaches and experiences."

The actual situation in the European Union is slightly better but still far away of being good. In July this year more than 5 million young persons (under 25) were unemployed in the EU. Compared with July 2013, youth unemployment decreased by more than a half million.

In July 2014, the youth unemployment rate was 21.7% compared with 23.6% in July 2013. This is the lowest rate since September 2011.

In July 2014, the lowest rates were observed in Germany (7.8%), Austria (9.3%) and the Netherlands (10.4%), and the highest in Spain (53.8%), Greece (53.1%), Italy (42.9%) and Croatia (41.5% in the second quarter 2014).

Two students in Dutch apprenticeship.

Why these big differences in youth unemployment rates between European countries? Research shows that more education and training significantly increase the chance to get a job. The dual education system of on the job training and education at the same time is an effective way to increase the chance to get a job for young people , as is showed by the German and Dutch cases. But experts warn that it takes a lot of time to develop such a dual education system because it needs well coordinated actions between many different institutions of the State, the Employers, the Trade Unions and other Non Governmental Organizations. In Germany and the Netherlands these institutions have been build up during a long time.

Tycho Filarski, president of the Working Group International of CNV Youth spoke about "How does CNV Youth promote the position of young workers in the Netherlands?"
What can trade unions do to attack the problem of youth unemployment and unemployment in general? Should they stick to the classic trade union position to defend and promote the rights of their members that are mainly working people, or should they be actively involved in the battle against unemployment? Should trade unions only play the blame game towards the government, the employers and the political parties, or must trade unions cooperate on different levels for solutions?

Trade unions should not only defend the rights of the working people but start activities to solve the problem of youth unemployment.
The participants agreed that trade unions must be involved in the battle against youth unemployment (and also unemployment in general), which in the long run affects society as a whole. Value oriented trade unions like those of WOW can never accept the marginalization of so many young people and workers from the labour market and the society.

Milica Jovanovic, legal adviser of the Croatian Employers' Association of Croatia, spoke about "The responsibility of the employers."

Trade unions must first of all start to listen to young unemployed people outside the trade union office and visit them. Trade unions must develop social media instruments like websites, blogs and so on, as new ways to communicate directly with the unemployed young people. Trade unions must help the young unemployed to orient themselves in the areas of training, education and labor market opportunities. Trade unions must pressure employers and governments to work on a system of better matching between education and labor market. Trade unions must do everything to maintain intergenerational solidarity, young and older unemployed should cooperate for solutions.

An absolute priority are investments in jobs, in the private and the public sector. Trade unions must give attention to all possibilities to create new jobs by investments in all sectors of the economy.

Rolf Weber of KRIFA dept. for international relations and one of the organizers of the seminar working outside the seminar room.

Trade unions must give special attention to those young unemployed who want to start as self-employed. Trade unions must support them to find new ways for them to participate in health insurance in pension schemes etc.
As a general comment, the seminar participants agreed that trade unions must change from being a kind of emergency centers for workers into all-round fitness centers for employed and unemployed, for part time workers, for self employed and so on.