Friday, January 31, 2014


The 23rd World Congress started with the international seminar "An alternative world order, trade union challenges and responses of the WCL." Speaking is African Seretary general Akpemado. Behind the table in the centre Secretary General Carlos Custer. In front on the right Rio Brito from Brazil. On his left speaking in the mike Maritza Chireno, Secreatry general of the Latin American Federation of  Comercial Workers (FETRALCOS). On the left  the late Marcelo Luvecce, Secretary General of the Latin American Federation of Construction Workers (FLATICOM).

Conferences and certainly World Congresses are Holy High Masses where is swung with a lot of incense, where the past is celebrated and the future announced. They are feel good shows for the conference participants so that they are more motivated to make sacrifices in the form of dues payment, winning new members or to support the association.

For the WCL World Congress this was obviously not different, but with the difference that it went really well with the WCL. The WCL had succeeded to gain in Central and Eastern Europe new members, who for the first time participated at the WCL World Congress. Despite a limited number of wealthier members, WCL could finance in recent years plenty of missions and activities in Central and Eastern Europe. The Coordinating Committee for Central and Eastern and Western Europe was dynamic and active. The African trade union movement also had become more active and present in the WCL. Obviously there was going on a lot in this continent. That is why the WCL 23th congress was held on the African island Mauritius. Toolsiray Benedin, confederal secretary and colleague and himself coming from the island of Mauritius, had prepared largely well the Congress.

An overview of the Congress hall during the official opening.

Under the leadership of General Secretary Emilio Maspero CLAT was and remained a widely respected and well-known trade union movement in Latin America and beyond. Although internationally there should be done more, in particular in the ILO. Also in Asia, the BATU (Brotherhood of Asian Workers) went well, but there was still room for more. The WCL itself was present on international level, albeit on a modest scale, but enough to be respected, even by the ICFTU and the ILO. With some extra efforts it could only become better in the near future. Thanks to the national solidarity funds of Western European organizations, particularly from the Netherlands (CNV Aktie Kom Over, nowadays CNV International) and Belgium (World Solidarity), the unions in the continents could rely on financial and technical support for the development and / or strengthening their unions.

What were the weaknesses? The representativeness of the WCL in Europe was still insufficient. The financing of the WCL was too dependent on a few Western confederations in particular the Belgian ACV, which alone accounted for more than half of the WCL budget, followed by the Dutch CNV and then remotely by the French CFTC and Austrian FCG / ÖGB. Due to the departure of some strong unions, some International Trade Union Federations were weakened in some sectors, at European and global level. The International Trade Union Sector Action had to be built up from the ground. The emphasis was still too exclusive on the political struggle for trade union rights and labor laws. More had to be done to help workers to get better working and health conditions, to support (international) works councils, to get better collective bargaining, etc.

The official poster of the congress.

The WCL had enough staff which was well-trained. Internal streamlining, modernizing and adjustments would make more effective the WCL in the future. General Secretary Carlos Custer was a team leader who gave much responsibilities to his confederal secretaries. He had good political instincts that is why the WCL was respected everywhere. He therefore certainly deserved a second term. Therefore, I was confident that after a few adjustments, the WCL was able to continue building its future. Of course, there was still a lot of work to do but with proper and targeted efforts, there was still much to be gained.

We confederal secretaries had few contacts with the members of the Executive Committee of WCL. As managing director of the WCL Solidarity Fund and as member of the Financial Committee, both functions on request of SG Carlos Custer, I had of course regular meetings with most of them but this was always limited to formalities. They behaved more as directors of a company in stead as directors of an (trade union) association. This surprised me because working with trade unions always meant for me a different life style, a style more adapted to those we present, that is to say not to much hierarchy, a more informal way of operating and open to each other.

Coffee break during the Congress of the staff. From left to right: Jan Cleuren (translator), Luc Vermeersch (translator), Greta Geselle (coordinator office), piet nelissen, Johan Verstraete (press), Hilde Vanlancker (translator).

The World Congress meant the departure of Vice-President Krzysztof Dowgiałło of the Polish Solidarnosc. Thanks to him the WCL was known quickly in Central and Eastern Europe and even Russia. His position as Vice-President of the WCL was occupied by Bogdan Hossu, President of the Romanian trade union confederation Cartel alfa. I had already gotten to know him as an active and dynamic participant in WVA missions and activities. Under his chairmanship Cartel alfa had become internationally already a prestigious trade union confederation, a remarkable achievement when you take into account the situation in which his country was after the fall of dictator Ceausescu.

This is the only photo I have from the newly elected Executive Committee of WCL. At the end of the table Bogdan Hossu (Cartle alfa, Romenia), Anton Westerlaken (CNV, Netherlands), Emilo Maspero (CLAT, Latin America), Willy Peirens (ACV Belgium), Carlos Custer (CLAT, Argentina), Akpemado (Fopadesc, Africa) and Michel Bovy (International Trade Union Federations)

At the time of his vice-presidency a WCL liaison office was opened in Bucharest. That was important for maintaining and developing contacts in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. The staff spoke also Russian and of course English. They took care of the translation to and from the Russian of press releases and announcements of WCL. The liaison office prepared for missions during which the employees were also Russian-English interpreters. To save costs, the office was located in the offices of Cartel alfa where Bogdan Hossu took care of the daily supervision.

Monday, January 27, 2014


Ukrainian VOST leaders, President Oleksander Dzhulyk (on the right) and Vice-President Yuri Kyrilo, asking for European help and sanctions at the start of the seminar because of the 5th social week in Oostende, Belgium.
The seminar started with a modest protest of 2 trade union leaders of VOST Ukraine. They held up the flag of Ukraine between them together with protest signs asking for European help and sanctions. After Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, had held his opening speech, they asked him what Europe is planning to do with Ukraine?

Van Rompuy expressed his disappointment that the president of Ukrainian Janoekovitsj did not sign the historical document on cooperation with the EU during the 2 days meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania in December last month. During that meeting it was the President himself who declared that he could not sign because of pressures from Moscow. The president did not have the clear political will to come to an agreement with the EU. However, Van Rompuy confirmed that the door is still open for cooperation between the EU and Ukraine. In the mean time the EU will put maximum pressures to the Government of Ukraine not to use violence. Violence is not the answer to the prostests but political reforms. He doubts the effectiveness of EU sanctions on the Ukraine, it did not work in the case of Belorus. The EU will look for the best way to help Ukraine. During the visit of President Putin to Brussels, the EU will also speak to him about Ukraine.

From right to left. Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council (Mr. Europe) speaking. Jaap Smit, President of the 5th Social Week and Cardinal Peter Turkson.

The seminar was organized by ACW, the Umbrella of Christian Workers Organizations in Belgium, together with the European Centre for Workers Questions (EZA) and others, financially supported by the European Commission. The guiding slogan of the seminar was “Europe the age of responsibility”.

The participants, coming from all corners of Europe, were welcomed by Jaap Smit, Chairman of the initiative Committee of the 5th European Social week and until the 1st of January President of the Dutch trade union confederation CNV. His message was critical on Europe. Europeans are living in difficult times. “Nowadays 25% of young people in the EU are unemployed...The number of men and women living below the poverty line, is growing (from 20 to 24 million). European responses have thus far proved to be insufficient.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson stressed during his opening speech the importance of the Christian social ethics as guidelines for the current European and global challenges. According to the Cardinal the Compendium of Social Teachings of the Catholic Church is a source of wisdom, inspiration and guidance. The starting point is the goodness of God's creation which leads to 4 pillars: human dignity, common good, solidarity and subsidiarity (participation) complemented by reconciliation. We are all equal in dignity but we are not all the same. Solidarity means making history with others based on participation (no exclusion). The biblical question “where is your brother” is a radical challenge, an option for the poor. Fraternity is a global challenge. We share the same house (earth). Charity makes it possible to create a part of heaven on earth.

Fritz Neugebauer, President of the Austrian trade union of Public Servants (GÖD) and second President of the Autrian Parliament, went back to the ancient commandments that everybody knows, as the basis for business ethics, entrepreneurship and social dialogue: you shall not kill, you shall not steal (do not be corrupt, do not bribe people), you shall not lie (do not falsify money, no money laundering, do not authorize false audits etc.) and you shall not sexually abuse anybody. The principle of reciprocity must lead us: do not do to another what you do not want to be done to you.

Herman van Rompuy, also called Mr. Europe, is Europe's little Obama. Van Rompuy is not elected by European voters like Obama is elected by American voters. He is chosen by European leaders who indeed have been elected by their national voters. Van Rompuy is also not chief of the army like Obama but the European leaders who choose him, have armies like for example France and Great Britain but also smaller nations as Belgium and the Netherlands. The US and the European armies are cooperating in the NATO, a kind of Euro-American army that is operating world wide like for example these days in some African countries. So his words may not have the political weight like those of Obama but they are also important. Compared to the US, Europa is a soft world power, but still a power.

By his visit to the seminar, Van Rompuy showed his democratic attitude. He stressed that measures taken by the EU to restore financial stability, were aimed to create employment. The downfall of the EURO, which was at a certain moment not far away, would have destroyed the greatest political project of the 19th century, the creation of the EU. According to him there is no alternative for this European project of peace, progress and democracy.

From right to left. Bartho Pronk, President of EZA, speaking. Jerôme Vignon, Chairman of the French Social Week and Pierre Defriagne, Professor in Economy and Director of Maradiaga Foundation at the College of Europe in Brugge, Belgium.

Indeed big mistakes have been made: bad financial risk management by banks and other institutions, not enough supervision by the national banks and excessive indebtedness stimulated by low interests. The economic recession was the consequence of artificially economic growth based on easy credits and loans, for governments and private enterprise. But already before the economic crisis, Europe had serious problems with finding answers on the global challenge of China and other fast growing economies like Brazil and India. Economic growth was already low, unemployment already high. That is why Europe was already looking for new strategies like the Lissabon strategy and Europe 20/20. Today these reforms have become more urgent than ever.

According to Van Rompuy restoring economic growth is the main condition for restoring employment. But will work the classical model of economic growth to create employment once again, or has it become obsolete because of the globalisation? According to Bartho Pronk the political agreement on the introduction of a minimum wage by the German Coalition of christian and social democrats is a first positive step in the right direction. The minimum wages make it easier to watch over labour contracts. The minimum wage will also help the “working poor” to become less poor. However, Pronk notes in Europe a tendency “towards the abolition of the social security systems, without taking in consideration the vulnerable position of many people...The quality of our Western civilisation is under pressure, because self-interests and consumerism often replace an attitude of responsibility and participation.”

From right to left. Bernard Edmunds, Professor in Social Philosophy and Director of the Oswald von Nell-Breuning Institut, Frankfurt, Germany and Bea Cantillon, Professor at the University of Antwerp and President of the Centre for Social Policy Herman Deleeck. 

Most of the speakers at the seminar agreed that at the heart of the European Social Model should stay the social dialogue between the three stake holders: trade unions representing workers, employers organizations and governments. The social dialogue is a proper tool to regulate the ongoing conflict between capital and labour. Social dialogue brings social peace en economic stability. It is also a proper way to maintain solidarity between the individual (employed and unemployed) and the society, between those who have work and those who have not: the unemployed, the sick and the retired people.

But as already said, the model is under pressure. Capital is considered as more important than labour. The Anglo-Saxon model of a share holders economy displaces the Rhineland model of the social-market economy. Inequalities are becoming greater as a result of long term unemployment, new technologies, instability of families and globalisation with its delocalisation and flexibilisation. Jerome Vignon, chairman of the French Social week, insists that social priorities must be put above those of capital.

From right to left. Georges Dassis (Greece), President of the Workers Group of the Economic and Social Committee. Patrick Develtere, President ACW and Fritz Neugebauer, second President of the Parliament of Austria and President of the trade union GÖD.

By comparing the post war model of the USA with that of Europe, Professor Bea Cantillon of the University of Antwerp, concluded that the European Union must become a so called transfer union, a union of financial solidarity. The classical idea that economic convergence leads to social convergence, does not work. Europe has today a well developed common market but not a common social security system. Therefore a new European paradigm is needed: a European minimum wage must be introduced, the EU must become a transfer union of solidarity between North and South, West and East and there must be introduced a common social policy supervised by the EU like now has been developed for the budget policy of the EU members.

Professor Bernhard Edmunds is critical about the underlying concepts of the free market. Europe should not accept the classical liberal idea of maximum liberty for the individual and a minimum of state intervention. Europe must go back to the Social Christian thesis that human beings essentially are social beings. Therefore Europe as an economic community (common market) should also be a political community with social dimensions. In the same direction Patrick Develtere, director of ACW, advocates a more qualitative economic growth as the answer to the growing environment problems, the depletion of raw materials and the climate change, caused by human economic activities.

The idea of the European Union as a transfer union with shared financial solidarity, a more social Europe and a Europe with qualitative economic growth are today very contested by right wing politicians in many European countries. Their promise that going back to the old times of nationalism, autonomy, independence and no immigration will restore the national welfare state of the past, is believed by a growing group of voters. These voters see Brussels as a financial machine wasting their money and not anymore as a project for economic progress as stated by Van Rompuy. So van Rompuy was right to conclude that the next European Parliament elections in the month of May will become a test for he future of the EU.   

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


VOST Congress 1993. Part of the Congressroom in the Health Centre close to Kiev.
Already for weeks now in Kiev and throughout the Ukraine a mostly peaceful civil conflict is raging about which direction the country should go, to the side of Europe or to Russia ? This conflict has already started in 1989 with the breakup of the former Soviet empire . Then there were the first signs of political division in the Ukraine on the way where to go. The Western part of Ukraine wants to belong to Europe, also because in the past it belonged already to it. The Eastern part, where most Russian immigrants live, wants to belong to Russia.

Despite that Russia and Europe are built on more or less the same values, for centuries derived from Christianity, both continents are divided because geographically speaking Russia is too big for Europe and that makes it also political to big. Ukraine lies on a fault line between the two and that makes it difficult for the country to reach a compromise to both sides. Moreover, the old communists now in power don't want to give up their positions. They are all too happy that they have conquered power back after the orange revolution which was a first intend to change course to direction Europe (2004/2005)

In front of the Health Centre comrade Lenin was still watching over the VOST Congress
It would be a lot easier for Ukraine if Russia should not only focus on power politics but more on democratic and pluralistic values, but Putin is no Gorbatsjov and I fear the same for his successors. WCL has been involved in this part of Ukrainian history since 1992. In April 1993 I was the only invited international guest on a Congress of the then young , inexperienced but idealistic VOST. Oleksandr Dzhulyk was chosen as president of VOST because of his " national, anti- communist and therefore anti-establishment and pro Europe” program. He then was already president of the trade union Volya from Lviv, an important city in west Ukraine . At that moment VOST decided to affiliate to the WCL.

I was happy with the VOST joining the WCL because to my opinion the Ukraine should belong to Europe in the future. I realized also that it will always be difficult for Russia to accept a European Ukraine but if Russia would develop as a real democratic country it should be possible to find a way out. The membership of VOST was adopted by the WCL without further debate, although the relations between Andrei Adamčik, head of the foreign department of Solidarnosc , and VOST President Oleksandr Dzhulyk always remained somewhat tense. Sometimes I sensed an aversion while VOST from its side considered Solidarnosc as an example for its own development. Within the ETUC, integration of Central and Eastern European countries into Europa was considered more as a question of power politics than an ideological matter.

In red shirt VOST President Oleksandr Dzhulyk, on his left behind his shoulder Marion Oostveen from CNV International Affiars followed by me. On my left Paul Buekenhout from ACV International Affairs. Between Paul and me VOST Vice-President Yuri Kyrilo.

For example, the Scandinavian trade unions with Sweden ahead, did everything to get in control in the Baltics . Hence, the general secretary of LO Sweden told me during a meeting in Denmark that I had nothing to look for in Lithuania . President Aldona Balsiene of the Lithuanian LWU told me later in confidence that her was told not to talk to me anymore. The Swedish power politics probably worked because the LWU took more and more distance from the WCL . The German DGB and other socialist oriented trade union confederations tried to get affiliated to the ICFTU as soon as possible the former communist organizations, the so called trade union establishment who still had all the money and the buildings.

I do not know if these Western trade unions because of opportunism had put aside western values or because they believed in this way could get a grip on democratic changes. I remember for example that my ICFTU colleague Anna Oulatar, in charge of Central and Eastern Europe policy, was more concerned about the arrival of the McDonalds chain in Moscow as an expression of unbridled Western capitalism than on how Russia should come to terms with its (Stalinist) past and how a new society should be built on the ruins of communism.

The WCL delegation in front of the VOST office in Lviv in May 1996. 1.Olga Dhzulyk, translator.2.Olga Nicolaea from the WCL Liaison Office in Bucarest. 3.VOST President Oleksandr Dzhulyk. 4.Ed Grooteboer from CLAC Canada.5.Igor from VOST.6.Bob Fielding, International Affiars Solidarnosc Poland. 7.Andrzej Adamczyk, Head of International Affairs Solidarnosc. 8. VOST Vice-President Yuri Kyrilo. 9.Achille Dutu, Metal Trade Union Cartel Alfa Romania. 10.Wim Boiten, CNV International Affairs.

What was true for Russia , was also true for Ukraine . There was a large technical , industrial, economic and political backlog. The unions had always been serfs of the Communist Party. Independent trade unions that negotiate with employers and government about wages, working conditions, health and safety, holidays, etc. were unknown. The VOST wanted to change this from bottom up, based on the same values and principles as those of trade unions in Western Europe and the rest of the world.

Two years after the congress of 1993 , in February 1995, we visited with three WCL delegates the next congress of VOST . The Congress was held just outside Kiev in a health center in the middle of the woods . A sober home for a sober conference . It was in the times that wages of the average worker were about 10 US$ per month. It was a conference that showed perseverance if necessary with courage of despair.

Traditional welcome to the WCL delegation at the Ceramics Factory.
Over a year later, in May 1996 a larger WCL delegation visited again Ukraine. ( See photograph) . To give you an idea what we experienced during this mission, I would like to quote an article that one of the participants, Ed Grooteboer of the Canadian CLAC, published in ' The Guide ' of July / August 1996.

As part of a recent World Confederation of Labour (WCL) mission to the Ukraine to support the All -Ukranian Union of Workers Solidarity (VOST), a sister organization, I saw first-hand how deeply the communist legacy runs in Ukraine's political, economic and social structures. Politicians, bueraucrats,and industry and trade union leaders are tenaciously hanging on to positions of power and control.They are reluctant to give up their privileges and strongly oppose the winds of change.

In this sense, the Ukraine is no different than neighbouring Belarus, Russia and other countries once swallowed up in the USSR. But countries like Poland, Hungary, Czechoslowakia (now the Czech and Slowak Republics), and Romania are profiting from a conscious and popular struggle against communism. These revolutions resulted in well-nigh irreversible reforms at practically all levels, and created a reservoir of resolve to work through the economic and social devastation caused by communism. Although communist sympathizers reamin a force to be reckoned with, a country like Poland has made great strides in rebilding its social an economic structures. Countries such as the Ukraine, however, have not experienced such a revolution. (the so called orange revolution had yet to come in 2004/2005)
Independence arose almost as by default out of the crumbled Soviet empire. Consequently, reforms are relatively superficial and the same foxes, now travelling under the name of social democrats, are still and by large running the chicken coop.

People who want to bring about change in this situation face great difficulties. Given the general economic collapse – growing unemployment (about 40 per cent), months without pay for those who work, and staggering inflation – there is much skepticism in the population about leaving “the flesh pots of Egypt.”

During our visit to a Bus Company where the management prohibited first our entrance, the trade union leader (on the right) and a trade union member (the woman on the left)  gave us testimony about the trade union repression in the factory supported by the post-communist trade union.

Most enterprises we visited have a very uncertain future. The facilities and available equipment are awful to poor, producing inferior goods that domestically are unaffordable and are not wanted in foreign markets. In one case, communist sabotaged equipment and buildings when the workers in exasperation threw out the government-sanctioned union and ran management out of town by occupying the local ceramics factory.
At an electrical appliance plant, the few workers who remain often get paid in te equivalent of the goods they produce, which they then must barter or sell as best they can (even as far away as in the Czech Republic or Poland) in order to make ends meet. Gardening and “underground” economic activity make it possible to cope for most people. Practically everywhere one goes, work conditions are frightful with little or no regard for the safety and wellbeing of workers. Where attempts are made to improve the workplace they are either ignored or meet with only minimal success.”

Ed Grooteboer of CLAC Canada visiting a metal factory close to Lvov.

The battle that was then already started about which direction Ukraine should go, continues to these days. As you can read in the statement below, VOST is still involved.

At several thousand people’s meeting on 19 January 2014, Maidan announced the plan of actions which grounds are the propositions declared in the statement of VOST “VOLYA” of 04 December 2013

The statement of All-Ukrainian Union of Workers Solidarity VOST “VOLYA” (VOST) of 19 January 2014

The propositions of VOST “VOLYA” declared in the statement of 04 December 2013 “Any negotiations and the total boycott against the bloody occupation illegitimate regime of dictator Yanukovych” had already made an echo at Maidan who announced the beginning of the implementing direct people authority by means of making the National Council, the government of National confidence, National self-defense, early voting and boycott of the ruling occupation illegitimate criminal oligarchic dictator regime. But isn’t it too late? We’ll hope that uncontrolled people rebellion which arose because of frustration through ineffective staying at Maidan won’t cause using the ultima ratio of the mad authority – weapon – against protesters.
The drop which filled up the cup of people’s patience became cynic ignoring any democratic procedure during the farce of the so-called “adopting” laws which gave Yanukovych dictatorship the possibility to use actual implementing of emergency state elements into everyday life. In this situation people of labour will lose even those minimum possibilities to defend their rights they had formally before. As any critic or protest against high-handedness of employers and authority can threaten with cruel oppressions, arrest of property, dismissal, stalin “trial” and imprisonment. The dictatorship put off masking democratic clothes and showed its real criminal essence at last. This is the time of hard enlightenment for those who closed his eyes and doesn’t see illegitimacy of the occupation regime headed by the illegitimate “president”, who expected for a good king who would have mercy for people’s asking and begin negotiations, for any honest presidential elections. It is pity only that the protest has dragged on for so long time and exhausts everybody who is going through and struggle for the democratic future of Ukraine.
Eurorevolution has new period when the only source of authority – Ukrainian people – decided to use the constitution right.
* Calls to have peaceful but decisive and acting character of people’s protest
* Completely support the decision of several hundred thousand people meeting at Maidan on 19 January 2014 about the transfer to the direct people authority
* Observing unreasonably slow process of creating People’s Association “Maidan” to which VOST “VOLYA” was the first to submitt an application about joining during the announcing at the meeting on 22 December 2013, we hope so much for quick implementing of decisions of 19 January 2014 meeting. Possible negotiations with the ruling regime shouldn’t slow down or stop making bodies of people authority
* Calls policemen and soldiers of internal troops remain faithful to the Constitution and their oath and come over to people
* Appeals to all brotherly trade unions to express their clear solidarity, give acting certain support for real trade unions, support the Ukrainian people and Ukrainian workers in their rightful struggle for democracy and respecting human rights
* Calls the world community, the European Union, the USA, all democratic countries to boycott the bloody criminal dictator regime of Yanukovych band and his political wing – the party of regions and their acolytes pseudocommunists, not to make negotiations with them, implement personal sanctions for weightlifters who organized bloody massacres and all persons involved in this regime who “adopted” dictator laws by non-legal way – arrest of their personal accounts, accounts of their relatives, prestanombres and their companies abroad, forbid them to come to territory of democratic countries etc.
* To admit newly created bodies of people authority and make negotiations only with them

The people will win!

Reference. VOST “VOL Y A” (VOST) is an independent democratic trade union association, whose activity is based on the universal principles of Christian morality. Trade union organizations formed VOST operating since 1989, and Trade union “VOLYA” was the first in Ukraine free inter - branch union. VOST unites more than 150000 members and is a membership organization of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Trade Union “VOLYA” is affiliated to the World Organization of Workers (WOW). VOST and TU “VOLYA” favor of holding trade union reform in Ukraine and realizing the motto “21 century – new trade unions”. Oleksandr Dzhulyk is the VOST and TU “VOLYA” president. The VOST and TU “VOLYA” headquarters are located in Lviv.

Finally, I ask myself how it would have gone with VOST if the WCL had not existed?

To be continued

Thursday, January 16, 2014


On arrival at Warschau.In front left Marleen Mens of WCL Staff. At the end 4 EFCM board members from right to left: President Jean Marc Mohr, Antoine Cuijvers, Franz Breuer and Adalbert Ewen.


Since our visit to the Polish trade federations in 1992 (see part 4) we had contact with the miners trade union and the regional organizations of Solidarnosc in Krakow and Katowice . Together with the European Federation of Christian Miners( EFCM) of the WCL, a seminar was organized for miners trade unions in Central and Eastern Europe. Elisabeth Soltysek of Solidarnosc together with Marleen Mens of the WCL office took care of practical matters.The seminar was held in March 1993. First we flew to Warsaw where we had a visitors program with a guide of Solidarnosc. After the visit we went by train to Katowice. From there we drove into the nightfall with 2 cars to the union training center Rudy Raciborski. With snow on the road it was late at night an adventurous journey on dangerous slippery roads.

The seminar was aimed to get to know each other better and to inquire about the impact of mine closures, the remediation of mines, employment programs, the role of government and the trade unions, etc. like had happened and still was going on in Belgium , France and Germany. Speakers were EFCM president Jean Marc Mohr of the CFTC and treasurer Adalbert Euwen of CGM Germany. The miners in Central and Eastern Europe  would certainly have to deal with closures of mines and large reorganizations in the future . Even in Central and Eastern Europe coal mines could not compete anymore with coal mines in the rest of the world such as North America, and Colombia.

Waiting while snow is falling for the bus.On the left two Rumanian miners. Our two assistants Elisabeth Soltysek and Marleen Mens. on the right Jean Marc Mohr.
During the seminar we wanted to consult once again the Solidarnosc miners trade union about their membership of the EFCM . We had doubts whether they were really planning to become a member. We had the feeling that they kept us waiting by delaying any decision. The seminar took place in a good mood with participants from Poland, Russia, Belarus, Albania and Rumania. Once again the miners once again did not decide on their membership of the EFCM.
WCL General secretary Carlos Custer talking with Polish President Lech Walesa.

Within the WCL and especially within the international trade union federations doubts were growing whether the Solidarnosc trade union federations really wanted to become members of the WCL ITF’s. This was one of the reasons for General Secretary Carlos Custer to visit Solidarnosc in September of the same year, a little bit more than a month before the WCL World Congress to be held on the island of Mauritius (see also part 3 ) We spoke with the Solidarnosc board led by President Marian Krzaklewski . We were assured that ties with the WCL were close and strong. We visited Solidarnosc Warsaw and we were received by President Lech Walesa, Then we travelled to Krakow and Katowice. Time and again we were reassured by the regional boards of Solidarity that ties between Solidarnosc and the WCL were good.

To make clear that we were prepared to cooperate on all levels, a year later in October 1994 we organized a seminar in Katowice together with Solidarnosc entitled " Restructuring a threat or a challenge ." The seminar was intended to exchange experiences on the massive closure of mines in the region of Limburg, Belgium. The goal of the seminar was to prepare a draft protocol with the conditions which should be met in case mines in the Katowice region were to be closed. The seminar was sponsored by ACV Limburg. Speakers were President Rick Nouwen of ACV Limburg and Jos Hagendoorn of the Research department of ACV Limburg . Speakers on the part of Solidarnosc Katowice were President  Marek Kemski and Slaslo Dąbrowskie . President Kemski assured us again that Solidarnosc had warm feelings for the WCL . But unfortunately  in practice this was not followed by any change. The miners of Solidarnosc never joined the EFCM and were not even active as observers which was offered to them.

Why the miners and all the other Solidarnosc Trade Federations never joined the International Trade Federations of the WCL? Were the ITF’s of the WCL too small to be effective?  That story was often heard in and outside the WCL for example from some WCL trade unions that meanwhile had  joined the European and International Trade Union Federations belonging to the circles of the ICFTU. However, for the EFCM this was certainly not true. Of course, the EFCM was smaller than the competing ICEM , but it was no less able to provide services to its members in and outside Europe . This was clearly demonstrated by the two seminars we organized in Poland, one for miners coming from different European countries and one especially for the Polish miner’s region Katowice. The EFCM had several financial resources and was recognized by the European Coal and Steel Community and therefore could use the facilities of the ECSC.
Of course there were differences between the WCL International Trade Union Federations but they all had their possibilities at European level. EUROFEDOP (public services sector) was an eloquent proof that it is indeed possible for a European federation belonging to the WCL, to become an official partner in the European Social Dialogue . But of course, this requires a certain level of representativity on European level, to lobby hard at the European Commission and the European Parliament and if so necessary to deal with the competing ICFTU oriented European Trade Union Federations.

But as I have observed before, lobbying at the European Commission and the European Parliament was a taboo within WCL, particularly from the side of the ACV. Of course such lobbying would have provocated some European Trade Federations and ETUC members from ICFTU circles but they also had to recognize that at the end this was the result of their own refusal to cooperate with WCL Trade Federations. Why this fear for confrontation with ICFTU oriented trade union confederations and trade federations? Was it because of certain bureaucratic interests within the ETUC (there where positions on certain level at stake), was it because of a certain kind of inferiority complex, was it fear to get lost in European politics or doubts about its own capacities? I believe it was a little bit of everything , and therefore it was difficult  to develop new initiatives. Fundamental to this all was the attitude of the ACV, the largest trade union confederation in Belgium but also the largest financier of the WCL. But precisely within the ACV there existed Ideological and strategic doubts about  the future of the WCL.


Ideologically because of what could be called socialist temptations, especially on international level. But strategic doubts within ACV about which way to go, were more important. The ACV may be the largest trade union confederation in their own country, but if that country is very small, you stay small for the rest of the world. Moreover, Belgium had and still has many international industrial companies, especially the automotive industry, where decision taking takes place outside Belgium, like for example is the case with French Renault, German Volkswagen, American Ford and Opel, Swedish Volvo etc.
Strikers at Volkswagen Vorst in Brussels (2006). In between them the ACV Metal Trade Union flag.
Belgium lost in 10 years time half of its vehicle production. In 2001 rolled 1.2 million cars and trucks of the band, while last year only 525,000 vehicles were assembled. Belgium tumbled from 2001 onwards from the 14th place to 24th. Belgium is now behind Indonesia, Malaysia and Slovakia, and just ahead of South Africa and Romania. A decade ago, there were assembled nowhere as many cars per capita as in Belgium. Belgium now has descended into the lower middle of the ranking of the largest vehicle manufacturers in the world.

The European automotive market is lead by production in Germany, Italy and France. In the EU, the industry employs 2.3 million people directly and almost another 10.5 million indirectly, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association. The region produces more than 17 million vehicles a year, representing a quarter of overall global production. There are just less than 170 facilities in operation across 16 member nations, run by 17 vehicle manufacturers. Leading players include BMW, Fiat, Renault, Volkswagen, Volvo and Peugeot Citroën.

It is therefore no wonder that the ACV Metal trade union joined the European Metal Federation (EMF) and the International Metal Federation (IMF) already in the eighties as a way to counter this industrial decision taking weakness of Belgium as a country. They surely thought that by joining the IMF / EMF a common trade union policy based on European and/or international solidarity could be developed for all workers in the automotive industry regardless in which country they were working.

But unfortunately and despite many fine words about solidarity it did not work. Already in 1997 Renault Vilvoorde was shut down without consulting the trade union and the workers councils. Thousands of workers were dismissed. It was the first Renault production unit outside France (1935). Others followed. Thousands of workers were fired by Volkswagen Vorst (2006), in 2010 Opel (GM) Antwerp is closed with about 2500 workers laid off and in 2012 Ford Genk decided to close its production in Belgium which meant that 4500 workers lost their job. Eventually the Belgian workers were sacrificed for keeping Renault , Volkswagen , Ford , etc. on the road. It is sad to have to conclude that international solidarity apparently has its national limits, even in the European Union. The Belgium workers could only rely on the solidarity of the Belgium Government and ist tax payers for getting a compensation for the loss of their job. What could do the Belgium trade union then to look for solidarity on European level? But it was WCL that had to disappear as a price to be paid for European solidarity that until now does not really exist.

Friday, January 3, 2014


Carlos Custer at the Asamblea de los Trabajadores y el Pueblo de America Latina, held in Panama City in November 1978 (photo: Petrus)

I started to get more and more pleasure in my work. As befits a righteous Dutchman, I started my professional life overseas from 1971 onwards. First as a student in Colombia and later as UN employee in Mexico and Costa Rica, and from 1982 as director of the solidarity association CLAT-Netherlands. But now as WCL confederal secretary I was happy to contribute my part in the history of the reunification of Europe. I was allowed to participate in putting right what had gone wrong after the Second World War in Europe. I saw the future of Europe, in spite of all the differences and conflicts, with a lot of optimism. Besides global citizen with a Latin slant, thanks to Latin America, I began to feel me more and more European.

I considered it an honor to be able to help a little bit the Poles, Lithuanians, Hungarians, Romanians and so on, to become part of the European community. Because after all, despite all our differences, we have the same Greek, Roman and Judeo-Christian roots. Whether you're looking around in an Anglican or a Russian Orthodox church, the images and rites are always recognizable. You see that for ages the same story is told all over Europe, the Christian story of creation of men, the fall, the birth and death of Christ, etc. The story that tells where we come from and where we are going.

Personalities at the opening of the Asamblea de los Trabajadores y el Pueblo in Panama City, November 1978. In the centre, looking right into the lens, is WCL Secretary Jan Kulakowski (1930-2011). As a boy he was participating in the resistance during German occupation of Poland. In 1946 he came with his mother as a refugee to Belgium. Kulakowski was WCL Secretary General from 1976 until 1989. In that period, the Polish trade union Solidarnosc became a member of the WCL (1986). In 1989 Kulakowski was succeeded by Carlos Custer as WCL Secretary General. On the far left CLAT Secretary General Emilio Maspero. On the far right WCL Deputy Secretary General. (Photo Petrus)

Working at WCL was also enjoyable because it was not a bureaucratized organization. Not the forms, rules or hierarchy determined what needed to be done but what was needed for its members near or far away. All our members were equally important, whether they lived somewhere in a distant and poor country or into a nearby rich country. In daily work, there was a spirit of equality and solidarity, where everyone's individuality was respected.

Some members of the WCL staff during the WCL Congress in Mauritius, November 1993. From left to right: Luc Vermeersch (translator), Jan Cleuren (translator), Greta Geselle (head of the administration department), Hilde van Lankcer (translator), Marleen Mens (secretary/assistant for Central and Eastern Europe), Rita Van Onckelen (secretary/assistant Secretary General) and Adrienne Lievens (head of the accounting department)

General Secretary Carlos Custer (of Argentine origin) was well suited for this. As an experienced union leader (he had already been once confederal secretary of the WCL) he knew his strengths and his weaknesses. He had a great sense of (trade union) relations, was an excellent diplomat and knew how to deal with people, also with those who were hostile to the WCL. His weaknesses were organization and finance, but he himself made no secret of this. I therefore gladly complied with his request to help him in these areas. Moreover, the WCL had skilled, well-trained, loyal and experienced staff who were willing to serve the cause, though of course you had not to overdo it. After all, these predominantly female employees had their families for which they had to care.


Forum held during the seminar and presided by Imre Palkovics, President of Worker's Councils. On his left Bogdan Hossu, President of Cartel Alfa.Behind him Milan Katuninec, President of the Slowakian trade union confederation NKOS (now KOS). On the right the Polish and the Albanian delegation.

Back to the field. Together with the Hungarian Federation of Worker's Councils (Munkastanacsok), who had meanwhile decided to join the WCL, we organized a seminar the end of March 1993 in Budapest with the significant title "World Confederation of Labour for New Trade Unionism after Communism." With this title the line between past and future was indicated clearly. Communism had failed and was therefore abolished, but what had to come in place? It were not our Western unions to determine the future. That should be done by the new unions with their recently elected leaders. A seminar was the best way to start this process of decision making.

Ignaas Lindemans of the ACV Research department and one of the speakers at the seminar.

The seminar was concluded with " The Declaration of Budapest" , a set of guidelines with which the WCL could go forward for the next years.
1. A legal framework should be created for the industrial trade union action. The first priorities here are representativity, autonomy, redistribution of the former ( state ) trade union assets and the role of the social partners.
2. Social dialogue, bipartite and / or tripartite should be encouraged. In this way can be monitored adequately the economic and social developments. The problem is that employers are still not organized in most countries, and that the government is the largest employer in some countries ( In Communist States everybody is an employee of the state ) .
3. The launch of collective bargaining by company, sector or national .
4. There needs to be built up a social security system . This means that there has to be made a compulsory and supplementary insurance system. In addition, unemployment benefits, the protection of the minimum wage and social rights are considered indispensable . The whole system should be managed by those who contribute to it, so largely employees and employers.

5 . Adapting national legislation to the international and European conventions and standards. This includes the ILO conventions , the European Social Charter and the European Charter of Social Security.

to be continued