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.

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