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

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