Saturday, March 8, 2014


As I have written before, the Canadian Christian Labour Association of Canada CLAC supported the WCL activities in Central and Eastern Europe. Thanks to, among other things, the efforts of some leaders of CNV, the CLAC had joined the WCL. Over the years, CLAC had become a thorn in the side of the dominant Canadian Labour Congress CLC. CLC could and cannot accept that a small, even Christian trade union confederation like CLAC dared to challenge the big CLC and threaten its monopoly on the labor market.

I recognized in the stubbornness of the CLAC, with which she went her own way, despite opposition from the big trade union confederation CLC, the stubbornness and consistency of my Protestant-Dutch compatriots. This is not surprising because many CLAC leaders descended from Dutch Protestant immigrants. Do not forget that in the 17th century Dutch Protestantism helped the Dutch Low Lands, in spite to be a very small country, to conquer a permanent place in the world.

But there is much more. I recognized in CLAC, as well as before in CNV, and also in the former Dutch Catholic NKV trade union confederation, and later in the Danish trade union confederation KRIFA, the profound belief that man is more than material welfare. Without wanting to use big words, I recognized in these unions a deep sense for human spirituality. Although it is difficult to make policy and actions based on such beliefs and convictions, especially with trade unions, these unions did not give up, without becoming churchy, bigoted or exaggerated piety. In addition, they also dare to go against the zeitgeist, fashions and trends of these times.

The deep consciousness that human beings are probably above all spiritual beings, I found also in the new trade unions in Central and Eastern Europe. A spiritual wealth Western unions seem to have lost. It seems that their power struggle against capital and employers, their bureaucracy and their own wealth have made them spiritual insensitive. I have always experienced my work with unions in Central and Eastern Europe, but also in the Third World countries, as a spiritual refreshing bath. They gave you the opportunity to value again the spiritual dimensions of ones existence. A wealth that you carry for your life even when there are also drawbacks. One must stay realistic. People can do good but also evil.

Another point that appealed to me was their spirit of rebellion and courage to resist superior powers. From the start I have been struck by this spiritual force of the Latin American trade unions as united in CLAT and thanks to the WCL, I learned to know all this also in New Europe, in Asia and in Africa. Over time, I saw it as a challenge to unite in WCL this spirituality together with the courageous rebellion in a self-conscious and realistic way. Such a WCL would be able to contribute on world level to the search for the balance between material prosperity and spiritual well being. 

During my stay I visited some work sites organized by CLAC. Ed gave me the opportunity to visit the famous Niagara Falls during a day it was so misty that we barely could see the falls. But anyway we had a nice day.

Executive Director Ed Grootenboer invited me in April 1994 as a keynote speaker for the 38th National Convention of CLAC in Toronto, with the theme "WCL meeting the challenge in Central and Eastern Europe". I loved the invitation because it allowed me to explain to a wide audience why we as WCL to be in Central and Eastern Europe . I hoped to make clear that we as WCL were not present in Central and Eastern Europa to get more members for the club, but to support the building of a democratic and humane society backed by our Christian and humanist values​​.

Here is not the place to repeat my speech but only some main parts. You can read the whole speech in 'The Guide', volume 3/ number 42, april / may 1994. The Guide is published by CLAC. I believe that much of what I said then still applies for Central and Eastern Europe and also for the Third World. I just want to cite some paragraphs which in my view still apply.

The responsibility of the West.
As Westeners, we now have the ability (after the fall of the Berlin Wall), I would say the responsibility, to react to what we now know. Why? Firstly, because the people who contributed to the fall of communism ask for our support. They are calling on our solidarity to help solve the huge problems facing them. Secondly, because their weapons against communism were the reliance and insistence on the operation of universal human rights. If we now denie this universality, we not only betray those who believe in it, but we also break trust with our own belief in human rights. We would completely lose our credibility. And this, in turn, would mean that we can forget, at least for the time being, about a new world order that would be more humane and more peaceful. So, thirdly, it is evidence of our enlightened self-interest if we help build a better society in Central and Eastern Europe, the main pillars of which are respect for human rights, democracy, social justice, and, of course, economic progress.

About the values of WCL

Besides the WCL's social orientation and action, there is our broad ideological orientation. Broad in that our actions and concepts are inspired expressly by values and standards of human relations which are derived from religious beliefs. Our initially Christian inspiration remains, but it has been broadened in order to accept and include people and trade unions with different religions and ideologies. This broadening helps us to acquire a more profound view of the trade union movement in different cultures, on every continent. Basically, the trade union movement has to be one of the instruments for contributing to the possibility of self-fulfilment for the individual worker as a human being. Since this self-fulfilment can never be an indidual process, the trade union movement must always be a solidarity organization.”

Meeting with VOST members in the Trollybus Company in Kiev. This picture has a story. The management of the Company did not want us to enter the enterprise. Only after we had threatened with international publicity we could  speak with the members of the VOST within the company. But first we had to listen to the representative of the post-communist trade union, the former communist state trade union. According to him, everything was fine. However VOST members thought very differently so they told us later. 
Two years later, in May / June 1996 Ed Grooteboer went with a large WCL delegation to Ukraine. I have previously written about that mission. As you can read below, the report from Ed about what he experienced in Ukraine is still relevant in the light of current evenst in the Ukraine.

On the last day of our mission to Ukraine, VOST had organized a press conference. From left to right: Achille Dutu (Cartel alfa, Rumania), Olga Nicolae ( WCL Liaison office Bucarest), Piet Nelissen (WCL Confederal Secretary), Oleksandr Dhzulyk (President VOST, Ukraine), Ed Grooteboer (Executive Director CLAC, Canada), Yuri Kurylo (Vice President VOST, Ukraine), Andrzey Adamczyk (Head Int. dept. Solidarnosc, Poland)

Still the same foxes running the coop.

"As part of a recent World Confederation of Labour (WCL) mission to the Ukraine to support the All-Ukranian Union of Wokers Solidarity (VOST), a sister organization, I saw first-hand how deeply the communist legacy runs in Ukraine's political, economic and social structures. Politicians, bureaucrats, 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, Hungry, Czechslovakia (now the Czech and Slovak republic), and Romania are profiting from a conscious and popular struggle agianst communism. These revolutions resulted in well-nigh irrevesible 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 remain a force to be reckoned with, a country like Poland has made great strides in rebuilding its social and economic structures. Countries such as the Ukraine, however, have not experienced such a revolution. Independence arose almost 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 chickencoop.” (The Guide, july/august 1996.)

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