Monday, July 7, 2014

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WCL 35 (one of the first steps towards a merger of WCL and ICFTU?)

One of the key players at the meeting between WCL and ICFTU was obviously the Argentine trade union leader and WCL General Secretary Carlos Custer. After the World Congress of the ITUC in Berlin (May 2014) he went to Rome where he met the pope and visited also old trade union friends like former ETUC Secretary general Emilio Gabaglio, (who played an important role in the merger process ICFTU-WCL). At the moment Carlos Custer is Vice President of the Political Consulting Council of CLATE (Latin American Confederation of Public Employees)  and Secretary International Relations of the Argentine political party "Partido Nacional Instrumento Electoral por la Unidad"
Another important event in the period of Carlos Custer as Secretary General is the meeting between heavy delegations of WCL and ICFTU in the month of January 1995. Below you find a report of the meeting based on the notes I took during the meeting. Approximately ten years (2006) after this meeting the merger of WCL and ICFTU into ITUC (2006) took place. One can wonder if this meeting was the beginning of the long way to the ITUC.

Another important role at the meeting was played by WCL President Willy Peirens, also President of the Belgium trade union confederation ACV-CSC (from 1987 - 1999). He also had important functions within the ETUC and the ILO. "Historically, the ACV-CSC has a close relationship with the Christian Democracy. Recent years that band, however, has become much looser. Among the two social-liberal governments from 1999 to 2007, the ACV -CSC also sought cooperation with socialists and greens. Simultaneously the Christian Democrat CD & V moved more and more to the right." (Wikipedia: Algemeen Christelijk Vakverbond) 

The WCL delegation consisted of WCL President Willy Peirens, also President of the Belgian confederation ACV/CSC, by far the largest funder of the WCL, Secretary General Carlos Custer (Argentine), the 3 Confederal Secretaries Toolsiray Benedin (Mauritius), Jean Hinnekens (Belgium) and myself (Netherlands), French CFTC President Guy Drillaud, Michel Buvy (Belgium) as President of the WCL World Committee of International Trade Union Federations and Beatrice Fouchère (Swiss) as WCL coordinator at the ILO. From the side of the ICFTU were present General Secretary Bill Jordan (Great Britain), Deputy Secretary General Eddy Laurijssen (Belgium), Secretary general Andrew Kailembo (Tanzania) of ICFTU-AFRO, Secretary general Luis Anderson (Panama) from ORIT. Johan Stekelenburg, President of the Dutch confederation FNV could not be present.

This photo of FNV President Johan Stekelenburg (1941-2003) was taken during his speech at a meeting of the Solidarity Association CLAT-Netherlands because of its 25 years of existence in 1994. Due to the merger between the Dutch Catholic and the Social Democratic trade union confederations, the FNV maintained for several years ties with CLAT-Netherlands as a solidarity association with CLAT in Latin America.

For the record it should be mentioned that FNV worked together with the WCL Solidarity Foundation through their department for international cooperation. The reason for this was that the FNV resulted from a merger between the former catholic confederation NKV and the former socialist confederation NVV (1982). As a catholic confederation NKV has been an important member of the WCL. The NKV supported trade union organizations in the Third World countries through the WCL. It was said that this should not be finished because of a the merger. In practice the cooperation went more and more difficult because the FNV department for international cooperation gave little or no credibility to WCL members in the continents.

The WCL-ICFTU meeting had a friendly character. About some points one agreed easy like for example on the World Bank and the IMF. Both delegations agreed that the ILO and/or the Ministers of Labor should be more involved in decisions taken by these global institutions. The G7 meetings should be considered as a lobby target when there are special cases on the agenda that are labor related. The proposal of Germany and Britain to diminish the European Union aid for the so called Lomé countries was rejected. On the contrary WCL and ICFTU agreed to push for more support. It was also decided that together with the European Trade Union Confederation ETUC the European Union must be pressed to give more support to the former Communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

The debates became more critical when members of the ICFTU delegation presented complaints about the behavior of regional organizations of WCL. ORIT Secretary General Luis Anderson wanted more respect and a dialogue instead of a confronting attitude of CLAT. Secretary General Anderson refers to problems around CUT in Chile and another new confederation that has been attacked by CLAT. Anderson wonders what WCL and CLAT are doing in Chile.

ICFTU Secretary General Bill Jordan (left) "Mr. Jordan was a member of the General Council of the British TUC, and served on all its major committees, including the Finance and General Purposes Committee, the International Committee, Economic Committee and the European Strategy Committee, which he chaired. He served on the National Economic Development Council and chaired its Engineering Industry Committee, was on ACAS Council and member of Foundation for Manufacturing and Industry." 

ORIT Secretary general Luis Anderson McNeil (middle). " He was the first Panamanian Secretary General of CIOSL/ORIT Inter-American Regional Organization of Labor (ORIT/ILO). He was also appointed Vice Minister and Minister of Labor in the Republic of Panama in 1984, member of the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Commission from 1983 to 1989 and member of the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Authority, the entity that oversees the Panama Canal. He contributed to the labor aspects of the Torrijos-Carter Treaty signed in 1977 between Panama and the United States of America." (Wikipedia)

Andrew Kailembo was Secretary general of the African ICFTU organization AFRO. You can find some information on him in a book of  George Gona, Andrwe Mtagwaba Kailembo: The Life and Times of an Africa Trade Unionist, Nairobi, Printpak, 2002, ISBN 9966-25-7.

Carlos Custer confirmed the very critical position of CLAT towards ORIT but he said also that there should be mutual respect and that he as Secretary General is working on this. “We should do everything possible to come to cooperation and agreements like for example the declaration of all Peruvian and Ecuadorian trade unions against war. In Chile it is not the WCL nor CLAT that decide what happens but the members of the new trade union confederation. Cooperation in Africa should not be a problem because of the fact that one or two trade unions choose for a membership of another international trade union federation.”

Secretary General Kailembo refers to the cooperation between ODSTA and AFRO at the ILO Conference 1994 and on the new EU Lomé Treaty as examples of good relations. On the other side AFRO and members of the Executive Committee of the ICFTU were not pleased with what he called trade union piracy in Ghana and Liberia. Toolsiray Bendin recognizes the problems in Africa and confirms that ODSTA does not want to have problems with ICFTU. The problem is that some trade unions of a confederation are affiliated to ICFTU oriented international trade federations (ITF's) and others to WCL ITF's. But ODSTA does not accept any so called double membership.

The ICFTU delegation remarked that the differences between the regional organizations in Latin America and Africa made it very difficult for the ICFTU to cooperate more with the WCL. But on the other side in view of the growing globalization we have to come to more cooperation, to a common policy and to speak with one voice.

WCL President Willy Peirens confirmed this by saying that “even when one can not agree on a merger with the aim to come to one voice, we should cooperate with the aim to make stronger the international trade union movement. This also requires cooperation at the ground level, open and honest relations together with reliable organizations. WCL does not always check the reactions of its members on regional or national level. Sometimes there are “accidents de parcours”. We should use all our efforts to avoid such accidents. There is no alternative." ICFTU Secretary General Bill Jordan concludes at the end of the meeting that “the international trade unions” need a single voice. The employers are merciless. They want to get rid of all trade unions. We need to unite, so they cannot continue on that way.”

The meeting gave me the impression that the ICFTU wanted to make clear that the regional WCL organizations blocked the cooperation between the WCL and the ICFTU and not the European trade unions (which did not have anymore their own regional WCL organization, a big mistake of the European WCL trade unions taking into account that they were indeed a minority in the European Trade Union Organization ETUC).

On the one hand Carlos Custer as a man of CLAT confirmed the position of CLAT opposite to ORIT, in the eyes of CLAT a trade union instrument in the hands of the North American AFL-CIO and behind it the US Government (it may be not accidental that the AFL-CIO was not present at this meeting). On the other hand, as a good trade union diplomat with a lot of experience in trade union unity country Argentina he confirmed that mutual respect en cooperation must be possible between the two democratic international trade union organizations.

It seemed that WCL President Willy Peirens, as leader of one of the strongest European trade union confederations and a in one of the smaller economies of Europe, wanted to go very far into cooperation with the ICFTU. He used even the words “merger” and “no alternative” during his interventions. As a strong confederation in a small country ACV/CSC looked always for good relations with the strong trade union confederations in the neighboring countries which besides being member of the ETUC were also member of the ICFTU like the Dutch FNV, the German DGB and French trade union confederation CFDT (a former Christian trade union confederation that had left already a while ago WCL). Moreover some years ago some strong trade unions of ACV/CSC had left the WCL international Trade Union Federations and had become a member of ICFTU oriented International Trade Federations. Besides all this the ACV-CSC is a strong competitor of the also strong Belgium socialist oriented confederation ABVV-FGTB which is a also an important member of the ICFTU. 

At that time I believed that ACV/CSC did not look for a merger with the ICFTU because of respecting the positions of the WCL regional organizations CLAT and ODSTA and others, and not in the least because ACV / CSC could play a bigger role on the international stage with the WCL than without.  

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