Saturday, July 26, 2014

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WCL 36 (Victor Ciorbea and the Rumanian Trade Unions)

At the end of January 1997 the members of the WCL mission for the Rumanian trade union CSDR were received by then President Victor Ciorbea (in the centre of the photograph). From left to right: Krisztina Gecov of the Hungarian Munkastancsok, Maddie Geerts of the Belgium ACV/CSC Executive Board, Bart Bruggeman of the Dutch CNV Industries Trade Union. Far right on the photograph Rumanian Cartel alfa President Bogdan Hossu also Vice President of the WCL. Next to him CSDR President Radu Colceag.

The regular readers of this blog will remember that some 20 blogs (The downfall of the WCL, part XXI) ago I wrote about a visit to the Romanian trade union confederation Cartel alfa that had invited me to advise on a possible merger with two other Romanian federations. The aim of the merger was to come unto one united national trade union confederation. This merger was like in many other countries of Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of communism sponsored by the ICFTU. Only the AFL-CIO, also a member of the ICFTU, had another view on this matter. I suppose that because of its traditional anti-communist orientation the AFL-CIO was more in favour of trade unions without any communist past at all.

I suppose that the promotion by the ICFTU of one united trade union confederation by mergers was based on different reasons. With the existence of more than one trade union confederation in a country, it was very well possible that one of these confederations would become a member of the “rival” international confederation WCL. This would create new possibilities for the future of the WCL, which was not desired by the ICFTU.

On the other hand 'the old trade union school' considers trade union diversity as undesirable because it would make employers and governments more easy to divide and rule. I regard this view as a legacy of 'old school Marxism' which considered the working class as one class which should be united in one trade union and in one political party, that is to say the communist party. This 'old school Marxism' with its focus on the working men and women as part of the working class, reduces workers into 'one dimensional' human beings, as if there are no other realities besides being a member of the working class.

However, the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and the Central and Eastern European countries had learned us that the one party Communist system could not live up to its claims of a just society for all people. People want to have freedom of choice, follow their own ideals and visions, freedom of speech and organization etc. Men and woman are more than their class. They are spiritual beings that look for more in life than material well-being. Political democracy is the best possible answer to this normal desire of all people.

Another photograph taken during the visit of the WCL mission at President Victor Ciorbea (in the corner below). From left to right:  Bogdan Hossu, President of Cartel alfa and Vice President of WCL, Piet Nelissen, Confederal Secretary of WCL, Achille Dutu, Secretary general of Cartel alfa, Bart Bruggeman,President of the CNV Industries, Maria Carmen Ionescu , head of the CSDR secretariat and Maddie Geerts, member of the ACV/CSC Executive Board.

This 'old school Marxism' has also the tendency to look to trade unions exclusively as dealers with political and social power. With such a vision, trade union mergers always are justified, because more members means more power. The way ICFTU representatives presented themselves during congresses and seminars to which I was also invited as a WCL representative confirms this vision. ICFTU representatives always started their speech with how big and important the ICFTU is because of its number of members. But quantity is only one aspect of an organization, a less important aspect because in the long run cultural and spiritual life are more important for human existence.

Another important principle of the WCL oriented trade unions is that they are primarily focused on their rank and file. Trade unions should work bottom up and not top down. But the kind of mergers sponsored by the ICFTU were mostly top down. For a country like Romania, where people did not have any experience with free and democratic trade unions because of 50 years communist dictator ship, a trade union merger would be the wrong signal to all those people who wanted a democratic Romania. Once again they should get the feeling that everything is controlled without them.

For all these reasons and more the board of Cartel alfa decided not to merge. But the two other involved trade union confederations, Fratia and CNSRL, did unite in the new federation Fratia-CNSRL of which Victor Ciorbea became the first president. The new confederation of course became a member of the ICFTU. Before becoming president of the new confederation Ciorbea was since February 1990 president of the prestigious Romanian Education Association, which was in turn a member of the confederation CNRSL.

But after a while it became clear that the merger did not work. It was president Victor Ciorbea himself who decided to leave Fratia-CNSRL and to create a new trade union confederation called CSDR. I was surprised that in May 1995, Victor Ciorbea together with some staff visited the WCL office in the Trierstraat in Brussels and started to talk about the affiliation of CSDR to the WCL. We agreed to start the procedures of affiliation, in which should be involved Carte alfa, that was already some years a member of WCL.

León Drucker (left), President of  the Luxemburg trade union confederation LCGB, was also part of the WCL delegation. On the right Bogdan Hossu, President of the Rumanian trade union confederation Cartel alfa and Vice President of WCL.

A while after this happened, I accidentally flew with the same flight as Anna Oulatar of the ICFTU to Romania. I was surprised by her very negative attitude and remarks about Victor Ciorbea. I got the impression that she took the whole question as a personal feud between her and Victor Ciorbea. However, Victor Ciorbea never mentioned her name during the years I was working with him, nor did he say anything about the ICFTU.

In consultation with the CSDR and Cartel alpha some WCL missions were organized to Romania, which also resulted in contacts between the CSDR and European affiliates of the WCL. At that time Victor Ciorbea was also politically active in a coalition of Christian Democrats with the National Peasant Party (CD PNT). Halfway through 1996, he told me confidentially that he would probably become elected as mayor of the capital Bucharest. I told him frankly, that he must make a clear choice between being a trade unionist or a politician. I told him that I personally preferred him to stay as a trade unionist, but unfortunately he choose for politics.

As in most countries of Central and Eastern Europe, at that time Romanian politics were still very unstable due to lack of experience, opportunism and corruption. Victor Ciorbea and many with him will have had good intentions with the thought that from the cockpit of the government, they could create a stable, social and fair Romanian democratic society. But the reality of life is much, much tougher than well-intentioned politicians can imagine, especially if they have lived a large part of their lives under a communist dictatorship.

The CDR with Victor Ciorbea as a presidential candidate won the parliamentary elections in November 1996 and formed a coalition government of CDR, Social Democratic Union (Romanian Social Democratic Party + Democratic Party) and the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania. During his premiership (12 December 1996-30 March 1998) Ciorbea was mainly concerned with reforming the economy and reducing the national debt. However, the economic reforms, particularly the privatization of state enterprises, were slow. Furthermore, under Ciorbea's premiership corruption was addressed. In the meantime under the presidency of Radu Colceag the CSDR became a member of the WCL.

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