Thursday, August 14, 2014

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WCL 37 (trade action paper WCL Secretary General Willy Thys)

Hans Brüning (right), Secretary general CNV and treasurer of the WCL together with Nebeyu Shone, Coördinator CNV Aktie Kom Over and World Solidarity in Senegal, April 1998.

To make support more concrete to the WCL International Trade Federations, the Dutch trade union confederation CNV sent on October 16, 1998 a letter to WCL Secretary General Willy Thys with the offer to fund a full-time Executive Secretary for the WCL Secretariat: "In the recent past, some Dutch unions (CNV Trade Union Wood- and Building, CNV Industries) indicated its willingness to invest in a (part-time) staff for the WCL Trade Action Secretariat. This willingness is still ongoing. In informal contacts I have pointed out the possibility of combining this job with general policy and / or study tasks for the WCL. In this way a full-time position may arise. "The letter was signed by Hans Bruning, CNV secretary general and treasurer of the WCL. However, for unknown reasons the letter did not get any follow-up at the WCL Secretariat.

In stead, shortly thereafter (January 23, 1999) Willy Thys himself published a paper titled “The Trade Union Action of the WCL”. It was a complete surprise. Nobody at the WCL Secretariat had been consulted, nor the presidents of the International Trade federations. It is highly unlikely that Willy Thys had not consulted somebody. The question therefore is, who's voice was also heard in this paper? Was it the voice of ACV/CSC President Willy Peirens, also WCL President?

When the paper was published, all attention immediately went to one sentence in the first paragraph called “Findings”: " I would like to point out that the Belgian trade union Energy and Chemicals is considering to stop its international membership in 2000." This meant that another Belgium trade union would leave the WCL, in this case the World Federation of Industrial Workers (WFIW). This was rejected straight forward by all parties involved. As Executive Secretary of the WFIW for many years, having good relations with its president Leo Dusoleil and all other members of the Board, I never had heard such kind of rumors. Then, what was the goal of this remark? To put the International Trade Federations with mostly Belgium Presidents further under pressure?

Willy Peirens (left) and Willy Thys in Vancouver at the World Congress of the ITUC, June 2010. See also the blog of Luc  Cortebeeck, at that time President of ACV/CSC.

Another one of his "findings" was that “the German speaking organizations find insufficient trade action on European level”. I suppose that he meant the Austrian trade union members of the ITF's. After all, the trade unions of the German Christian Trade Union Confederation CGB were tolerated as members of the ITF's but not considered as serious trade unions. The Austrian trade unions indeed were not satisfied with the WCL support to the ITF's. According to the Austrian trade unions the WCL Secretariat should give more service to the International Trade Federations for the amount of membership fee payed to the WCL. As an Executive Secretary for International Trade Action, I had communicated this complaint to the WCL Secretary General, however without any result. On the contrary, Willy Thys wanted that the Austrian Christian Fraction ÖGB/FCG paid more membership fee directly to the WCL, and as a consequence less to the International Trade Federations. This was not accepted, nor by the ÖGB/FCG, nor by its trade unions.

Farewell Party of Leo Dusoleil receiving a gift.

As regards the Belgium Energy and Chemicals Trade Union there had been rivalry between its President Fons van Genechten and Doekle Terpstra, President of the CNV Industrial Trade Union, on who would become the new President of the WFIW. Leo Dusoleil left the Presidency of the WFIW at the World Board meeting in Vienna. (june 1998). During a meeting with Fons van Genechten, I told him that I preferred Doekle Terpstra as President of the WFIW because it would involve CNV more in the WCL than ever before, which I believed was very important for the future of the WCL. Until then only one of the 8 International Trade Federations - the WFCW with President Roel Rotshuizen - had a President coming from CNV.

The new WFIW Board with all participants of the World Board. Sitting in the middle the newly elected President Doekle Terpstra (Netherlands). 

Doekle Terpstra was elected as President of the WFIW at the same World Board meeting in Vienna. His presidency might open new perspectives for the WFIW and the WCL. Doekle Terpstra was a strong and charismatic leader with a broader vision on the WCL than a sound financial policy. However, to my disappointment his presidency did not get time to consolidate because after already one year he became President of the confederation CNV. He left therefore the Presidency of the CNV Industrial Trade Union and therefore also of the WFIW. However, Terpstra came back to the wCL as member of the Executive Board. Jaap Wienen, the treasurer of the CNV Industrial trade union, succeeded him at the WFIW. It was the first step of Jaap Wienen towards a career in the WCL and later the ITUC.

The negative tone of the paper could also have been caused by the internal divisions of the ACV/CSC leadership over its policy on the ITF's. Since my arrival at the WCL, there was an ongoing internal debate on the highest levels of CSC/ACV on the International Trade Federations. Sometimes during certain meetings, I got an impression of this debate. Leaders from trade unions affiliated to ICFTU oriented international trade federations gave unjustified critical comments on WCL members. The most heard one was that the WCL regional organizations, especially CLAT, blockaded international cooperation.

Also several times, the Director of the CSC/CNV International Department Jan Dereymaker proposed some kind of deal about the International Trade Federations, a kind of in between solution that would give more room to the ACV/CSC trade unions to join the ICFTU oriented ITF's. I do not remember the details but I did not want to discuss the proposal because I believed still in the survival of the WCL. However, in retrospect it would have been wiser to have started the debate, because once when the question of the merger came out to its full extend, it appeared to late for this kind of debate.

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