Tuesday, September 9, 2014

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WCL 39 (ITF's and the WCL secretariat)

In memory of Charles Steck, who died last week 

Last week Charles Steck died. He was treasurer of the WFCW (World federation of Clerical Workers) from 1993 to 2004 (at the front, second from right). The photo has been made in Lomé, Togo at a meeting of the WFCW World Board in 1997 held in the training centre of ODSTA (African regional organization of the WCL). It is tradition to make a picture with the traditional African chief (in front, in the middle). 

As a treasurer, Charles was strict, but with his heart in the right place. He was a man of few words, but with a lot of commitment to the WFCW. He was also much more than a treasurer. He organized seminars for the European organizations of the WFCW about themes such as computerization, increased flexibility, new organizational models, etc.. For Charles the union was primarily a way to give the employee a firm place in the new working conditions by confronting the challenges. Since Charles and his wife Marilena (in front, on the left of the traditional chief) had met with Africa, he strained together with Ivo Psenner, European president of the WFCW (front extreme left), to help financially and otherwise trade unions in Togo.

In a subsequent seminar with leaders of trade unions from other African countries, it was decided to establish an African organization (FPE). As a treasurer Charles made special effort to make possible the WFCW World Congress in Lomé, Togo which was held in 2001. That was the first time an International Trade Union Federation of the WCL held a world conference and later a World Congress in Africa.

Because of the lack of a profound analysis, it is not surprising that the conclusions of the 'Willy Thys paper' brought nothing new. Of course, there must be an efficient service to the members, more coordination of activities, a program of activities related to multinational corporations, activities in the areas of health and safety, rationalization of the institutional operations and much more. But quite apart from the fact that the ITF's were already doing this already for a long time, it is not enough to win new members. Why should one become a member of the WCL if one could get the same and even more with the ICFTU and its International Trade Federations?

To stand out in a credible way, the WCL should dare to present their own vision about man and society, about employer and worker, about the union and private enterprise, about government and state, about capital and labor, about family and so on. Though the WCL had traditionally its own christian and humanist inspired vision, this was not used actively anymore. Of course, that vision had to be adapted on the consequences of the fall of communism and the new developments in the world, but that did not happen at all.

As one can see already in 1998 the international trade union federations in the private sector coordinated together with their regional organizations and CLAT a seminar in the Workers University UTAL of CLAT. 1. Jorge Lasso, Secretary General of the Latin American Federation of Campesinos 2. Doekle Terpstra, President of the World Federation of Industrial Workers 3. Eduardo Garcia, Deputy Secretary General CLAT 4.Victor Duran, General Director of UTAL 5.Eduardo Estevez, Confederal Secretary WCL 6. Dick van de Kamp, Secretary General of the World Federation of Building and Wood Workers 7.Pedro Parra, Latin American Federation of Industrial Workers 8.Marcelo Luvecce, Secretary general of the Latin American federation of Building and Wood Workers 9.Jacques Jouret, President of the International Federation of Textile and Clothing, 10. Bart Bruggeman, Secretary General of the International federation of Textile and Clothing 11.Jacky Jackers, President of the World Federation of Building and Wood Workers 12. Fons van Genechten, Secretary General of the World Federation of Industrial Workers 13. Carlos Gaitan, Secretary general of the Latin American Federation of Industrial Workers 14.José Gomez Cerda, Secretary General of the World Federation of Agriculture and Food Workers
Instead, the WCL choosed for non ideological pragmatism and went on the easy road of rejecting neoliberalism and capitalism as diseases that needed to be be eradicated, saying that the growing globalisation of production and marketing was only bad news for the workers like also the flexibilization of labor and so on. Trade unionism meant more and more protest in stead of also looking for creative answers on the new challenges after the fall of communism and the growing industrial globalisation. The WCL was losing his own voice in the international concert of trade union voices. It became part of the big international choir of international trade unionism, without having an own voice.

At the same time the WCL was restructured on the level of the international secretariat under the guidance of the Secretary General himself. Central and Eastern Europe were not anymore a priority. The Coordination Committee for Central and Eastern Europe and the coordination secretariat for Central and Eastern Europe, established in Bucharest with the help of Cartel alfa, were dismantled. The special budget developed for activities and missions in Central and Eastern Europe was stopped and so there came an end to the special financial support for the new members in central and eastern Europa. This was very painful, because everybody knew that the development of a "new" trade unionism in that part of Europe was for long term, as part of the development into a democratic society and state. What happens today in the Ukraine and the Russian actions on the Krim and in Eastern Ukraine are a demonstration of this.

In spite of the 'Willy Thys' paper on International Trade Action Federations nothing new happened for international trade action. On the contrary, the Secretary General wanted even that the ITF's paid extra for services of the WCL secretariat besides the contribution they already were paying to the WCL. The small amount of money the ITF's received yearly from the ILO for special activities was not used anymore for their activities but went onto the general WCL budget. Manpower to support the ITF's was not extended but in stead more limited. All this together gave fuel to the animosity of the presidents of the ITF's towards the Secretary General.

Photo of the participants of the World Congress of the World Federation of Industrial Workers. President Jaap Wienen (1), Secretary general Fons van Genechten (2), former President Leo Dusoleil (3), Vice-President Carlos Gaitan (4), Board member for Central and Eastern Europe Achille Dutu (5), Pedro Parra (6), Secretary General of the African Federation of Industrial Workers Romuald Nuwokpe (7), President of the Miners Foundation Jean Marc Mohr (8), board member of the Miners Foundation Albert Hermans (9), Italo Rodomonti (10)

Another debate should have been about how a minority organization like the WCL should operate on international level especially within the ILO. One of the possibilities to let hear more loudly the message of the WCL and its ITF's at the ILO was to look for a lobbyist with a lot of trade union and (international) political experience while also speaking fluently different languages and convinced to present the vision and ideas of the WCL on all levels. The opportunity was there because of a change of personnel, but in stead, two young trade unionists were put in the ILO office of the WCL. Therefore, the ICFTU got all the space to do what they wanted in the ILO.

On the other side, the highest priority - financially and in manpower - was given to the renewal of the press office. The Secretary General wanted more attention in the international press for the WCL. This is of course very difficult because why should journalists be interested in the WCL that as an international organization cannot organize strikes or other protests to influence decisions on world level? Moreover, for international trade union organizations there are other ways to influence decisions on international level like for instance the ILO and other UN agencies, like the European Union and its institutions and so on. And another question, is it necessary for the WCL members to read about the WCL in the international press ? What is important for them is to be informed about what is going on in the international field of labor, to get the latest information and if necessary to get access to international institutions.

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