Monday, September 29, 2014

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WCL 40 (The Death of Emilio Maspero)

CLAT Secretary General Emilo Maspero at the VII CLAT Congress in San José, Costa Rica, November 1977

Has the death of CLAT General Secretary Emilio Maspero in the year 2000 something to do with the fall of the WVA? Some believe so. They think, that if Emilio Maspero would be still alive that CLAT and WCL probably still would exist. I suspect too, but of course I am not sure about it. Why the suspicion? Because Maspero was unquestionably a man with a clear vision, self-confidence, strategic insight, authority and independence.

The Dominican trade union leader, former General Secretary of the FEMTAA (International Federation of Workers in Food and Agriculture) and now General Secretary of the CLATJUP (Latin American Federation of Pensioners) José Gomez Cerda has known Emilio Maspero for nearly a lifetime. He characterizes Maspero as follows in his in Spanish written blog “Emilio Maspero: el dirigente sindical" :

Emilio Maspero speaking at the opening of the VII CLAT Congress. 

"The charisma of Maspero had to do with his style as a speaker: frank, clear, lucid, with good intonation, clear ideas, profound messages, excellent diction, proposals for problems and a message of hope for the future of the workers. He was able to excite people, he always left a reflection for the listeners. Emilio spoke from the heart, and he believed what he said, thus convincing the audience.
After “America Latina, Hora Cero” he did not write many books, but if you would collect all his ideas, you could publish dozens of books with his works.

As ideologue Emilio had clear thoughts, he was an intellectual, a philosopher with humanistic and christian principles, he always presented the Christian social doctrine, adapted to the workers, to the trade unions, he never denied being a Christian, on the contrary he told everybody everywhere.

As strategist Máspero knew where he was going, what were his objectives (which were those of CLAT) and where he wanted to arrive. He knew to detect who the opponents were, and "how to distinguish to unite" . He knew also to listen to all sectors, to read,to study and to write, (although this looks easy, this is very difficult for an international leader who is permanently in action), what always kept him aware of all world events.

As tactician, Emilio knew how to use human and financial resources, so that they could better serve the cause. He had a natural flair for understanding situations and people.

As a trade union politician, he was an example of daily work with an incalculable production, of permanent action, at the events, where problems existed, always giving input, criteria, suggestions, ideas, reflections. He made every effort to fulfill his promises. As a good executive his first work was to fulfill and to enforce the agreements and resolutions of the management bodies.

These virtues, together in one intelligent leader with the privileged memory of time for events, people, dates and appointments, made of him one of the best international and world leaders, because his contributions were not only for CLAT, but also for his duties as Vice President of the World Confederation of Labour (WCL), which allowed him to give his views, opinions and ideas in global seminars, conferences and meetings.”

Emilio Maspero was a charismatic trade union leader and therefore 40 years the uncontested Secretary General of CLAT .
Emilio Maspero was therefore the uncontested leader of CLAT at the beginning of the sixties of the last century until his death in 2000. You can characterize him as a Latin American caudillo for trade unions. A caudillo has its positive sides, as mentioned above by Gomez Cerda, but there are also negative aspects.

Through his indisputable leadership Maspero had become CLAT over the years. The result was that after some time no fresh blood came into the organization. For a democratic organization like CLAT renewal of leadership and governance is vital so that new insights, changes and structures get a chance. The lack of innovation at the top led to stagnation in leadership and ideas and that probably has been one of the reasons that only six years after the death of Maspero, CLAT disappeared.

From right to left: Maspero talking to his wife Acacia and to Enrique Marius, Deputy Secretary General of CLAT. Enrique Marius and Acacia Maspero were responsible for ILACDE, the CLAT foundation for international cooperation that made possible the financing of many projects
Another reason is probably the lack of sufficient financial resources to maintain the Latin American trade union empire built up with the help of foreign aid. Training and education centers were distributed across the continent, with the Latin American Workers University UTAL in Venezuela as a spider in the web. The UTAL was an original idea of Maspero intended as an instrument for the emancipation of Latin American workers and the people. Led by Maspero, CLAT made training and educational the heart of its action in response to the lack of education for the common man and the high illiteracy rate in Latin America. A costly challenge for a trade union because education is expensive and could therefore not be achieved without financial support from outside.

But foreign aid is a double edged sword. In most countries of Latin America, the trade unions could not afford such training and education institutes. Also in Europe, unions are helped by their governments or employers with grants to finance their education and training structures. But financing from outside may also be an obstacle to the development of initiative and personal responsibility. It undermines self-finance of activities and structures. Maspero and CLAT have not been able to find a satisfactory solution to this issue.
 WCL Secretary General Jan Kulakowski was also present at the opening of the VII CLAT Congress. On the right  Alsimiro Herrera, Secretary General of the Costa Rican trade union confederation, member of CLAT and WCL.
This had its impact on the WCL. The WCL financially always has been a European affair. With the departure of the French (CFDT) and Dutch Catholic trade union confederations (NKV) in 1973 during the XVIII Congress of the WCL in Evian, France, the financing of the WCL became even a matter of only a few European countries with Belgium as first , Netherlands as second and France third. Although CLAT had grown in membership over the years, however, it appeared barely able to support the WCL financially.

Rather the reverse was the case. The WCL was seen by CLAT as a tool to finance the trade union movement in Latin America. Given the wealth of Europe, this appeal to European solidarity of CLAT (and unions from other continents) was understandable but the result was, that despite the democratic goodwill in the WCL, the ultimate authority stayed in Europe and particularly in Belgium, because of the enormous preponderance of the Belgian trade union ACV-CSC in WCL.

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