Friday, October 10, 2014

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WCL 41 (the ideas and ideals of Emilio Maspero)

Emilio Maspero speaking at the opening of the 'Asemblea de los Trabajadores y los Pueblos de America Latina' in the city of Panama, November 1978. Emilio Maspero was a passionate speaker with a great rhetorical talent, regularly putting to the test his audience. 

Emilio Maspero was not only the undisputed ideologue of CLAT but also a great idealist. All his life he believed in the values of the Christian trade union movement as basic for trade union action, was he a committed democratic revolutionary, an advocate of pluralism within the international trade union movement and an advocate for Latin American unity.

The type of trade unionism that we specifically advocate is characterized by the adjective 'Christian'.” The term Christian, as we use it, has no sectarian, religiuous, ecclesiastical, theological, or dogmatic implications. We use the term simply to refer to the social philosophy and the ethic of Christianity as they apply to trade unionism – as they inspire its orientation, its direction, and its methods. Our unionism is based on some very fundamental ideas, attitudes, and moral concepts that are common to all men of good will. Christian trade unionism is not dependent upon any ecclesiastical authority, nor is it guided by the specified apostolic goals of official Catholic action groups. In the Christian trade-union organizations of Latin America, one finds neither religious nor ecclesiastical discrimination. All workers can enter our organizations simply by accepting our principles and programs.” (page 208, 'Trade Unionism as an Instrument of the Latin American revolution', in 'Latin American Radicalism', Ed. I.L.Horowitz, Castro, J.Gerassi, Vintage Books, NY 1969.)

It is not surprising that Maspero from his Social Christian point of view has no good words for the North American labor movement. "North American unionism has always prof for processed to be a pragmatic and nonpartisan movement. Thus, it has avoided assuming an ideological, philosophical, or doctrinal character. Its only concern has leg the struggle for bread and butter and the continuing material progress of the workers."(Page 221 Maspero in L.A. Radicalism). True words which perhaps more than ever before apply on the international trade union movement now, almost 50 years after being written and nearly 25 years after the end of the Cold War. The international trade union movement has turned into a so called "bread and butter trade unionism" that only cares about the material prosperity of its members and followers, without having an eye for the spiritual needs of the workers and the people in general. This lack of spiritual inspiration in the trade union movement can be one of the causes why the trade unions appeals to fewer and fewer young people.

Part of the Presidium of the 'Asemblea de los Trabajadores y los Pueblos de America Latina" in Panama city, November 1978. In the centre Emilio Maspero. On the right Jan Kulakowski, Secretary general of the WCL.

Maspero accused the North American labor movement from a lack of respect for pluralism in the international trade union movement. “With respect to relations, we have always been granted just one alternative: that we disappear as an organization and a reality so that we might be annexed and absorbed by the trade-union organizations inspired, promoted, and financed in latin America by North-American trade-union organizations and the U.S. Government. There is not the slightest respect for international pluralism. The idea is to monopolize all in order to place it at the service of a formula, and of interests and partial viewpoints of one single sector of the democratic trade unionism of the two Americas – disavowing all the other democratic trade-union organizations which are making their own original efforts in latin America.” (page 229, Maspero in L.A. radicalism).

But with the end of the Cold War, 25 years ago, came no end to the pursuit of global hegemony of the North American trade union movement. The Canadian union confederation CLAC, a former member of the WCL, de facto was evicted from the new International Trade Union Confederation ITUC, through manipulations of the North American-oriented Canadian trade union confederation CLC. In their brochure “Highlights of an alternative labour movement” the following is said about the differences between the North American trade unions and CLAC.
Canadian mainline trade unions are monopolistic in character and reject pluralism as being divisive. North American trade unions do not favour the emancipation of workers as co-workers or partners in the enterprisen because, as such, it is feared they would identify more with the company than with the union. And that would be a serious threat to the union's power and influence. Unions represent workers over against the company. Here lie the roots of the adversary system that forever keeps management and workers apart, and it is the source of a deplorable record of days lost to labour disputes. The two parties are implacable foes when it comes to dividing the economic pie; strikes and lockouts are almost invariable over wages and benefits and rarely over other concerns. It should be noted that, in general, employers have the same perspective on labour relations. Much effort is put into keeping a union out of the workplace, and when employees do bring in a trade union, employers do what they can to minimize the role the union can play. CLAT believes that the materialistic view of work, of workers, and of the enterprise – a view shared by both managemant and unions – is the very opposite of the Christian idea of stewardship, calling, participation, service and responsibility. (page 14 and 15)

The Mexican trade union leader José Merced Gonzalez at the Asemblea in Panamay City.

The new argument for more unity in the trade union movement now was the globalization of the world economy. It was assumed that because the economy is globalized, that the unions should be globalized also in a united trade union confederation at the global level. In practice, however, a very small minority of workers has to do with the globalized economy in the form of international companies. The vast majority of employees work in a local or rather national industry with its own national laws, labor and industrial relations,wage levels and so on. Why can these not be addressed in different ways, nationally and internationally? Besides, why pluralism would be the opposite to solidarity? This is not true. It is the other way around. Pluralism and solidarity are mutually reinforcing.
Maspero judged even harder on the communist trade union movement in his continent than on the North American labor movement. “Communists have contributed very little to the cause of trade unionism in Latin America. However misdirected, the initiative of North America trade unions ahs, at least, aided in the organization of numerous groups and has rendered some positive service. Communistis, on the other hand,have always preferred to penetrate, infiltrate, and dominate the existing trade unions so that they can bring them into line with imperialistic Communist strategy.” (page 222, Maspero in L.A. Radicalism).

That Maspero for all believed in the ideal of a democratic revolution, with the emphasis on democracy, is illustrated by the following quote. “For us in the Christian trade union movement , democracy is the political form that the social revolution that we hope to wage will introduce. This democracy has nothing to do with capitalism as it now exists in Latin America. To function and to perfect itself in our environment, democracy must trannscend the present capitalist system and introduce for the firts time democratic principles, not only into the political but also into the social and economic oder. Given the value judgments that tend to attach to these words in Latin America, the penchant to picture capitalism and democracy as bedfellows has caused many to lose hope in political freedom, to reject democracy, and to incline toward totalitarianism.”(page 220-221, Maspero in L.A. Radicalism)

Indeed, the major problem in Latin America is the corruption of democracy by the political elite of the continent, as Maspero says. The brutal and violent coup of General Pinochet in 1974 against the democratically elected leftist Chilean President Allende, did make it worse for those who believe in democracy as the way to change. To make matters worse democracy was also corrupted by the Cuban revolution. “Cuba presents a very clear case. True, the Cuban phenomenon can be considered from one point of view as an accelerator of the revolutionary process on our continent. But the present Cuban experience is more a counter revolutionary phenomenon that has hindered the Latin American social revolution, which must always seek its own and original channels. Owing to the presence of international Communism the Cuban labor movement has lost its autonomy and become, in effect, counter revolutionary in nature.” (page 222, Maspero in L.A. Radicalism)

George Fortuné, Haitian trade union leader who lived for many years in exile in Caracus during the regime of Papa Doc and his son Baby Doc. (VII CLAT Congress,San José, Costa Rica, November 1977)

The result was a growing confusion in revolutionary ranks on the value of democracy as a principle and as a tool for change. Many unions and even church groups such as the basic ecclesial groups with their liberation doctrine rushed into the arms of totalitarian movements and parties in despair at the lack of real change in Latin America. The result was that the violent power struggle became even more violent and brutal than before as was the case in El Salvador and Guatemala. As always the ordinary people suffered the most. Furthermore, it led to destruction and stagnation instead of change and progress. The confusion continues to this day in Latin America, as evidenced by the events of the Bolivarian Venezuela. Once again there is the risk that democracy will be sacrificed to a socialist experiment that instead of bringing progress and development, leads to more polarization, the loss of production capacity, a financial disaster, up to the demise of the infrastructure and to more oppression of the human rights.

CLAT was also confused by these developments. I remember CLAT had no clear strategic options from the moment Chavez was elected president. What to do against this populist caudillo who let the poor believe that wealth is within reach if only they followed him? In the meantime the political elite of Christian and Social Democrats were not any more an alternative. On the contrary, they had corrupted democracy from within and outside. Within the labor movement the confusion exacerbated when the Chavez government actively began to interfere with the unions. For CLAT nothing else was left, but trying to survive in the hope that the troubles would disappear.

As if this was not enough, Maspero witnessed before his death the demise of his great ideal of Latin American unity. With his radical socialism of the twentieth century, Chavez managed to destroy in few years the institutions of Latin American Unity that were built up through difficult negotiations in many years. In just a couple of years Latin America was back to nearly zero. In his lifetime Maspero witnessed the change of Latin America from a continent of hope in the sixties of the last century into a continent of despair.

After the death of Maspero in 2000, Brazil remained true to the democratic principles, thanks to the former radical union leader Lula da Silva, who was President from 2003 to 2011. But this was too late for CLAT. In the prevailing confusion in Latin America, followed by the death of Emilio Maspero, new CLAT leaders had become vulnerable to pressure from the international trade union movement and in particular of the World Confederation of Labour WCL. CLAT bowed his head and became part of the new Latin American trade union CSA, the regional organization of ITUC.

For Emilio Maspero the European Union and the European welfare state were always an inspiring example, the answer to the North American individualistic capitalism. It is therefore particularly tragic that CLAT ultimately is seduced to merge with the ORIT by the European trade unions. We can only guess what will be the implications of this new trade union unity for the future of Latin America. It is certain that with the death of Emilio Maspero ultimately an inspiring movement as CLAT has disappeared from the Latin American scene.

For the Dutch speaking readers who are interested in the history of CLAT, I refer to the brochure "The trade union movement as an instrument of revolution in Latin America," published in the series Kosmodok, June / July 1970 jrg.3 No. 6/7. The brochure has been compiled by Gerrit Bruin, a pseudonym for Gerrit Pruim, former general secretary of the Dutch solidarity association CLAT Netherlands (formerly CLASC Netherlands).