Wednesday, November 12, 2014


IFTC Board meeting with USOC Board in Barcelona with the ail to prepare the IFTC World Congress,
February 1999.
Under the leadership of Secretary General Willy Thys, the WCL Secretariat was reorganized in such a way that the planned combination of two functions was no longer possible, the function of European Confederal Secretary and Executive Secretary of several international trade union federations. In the absence of adequate secretarial support, it was impossible to fulfill both tasks. For unknown reasons the European liaison office in Bucarest in the headquarters of Cartel Alfa was terminated. The only employee at that office was brought to Brussels, but not at the European secretariat. Despite many conversations, there was no solution. In the absence of strategic coordination and a concerted policy at European level the WCL was becoming weaker.

Despite the lack of support from the WCL Secretariat, the governing bodies of the international federations continued to work on European and World level. Because of a lack of resources, both in manpower and financially, they had to limit themselves to certain priorities. That was not always easy because each international federation had its own preferences, beliefs and networks. Moreover, the lack of a global vision, necessary for a long term policy, resulted many times in a kind of anecdotal relations and a policy based primarily on personal preferences usually for one or more persons (trade union friends), sometimes for an organization or even a country (for example ex colonies). Unfortunately, even within the WCL secretariat itself there was not developed such a long-term vision with an associated practical and workable policy based on the overall objectives set at the world congress.

FMTI-FLATI seminar in Mexico City. From left to right:
WFIW President Jaap Wienen, FLATI President and WFIW Vice President Carlos Gaitan
and José Merced Gonzalez, ex WCL Confederal Secretary and CLAT Board Member. October 1999.

The executive Secretariat must spend a lot of time on the regular executive board meetings of each international trade union federation and once a year a world board that was almost always combined with a world seminar. There were also regional seminars in Europe and in the continents, special events and of course every four or five years a world congress. The Secretariat had its hands full with just these statutory meetings which are essential for the maintenance of an international network.
International trade union movement is above all networking and exchange of experience in many areas: collective bargaining, labor conditions, trade union and human rights, the behavior of multinational corporations, the application of ILO conventions, developing a vision on (international) economics, labour market, society and politics. All these areas are very complex and require a long-term approach.

The trade union with its democratic structures and decision making, based on defined responsibilities regulated by the statutes, ensure that slowly arises a democratic culture worldwide between workers and employees. That is of paramount importance for the future, at least if one believes that the world order should be based on the principles of democracy. Experiences with the United Nations teach us how important are the development of a democratic attitude and culture for world peace and the prevention of violent conflicts.

WFIW Congress particpants in Doorn, Netherlands, March 2000.

Besides this each international trade union federation had its own internal dynamics such as rapid changes in the composition of the boards. For example, Doekle Terpstra resigned as chair of the WFIW in January 1999, just after one year of presidency. Terpstra was the successor of Anton Westerlaken as chairman of the Dutch trade union confederation CNV and therefore also as treasurer of the Executive Board of the WCL. The WFIW presidency was provisionally transferred until the next World Congress to Jaap Wienen, who had worked together with Doekle Terpstra in the CNV industrial trade union. Jaap Wienen had already some experience on international level as a board member of the FIOST, the international federation for transport and communications affiliated to the WCL.

To give an idea of the many different activities of the international federations below is given a summary of some important activities.
- In January 1999 a meeting took place of the WFIW with the Danish Trade Union Confederation DKF in Denmark.
- In the context of the preparation of its World Congress the IFTC executive board visited the Catalan USOC organization of the Spanish trade union confederation USO in February 1999. In June of the same year the IFTC World Congress was held in Barcelona.
- In early March 1999 a seminar was held for miners unions from Central and Eastern Europe in Budapest, organized by the Christian Miners Foundation and in cooperation with the WFIW.
- Mid-March, the European Council of WFCW gathered in Mulhouse, France.
- At the end of April 1999 the Pan African Federation of Workers in the Building and Wood sector was founded in the education and training institute Fopadesh of the African organization DOAWTU.
- In September of the same year, the WFIW held its World Board meeting in Madrid.
- In October 1999 in Mexico City, a seminar is held by FLATIC , the regional Latin American federation for industrial and construction workers. A delegation of the WFIW participated in the meetings.
- In March 2000, the WFIW held its World Congress in Doorn, Netherlands. Jaap Wienen is elected chairman. During the congress a text is drawn up for a code of conduct for multinationals. The code of conduct should include the five basic rights of workers: a ban on child labor, forced labor and discrimination, respect for freedom of trade unions and negotiating collective agreements. In addition, reference is made to decent work: the right to a fair wage, safe and healthy working conditions and collective insurances against sickness and disability.

The WFBWW (Building and Woodworkers) World Congress was held in Windhoek, Namibia.
From left to right: Secretary General Dick van de Kamp (CNV Netherlands),
President Jacky Jackers (ACV_CSC Belgium), Namibian Minister of Labour and Borad Member Aloyisius Yon. May 2000.

- In May 2000 the WFBWW held its world congress in Windhoek, Namibia. Main topics were the development of the WFFBWW in the world, the support of the continental federations such as the newly established Panafrican Federation of Building and Wood Workers, a world seminar every year, and according to the financial possibilities seminars in the continents.

It is clear that despite the limited financial and human resources, the international trade union federations functioned at an acceptable level. Each international federation had an international network of affiliated members. They tried as much as possible to support their members in the Third World countries. In addition, the federations functioned as a network of exchange of experiences and also as a school where leaders could experience democratic governance and decision making. As mentioned earlier, this is not only important for the development of international trade unions but also for the development of a democratic world order. 


  1. Excelente resumen Piet. Buen aporte a la historia del sindicalismo internacional que realizamos desde la CMT. Adelante!!!!