Friday, February 13, 2015

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WCL 45 (Investment Fund International Trade Union Movement)

WFCW President Roel Rotshuizen visiting the Ghana office in Accra. 
On his left Kanga of the Ghanese agricultural workers trade union. (February 1996)

During a WFCW (World Federation of Clerical Workers) mission to West Africa together with president Roel Rotshuizen and Nebeyu Shone, CNV coordinator for international cooperation in Africa (February 1996), I got the idea to set up an investment fund for the construction of trade union houses for WCL members. A visit to the building of the Ghanaian trade union movement, which was just liberated from the one-party regime, gave me the idea. The trade union building had been donated by the British TUC - I believe - during the independence of Ghana: an ugly flat of concrete with about 5 floors. After all these years the building looked bad. The elevator did not work. There was a lack of maintenance, a well known symptom of lack of money or wrong priorities.

Back at home, I wrote a Memoradum containing the main arguments for establishing an investment fund (16 April 1996). The reason why such an investment fund is needed, is mainly explained in section 3 of the memorandum: " generally international solidarity funds refuse to finance similar infrastructure costs (trade union houses and furniture), and an (international) system of credit does not exist in this area. The result is that many trade unions stay in a vicious circle: too few resources to purchase or to rent a trade union office or training centre, resulting in poor service to its members so membership remains low which means little income and therefore no money to buy the necessary things. The investment fund is meant to give a helping hand so the vicious circle will be broken down.

Official meeting at FOPADESC, the training and office centre of the 
WCL regional organization ODSTA in Lomé, Togo. 
From left to right: Kanga from Ghana, Adrien Akouete (secretary general ODSTA), 
Asante (director FOPADESC), Shone (coordinator international cooperation CNV) 
and Kikongi (president ODSTA). Photograph made by Petrus, february 1996

The idea was that the fund would become an instrument to promote a dialogue of solidarity by providing loans that will enable the unions to build their own union house and to furnish it. Since a loan must be paid back with interest, the unions were encouraged to present a scheme of repayment based on the possible growth of trade union membership as well as activities, for example training and education. That income could be anything. In the first place, of course, dues payment followed by for example rental canteen or meeting rooms, the fees for copying documents etc. It was up to the trade unions to see what possibilities exist and to decide which direction to go.

The underlying idea was also that the unions take more care of a self-financed building than when the building is donated. An experience I had gained working with cooperatives in Costa Rica. A second rationale was that the trade unions would also wonder what kind of of a building best suits their needs, a building adapted to the conditions in the country and to the trade union. Such a building would immediately be an expression of self-awareness. I admit that it was an idealistic thought, but a degree of idealism is needed if one wants to make progress.

Visit to the Benin Trade Union Confederation CGTB. 
In the middle Pascal Todjenou, Secretary General. 
The CGTB was affiliated to the WCL.

We succeeded to convince the Dutch CNV unions in the construction and services sector to participate in the investment fund, soon followed by the Belgian ACV trade unions in the construction and services sector together with the Foundation of miners. The Swiss CNG Construction trade union decided also to participate. Ultimately, the fund received almost half a million Euros from trade unions that were also members of the WCL International Trade Union Federations.

The first meeting of the participants was held on March 18, 1997 at the CNV Wood and Building Federation in Bunnik, Netherlands. Present were the donors of the first hour. One of the main decisions was that the donated amount of money should be considered as a loan without interest. WCL General Secretary Willy Thys proposed that WCL should administer the fund. But it was decided to set up a foundation that would administrate the fund. Willy Thys also informed that WCL and ACV President Willy Peirens wondered why such a fund was established. CNV President Anton Westerlaken did not answer to the invitation to participate.

Family Photo during a WFCW regional seminar in Fopadesc (October 1997)
In the middel of the first raw Adrien Akouete, secretary general ODSTA. 
On his right side Koffi Zounnadjala, 
secretary general of the Pan African Federation of Employees FPE. 
On the first row on the left Ivo Psenner (Austria), 
President of the European organization of the WFCW. 
On the other side Charles Steck (Swiss), 
secretary of finances of the WFCW. On his left Chris Lenaerts,
from then WCL secretariat.
Charles has passed away last year.

The WCL African Organization DOAWTU had a regional office and training centre in Lomé, Togo called FOPADESC. This center is equipped with class rooms and meeting rooms, offices, a restaurant and and sleepingrooms. The building was financed by ACV Construction and Wood. After the merger on African level the building was acquired by the new African organization.

The foundation was officially registered in the Netherlands as "Investment Fund International Trade Union Movement". Article 2 on the aim of the foundation, reads as follows: the fund commits to invest in real estate of WCL affiliated trade unions in Eastern Europe and the countries of the Third World and in everything else what is directly or indirectly related. The foundation is a non-profit organization.

Soon after this, the foundation received the first applications for a loan . There were requests from Africa and Asia for full or partial funding of a trade union building sometimes combined with a training center (Ivory Coast, Mauritius, Indonesia and Philippines). The applications were reviewed by the Secretariat on their financial viability, the applicant's own contribution to the costs of the new building and the future development of the trade union. When both sides agreed on the terms and conditions, a contract was drawn up in which the amount of the loan was recorded, the repayment terms and a fixed (low) interest.

The opening ceremony of the UTAL in august 1975. 
From left to right: secretary of Emilo Maspero, secretary general of CLAT. 
Next to him Eduardo Garcia and Henry Molina, both Deputies Secretary General of CLAT. 
Next to Molina is José Jesus Plana, Director of the new UTAL. 
On his side Acacia Fernandez, 
wife of Emilio Maspero and Director of ILACDE.

The WCL Latin American organization CLAT had bought a seminary in San Antonia los Altos, nearby Caracas, Venezuela. The building was converted into UTAL (Latin American Workers University) with meeting and training rooms, offices, a restaurant, a small shop,a library, a communication office and many sleeping rooms. The purchase of the building had been made possible by the German Christian Democratic Foundation Konrad Adenauer. The necessary reconstructions was financially supported by several Dutch Non Governmental Organizations. The UTAL became a proud symbol of the development of CLAT as regional organization. After the merger of CLAT and ORIT into CSA, the building was sold to the Venezualan Government by ILACDE, the CLAT Foundation for International Cooperation and owner of the building.

The first few years the foundation worked well. There was a kind of dialogue between the Fund and the trade unions that asked for a loan. However, after a while some trade unions fell back in the old habit to use the money to support their favorite partners. Some members of the fund hinted that a loan had to be granted anyway even if the proposed contract was not respected and in some case even when signing of it was not realized. With the announcement of the merger between WCL and ICFTU and its International Trade Federations, the foundation eventually came to an inglorious end.

At the official opening ceremony of UTAL also was present Jef Houthuys (between Maspero and Parra), 
President of WCL and the Belgium Christian Confederation ACV. 
On his left Emilio Maspero and Eduardo Garcia. 
On his right Rangel Parra, 
Secretary General of the Latin American federation of Farmers (FCL). 
Photographs made by petrus, February 1975.