Saturday, May 23, 2015


The WCL Confederal Board in Milan, Italia, November 5-7 in 1970, 50 years of WCL. The WCL was the oldest international trade union organization in the world. As members of the board we see Secretary general Jean Bruck in the middle. On the left President Nguyen van Tan of BATU, Secretary General Emilo Maspero of CLAT, Marcel Pepin of the Canadian CSDN and WCL Confederal Secretary Carlos Custer (left of Jean Bruck).

The WCL paper about the possible merger of WCL and the ICFTU into a unitarian world organisation identified 4 main problems for WCL:

1. The end of international trade union pluralism must not affect
     national trade union pluralism.
2.What about the balance of power and the internal pluralism?
3. What to do with the WCL heritage?
4. The future of the WCL international trade federations.

1. National trade union pluralism.

While on international level the end of pluralism is accepted, at national level this is not the case. Indeed, no national confederation wants to sacrifice its interests, its (ideological) identity and its history because of the so-called need to strengthen the trade union movement. Therefore in the paper it was considered as vital that the creation of the new unitarian international trade union organisation should not interfere on national level. “The possible creation of a unitary organisation at the international level does not imply national unification. In fact, national policies are the responsibility of national organisations and not of the international organisation. Both within the WCL and the ICFTU, there exist countries where several organisations are affiliated to a single international organisation.” No National Confederations should be excluded from becoming a member of the new organisation. “In Annex II it is clearly stated that the new organisation will be open to all organisations currently affiliated to the iCFTU and the WCL.3 (Paragraph 4.7.)

Another overview of the Confederal Board in Milan. On the left we se Emilio Maspero with his characterisic posture, Carlos Custer and Jean Bruck.

Paragraph 4 from Anex II says: “The new unitarian centre at world level shall be opened to existing ICFTU and WCL affiliates as well as to all national Confederations under the condition of being democratic and independent in principle as well in practice. The new centre will not call into question existing pluralism at national level”.

This was the theory but what happened in practice? A new organization, after all, has its own dynamics, in this case the dynamics of the majority. Pluralims is not a topic for most ICFTU members as we know from the past. The merger did not change this culture. Almost immediately after the creation of the ITUC (2006), the Canadian CTC attacked the Canadian Christian trade union confederation CLAC which was a respected affiliate of WCL, by claiming that it is not a genuine trade union. This meant of course also an attack against the former WCL, that apparently had affiliated no genuine trade unions. The result was an official ITUC inquiry of CLAC. Former WCL affiliates were involved in the investigation (the Belgian ACV / CSC and the former WCL Deputy Secretary General Jaap Wienen, now Deputy Secretary General of the new trade union world centre) had no defense against this attack. Probably they feared a political conflict which as a minority they would loose. The CLAC choose to maintain the honor to themselves and left the ITUC. The result is that from now on in such conflicts former WCL members are politically silenced.

The delegation of the Italian WCL affiliate ACLI at the Confederal Board meeting in Milan of 1970. On the right Emlio Gabaglio, National President of ACLI (see: WCL downfall 49). Shortly after he left ACLI and started to work with the ICFTU. later on he became Secretary General of the European Tarde Union Confederation. During the merger meetings of ICFTU and WCL Gabaglio served as a kind of mediator.

2. The internal balance of power and pluralism.

Every merger has to face the problem, how positions will be distributed between the merging partners, the so-called balance of power between the merging partners. In paragraph 4.7 of the paper the balance of power ratio between WCL-ICFTU is established on about 20/80 “and changing it is not a real possibility.” Apparently the WCL accepted that the internal balance of power was not negotiable. Why not? In any merger it is normal to negotiate this because this is the way to establish what the merger is worth for both partners. Now it appeared that the WCL was not more worth than what was calculated by the ICFTU (the amount of members and no more!). What this means we saw already in the Canadian case and who knows what cases will follow?

Besides this the WCL paper itself is also ambiguous about internal pluralism. On one side one expresses the fear of division because of to much internal pluralism: “Besides, competition like situations are not always positive, except when they can used to foster united action. In these cases, it is also necessary to measure the results obtained in relation to the resources mobilized.” (paragraph 4.7) On the other side one fears bureaucratization. “In a unitarian organisation, danger often lies in the opposite direction: that of working in a bureaucratic way, this stifling the internal dialogue.” (paragraph 4.8)

WCL Secretary general Willy Thys and ICFTU Seceratry general Guy Rider at the ITUC Founding Congress, Vienna 1-3 November 2006. 

3.What to do with the WCL heritage?

In the document it is proposed to create a Foundation to preserve the WCL heritage: “The WCL is however the heir of an historical component of the trade union movement rooted into the spiritual values and vision. To recognise this unique reality and to preserve its influence a Foundation could be created, within the organisation, and whose cultural and education activities could be benefitting to all interested partners.”
However, this Foundation has not been established. The same what happened at the merger of the 2 international federations of building and wood workers (see downfall of the wcl 48). The WCL heritage has not been institutionalized nor in the ITUC nor in the the Buidling and Wood Workers International (BWI). So, it was not a firm point at the negotiations on the creation of the new orld organisation. Probably, it was primarily intended to reassure the critical members.

Friday, May 15, 2015


The WCL was born in June 15-19, 1920 in The Hague (Netherlands) with the foundation
of the International Federation of Christian Trade Unions IFCTU.
The federation represented 3.366.400 workers affiliated to 10 confederations
in de following countries: Germany, Austria, Belgium, Spain, France, Hungary,
Italy, Netherlands, Swiss and Czechoslovakia.
President was the Swiss Jozef Scherrer.
Secretary General was the Dutch P.J.S. Serrarens.
( see:  J. Insausti, Head of the Press and Information Service of the WCL,
"50 Jaar Internationale vakbewegingsactie in dienst van de werknemers,
Het WVA van 1920 tot 1970", WCL magazine Labor Nr.6, 1970)

We are still working with the documents that were used as reference papers for the WCL debates about the future relations between WCL and ICFTU. Times had changed. Were earlier debates about ways of cooperation, now it went further and it was about a possible merger or creating a complete new international organisation between ICFTU (the big one), the WCL (the small one) and the loose ends that roam here and there in the international trade union movement, the so to say national trade union confederations (some of them ex-communist) which had no international connections.

The IFCTU Secretariat in Utrecht, Netherlands after it had been looted
by the German secret police Gestapo

Paragraph 2 titled “United Action” gives an overview of the development of the relations between WCL and ICFTU. We read that since its Congress in Caracas (1989) and later on in Mauritius(1993) “the WCL put forward a proposal on the creation of a WCL-ICFTU united front. This concept was later on transformed into “united action”, mainly meant with the ICFTU but without excluding other organisations.”

In 1946, one year after the end of World War II, the IFCTU Congress gathered
in Amsterdam and celebrated its 25th birthday.
Originally it had to be held in The Hague where the IFCTU had been founded
but the city still stayed in ruins.
During this Congress a resolution was adapted
in which the IFCTU declared itself prepared to cooperate
with other 
international trade unions,
such as the World federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). (see: J. Insausti, page 21)

It is written in the document that after the end of the Cold War, with the collapse of communism in the Soviet Empire, the ICFTU became more respectful to the WCL:
- In 1993, the WCL regained a seat in the ILO Governing Body.
- TUAC Vice Presidency has been in hands of Belgium's ACV/CSC.
- Several agreements between the ICFTU and WCL were made in 2002 to organise common meetings at the IMF and World Bank level.
-Since 2000, the WCL, participates, together with Global Unions, in the World Economic Forum of Davos.
- The ICFTU decided to work together with the WCL in 2001, within the framework of the annual organisation of the World Social Forum.
- “Their exist good cooperation links with the ICFTU at the United Nations level. The ICFTU's veto on the participation of the WCL and its organisations in Global Compact (a UN initiative to make agreements between multinationals and trade unions) has been recently lifted.”

On the left WCL Secretary General August Vanistendael
and on the right WCL President Gaston Tessier
who brought between 1949 and 1960
the WCL to Asia, Africa and Latin America.(see: J.Insausti, page  31)

However within the ILO, the main UN institute for employees and employers to develop a social dialogue on world level, the WCL was marginalized: “The issue of the ILO and the elections for the Governing Body remains of the essence. The Workers' Group working procedures (simple majority) supply the ICFTU with a de facto monopoly-based situation, which leads to the sub-representation of the other members. This situation can also be seen in the other ILO structures and specially, within ACTRAV.” (Point 2.3)

To my opinion the so-called sub-representation of the WCL in the ILO was not only because of the monopoly-based culture of the ICFTU but also a lack of WCL to give priority to staff its ILO liaison office in Geneva with experienced and skilled lobbyist. In stead, young and unexperienced staff was hired with the argument that they were not expensive. More is said about the ICFTU “monopoly-based culture” in paragraph 2.4: “However, in general terms, it can be said that despite the progress and efforts made by its leaders, the ICFTU is still characterized by a monopoly-based culture, which becomes stronger at the intermediate executive level.”

But in spite of these negative ICFTU positions towards the WCL, there were also some positive ICFTU attitudes:
– “In November 2002, the WCL Secretary General was invited to a Global Unions meeting held in London, in order to give his opinion on international trade unionism. The discussion was heated, but open and respectful of the different standpoints.”
– “During the ETUC Congress in Prague -in April 2003- the public appeal made by the ICFTU Secretary General (Guy Rider) and addressed to the WCL constituted an implicit acknowledgement of the latter as a key factor for the unification of the international trade union movement.”
– “The ICFTU has cast aside the idea of an outright WCL-ICFTU merger. Likewise, the creation of a new organisation -in compliance with an ICFTU-WCL agreement – open to confederations with no international affiliation, and aimed at strengthening an international trade unionism undermined by neoliberal policies, is a novelty within the history of our relationships...” (Paragraph 2.5)

It seems clear that the ICFTU, under the leadership of Secretary General Guy Ryder, had developed a new strategy for the unification of the WCL-ICFTU, that served also as the focus point from which could start unification of trade union confederations world wide, including also members and former members of the communist World Federation of Trade Unions WFTU (with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the WFTU had lost the Russian Trade Union Federation FNPR as its main sponsor).

On a certain level, this strategy is based on the analysis that with the collapse of communism world history has come to an end and that we are entering now the era of global capitalism (neoliberalism). This hypothesis was more or less introduced by Francis Fukuyama's essay “The End of History?”, published in 1989 in the international affairs journal 'The National Interest'. It is a new variant of the old Marxist notion about the end of history but then in the opposite way, toward capitalism and not towards socialism.

THE NOTION of the end of history is not an original one. Its best known propagator was Karl Marx, who believed that the direction of historical development was a purposeful one determined by the interplay of material forces, and would come to an end only with the achievement of a communist utopia that would finally resolve all prior contradictions. But the concept of history as a dialectical process with a beginning, a middle, and an end was borrowed by Marx from his great German predecessor, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. ( chapter 1 of Fukuyama's “The End of History?”)

On top of this, with this new strategy, the ICFTU presents the old Marxist dream of workers' unity in a new jacket. The famous communist slogan “Workers of the world, unite!” of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their Communist Manifesto (1848), comes to life again but now under the leadership of mainly social-democratic oriented trade unions organised within the ICFTU. The officially reason for the unification on world level was of course not this old Marxist slogan but the much more pragmatic idea of “Strengthening the international trade union movement”.  

Sunday, May 3, 2015


A group photo of the participants of the WCL Confederal Board made in Senegal, April 1998. 
I may be wrong but I believe this was the first Confederal Board without 
CLAT General Secretary Emilio Maspero. 
BATU President Johny Tan was already a long time not active. 
He was replaced by Noel Rebello (India) and later Muktar Pakpahan 
(President SBSI, Indonesia). Emlio Maspero died in 2000 at the age of 73. 
Johnny Tan in 2006 at the age of 82. 
Both had an outspoken WCA vision and ideals.

Before continuing the analysis of the Gabaglio discussion paper, I want to emphesize the importance of the document. Don't forget it has been used two times as a guide for the debates between the executive committees of WCL and ICFTU. I don't know what history the document has had in the ICFTU but in the WCL it has guided the debates in the European Section and therefore also in the Confederal Board. Whatever the reasons are, it seems strange that an outsider but at the same time a man of the ICFTU has been asked to present such a document. On the other side, it is interesting to read the opinion of an outsider/ICFTU oriented man about the history of the WCL.

Gabaglio writes the following about the WCL after the downfall of communism.“1.9 The WCL has played a leading role in supporting free trade unions in Central and eastern Europe (active support to Solidarnosc from the beginning). The day after the Romanian Revolution, the WCL offered its support to Cartel alfa, the country's first independent organisation, and took similar initiatives in other countries.”

This is indeed what happened and credits for this goes first to WCL Secretary General Jan Kulakowski (see blog: Solidarnosc and the struggle for the trade union movement after communism. and The downfall of the WCL part 3 and for Romania to the former Confederal Secretary Emiel Vervliet (Belgium). Unfortunately Solidarnosc gave always priority to the ICFTU for reasons which were never clarified. Was this because of the AFL-CIO that supported the anti-communist policy of the American President Ronald Reagan and therefore openly choose side for Solidarnosc while the European left hesitated to take side openly for Solidarnosc? Or was it a matter of money? Given the struggle of Solidarity against communism based on human and Christian values, I do not wish to believe in the latter.

1.10 However, the main organisations of most of those countries joined the ICFTU, which was supported by great European confederations (mainly the DGB) and the ACILS, which was an AFL-CIO agency. The latest affiliation registered was that of the Russian federation in 2001.”

It is true, the AFL-CIO affiliated - what Gabaglio calls - “the main organisations” in Central and Eastern Europe. But it would have been more frank if he in this context had used the expression ex-communist organisations. Some, so not all, changed rapidly of flag from communism to (social) democracy without worrying too much about democracy. However, for the ICFTU realpolitik was sometimes more important than democracy. That is also the opinion of Gabaglio because later in the document he writes with regard to this about “the erratic policy” of the ICFTU.

In point 1.11 Gabaglio claims that the Austrian and Swiss confederations distanced themselves from the WCL because of not paying dues. As far as I know this had more to do with an internal dispute about the WCL policy which the executive committee could not arrange. These two confederal organisations had the opinion that the WCL did not listen to their comments and did not give enough support on European level. Therefore, on the contrary what one would expect, their trade union affiliates in different sectors continued to pay their dues to the international trade union federations of the WCL. For example the WFCW (bank and commercial employees) and the WFBW (Wood and Building) had for many years a Swiss treasurer.

Muktar Pakpahan, President of the Indonesian independent trade union confederation 
SBSI (Indonesian Prosperity Trade Union)

1.12: At the world level, and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the WCL has strongly developed in Africa, especially since pluralism started being tolerated within the continent. In Asia, it is worth highlighting the affiliation (in 1977) of Indonesia's SBSI, the only independent organisation of the world's fourth most populous nation and the world's largest Muslim populated country.

The SBSI was in a certain sense for the Indonesian dictatorship what Solidarnosc was for Polish communist dictatorship. From its start, SBSI fought for the so-called 'Reformasi' with the aim to return to democracy and pluralism in Indonesia. Because of this the SBSI President Muchtar Pakpahan was jailed many times. The credits for the affiliation of SBSI to the WCL go to the CNV and especially former President Anton Westerlaken who visited the SBSI President Pakpahan when he stayed in prison and had to appear in court.

Muktar Pakapahan was sentenced several times to imprisonment in the period 1994-1998.
It was at this time that CNV President Anton Westerlaken visited him in prison 
and during a trial.

While the WCL gets some credits from Gabaglio for promoting trade union pluralism in Africa and affiliating the Indonesian confederation SBSI, the ICFTU is praised by Gabaglio for affiliating “great progressive organisations all over the world, such as Brazil's CUT in 1995, South Africa's COSATU in 1997 and South Korea's KCTU in 1999.” (point 1.13) Can it be that the word “progressive” used by Gabaglio is a euphemism for “socialism”?

With point 1.16 we arrive to the most important remarks of Gabaglio regarding the aim of the unification of WCL and ICFTU. First he declares that “the trade union scenario has changed and the ideological lines first drawn have become blurred” because of the fall of the Berlin Wall (a much used euphemism for the economic political, moral, social and ideological collapse of communism). In the meanwhile ICFTU had changed also: “The affiliations registered in emerging or developing countries in general, and in Arab countries in particular, have somehow modified the image of the ICFTU as a confederation dominated by industrialized countries.”

CNV President Anton Westerlaken at a special conference organized 
by the Dutch solidarity association CLAT-Nederland 
at the occasion of its 40th anniversary. (1994)

However, this is a to easy conclusion. The rich members have had always more voting power than the poor and weaker organisations. This has been always the case in the ICFTU and the WCL. However, the latter tried to give a greater voice to the poor trade union members by giving them a minimum presence and voting power. In general it can be said that international solidarity has its limitations also in international trade unions, whatever nice words are used.

In the next point 1.17 Gabaglio makes a remarkable observation, nearly a confession that I already announced before: “Over the past years , this change has been translated into a new ICFTU affiliation policy. In the past, this policy was “erratic”. Today, the ICFTU has refused to accept the affiliation of the leading (but not really democratic) organisation of Ukraine, and has decided to shelve its project on the unification of Indonesia's official trade unions against the SBSI, which is a WCL affiliate.”

The expression “erratic policy” seems to refer what is normally called “realpolitik”. In realpolitik, economic and political power of a trade union is more important than its democratic structure and culture. A policy well known from for example the USA in Latin America and made that the USA preferred to support a pro-American dictator in stead of a leftist elected government. A bitter example of this policy was what happened to the Allende Government in Chile (1970-1973). One of the instruments used by the ICFTU to gain control of trade unions was also to force them to unite as for example was tried once in Romania and so also in Indonesia.