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.  

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