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.


  1. He is Bro. Nguyen van Tan (WCL Confederal Secretary)and not Mr. Juan C. Tan (BATU)

    1. Sorry and thank you very much for your correction.