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”.  

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