Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Header of the Cuba Weblog

This blog “Melons or Unity, the Cuban trade union movement under Castro”, written by Kees van Kortenhof, has been published in the digital newsletter “The memory of the trade union movement” of the “Friends of the History of the Trade Union Movement”, a Dutch foundation that is dedicated to safeguard the history of the trade union.
Kees van Kortenhof is one of the founders of “Glasnost in Cuba”. The Foundation is set up in 1989 after a visit to Cuba. The aim of Glasnost in Cuba is to support the peaceful human rights movement in Cuba. This year (2015), the Foundation exists 25 years. The Foundation is completely independent, consists only of volunteers and receives no subsidies. The foundation publishes the blog “CUBA” with actual information on everything what happens on the island.

Painter in Cienfuegos, 2008 (Petrus)

When Fidel Castro came to power on January 1, 1959, half of the active population in Cuba was a member of a union. The Central de Trabajadores de Cuba CTC, counted 1.2 million members and 33 trade federations. The confederation was pluralistic and had Catholic, communist, socialist and anarchist members and trade unions. Through the efforts of the CTC were already realized in 1959, the eight-hour day, a minimum wage, the right to strike and employment protection . In addition to the armed struggle of the Castro's in the mountains, the urban resistance, together with the labor movement, was the core of the resistance against dictator Batista.

In January 1959, when rebel groups marched under the leadership of Fidel Castro into Havana, all 33 national headquarters of the Cuban trade union movement were occupied by the urban resistance and were expelled the trade union leaders who had supported Batista. It was time for new - free, democratic and secret - elections that were organized throughout 1959 and that had to culminate in the first revolutionary trade union congress to be held in November of that year. On local level, the mostly anti-Communist Movement of the 26th of July was opposed the supporters of communism. The Movement won almost all local elections. The Communists paid electorally for their reluctant support to the resistance. Had the party not undermined the first armed action of Castro in 1953 with his attack on the Moncada barracks as "adventurism of wealthy bourgeois sons?" Even in the food and textile union federation, the Communists got little support. Within the trade union for sugar cane workers only 15 of the 9,000 delegates sympathized with the Communist Party PSP.

Young Shopservant, Cienfuegos, 2008 (Petrus)


On 18 November 1959, the CTC trade union confederation held its first national congress. Of the 3,200 delegates 200 were communists. The remaining 3,000 were part of the revolutionary 26th of July Movement. It looked that the Communist Party PSP would play no longer a significant role in the Cuban trade union movement. But Fidel Castro decided otherwise. His aversion towards the Communists was changed gradually into appreciation because of the support of the PSP. Moreover, he could use very well the organizing and mobilizing capacity of this party. He spoke 2 times during the trade union congress. In his opening speech, Fidel emphasized the need of “Unidad” (Unity) and said not to like an election circus. Quote: "The only thing what is important here, is the unbreakable solidarity with the Revolution. Is there one worker present here, who does not agree with us? The revolution comes first. (…) Each disunity within the trade union congress, will be a joy for our enemies. (...) Attacks of the enemy, must be answered by discipline. "

Campesino, Vinales 2008 (Petrus)

Soldiers on the trade union congress

But the trade union representatives did not seem convinced. After all, after years of dictatorship, they had come to talk and to debate freely and to cast their votes in freedom. It appeared that of the 33 trade union federations at the congress 27 did not want communists in the CTC Board. Uproar broke out among the 3,200 delegates. There was a fight between the supporters of the Communist Party and the others. "Unidad, unidad (unity)," shouted the first ones. 'Melones, Melones (melons),' replied the members of the Movement of the 26th of July. The Communists were compared with watermelons because on the outside they are green (the color of the guerrilla uniform) and inside they are red.

In the early morning of 22 November, Fidel Castro returned in military uniform at the trade union congress, accompanied by a group of armed soldiers. "This is a shameless spectacle", he shouted, and he added the names of three Communists to the list of 13 candidates for the board of the CTC. Castro explained that this addition was necessary for the sake of unity. In that period of the revolution Cuban workers were fond of Fidel Castro and gave him what he asked, but they made clear also to Che, Raúl and Fidel that they never would give up their independent unions. The three additional candidates were defeated in the first round. Then Fidel Castro presented again a list but without the three defeated communists but also without the name of Reinol González, who in 1959 was appointed as international secretary of the CTC. He had led a general strike against Batista and was anti-communist. He came from the Cuban section of the Catholic Labor Youth (YCW). Against these superior power the Congress capitulated. From then on for each function one candidate was presented and the elections took place by raise of hands. The socialist David Salvador became provisional president.

In 1977 Reinol González visited with his wife Teresita the Netherlands. They were hosted by CLAT Netherlands. He talked about his Cuban experiences with the Dutch trade union confederations CNV (Christian) and FNV and also with Amnesty International. González was active in Cuba in the Juventud Obrera Catolica (JOC), the Cuban branch of the international young workers movement. (foto: Petrus)

Jail and prison camps

David Salvador resigned in May 1960 as protest against the takeover of the union apparatus by the communists, . A few months later he was arrested and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Through mediation of Gabriel Marquez, the Colombian writer and friend of Castro, David Salvador was released from prison earlier and left Cuba . Reinol González stayed for 17 years in prison. In 1977 he was released from prison earlier also through the intervention of Gabriel Marquez. In November 1960, the communist trade union bureaucrat Lazaro Peña, was appointed as the new secretary general of the CTC. He was it before, namely in 1939, when the Cuban communists worked together with Batista. The dream of a free trade union movement in a revolutionary Cuba had ended. Free trade union movement was not anymore necessary, according to current President Raul Castro. In these early years of the revolution he tried to convince the Cuban workers that the State Government is the best trade union; workers do not need trade unions as they have a government as friend, it is THEIR government that protects them. "

Kees van Kortenhof
Juli 2015

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


How were the formal decision procedures about the merger with the ICFTU and what happened with the CNV proposal and other alternatives? The first step in the formal debate was put at the 18th of March 2004 when the members of the European Section (an informal gathering of European members, without structure and secretariat) exchanged views on the relations with other international organizations. A final decision would take place in October of the same year. (Activities Report of the European Section, Doc 3, 12.10.2004)

Jaap Wienen as president of the World Federation of Industrial Workers WFIW during the WCL Association Board in Washington in 2000.  Jaap Wienen came from CNV Industrial Workers Trade Union of which he was treasurer. His election as Deputy General Secretary of the WCL was seen by CNV as strengthening the preservation of the WCL. He managed to maintain his function as Deputy General Secretary in the new organization ITUC.

According to the minutes it is Deputy Secretary General Jaap Wienen (former CNV trade union leader) who introduces the debate: “During the ETUC Congress in 2003, ICFTU Secretary general Guy Rider made an appeal to join forces in the trade union world. The difference with earlier approaches is that the aim of the talks would be to build a new organisation (instead of a merger of the WCL into the ICFTU). This appeal was discussed during the WCL Confederal Board in Jakarta, where the political secretariat was given a limited mandate to enter into talks with the ICFTU so as to define the ideas of the ICFTU on a common worldwide approach. On the basis of the dicussions which took place during two meetings, Emlio Gabaglio (former Secretary General of the ETUC) wrote a note which refelects his views on the possible directions of further discussions between the ICFTU and the WCL. This note will be discussed during the WCL Executive Board meeting of March 29 and 30.” 

The opening of the debate is made by CNV staff member Evert-Jan Slootweg who explains the position of CNV. “He reads out the model for cooperation of CNV. The proposed model is meant to be a plus for both existing secretariats (of WCL and ICFTU).” 

Luxembourg LCGB representative Leon Drucker raises some questions about after the merger. “What can be said about the future possibilities of trade unions which share our values? Will cooperation still be possible? Furthermore, how will we explain a possible merger, as we have been stressing the differences in values between the WCL and the ICFTU for years? What will happen with regard to join projects on international level? What will it take to sustain such development cooperation at global level? How will we still be able to identify partners in Africa, Latin America,.(...) As for the national pluralism, it is clearly stated that the identity of the different trade unions should not be questioned.”

Jan Dereymaker of the ACV/CSC international dept. explains the why and how of the merger. He gave 4 reasons for the merger:
1. The appeal of Guy Rider, President of the ICFTU.
2. Some ACV/CSC branch organizations are already affiliated to the ICFTU international branch federations, Global Unions GUFs.
3. The fact that ACV/CSC pays almost 70% of the WCL budget is a weakness of the WCL.
4. What structure is most efficient for the protection for our members?
Other important observations of him are:
- “The time that syndicalism was linked to political parties belongs to the past.”
- “As pluralism is fundamental, this should be a starting point. We should opt for a strong base, a strong 'syndicalisme de base'. Syndicalism should be based on democratic values, and it should be internationalized.
- “A new structure, well balanced from ideological and structural point of view, pluralistic on national level and perhaps on continental level, could be a possible orientation. (…) A foundation may be a good idea to safeguard our identity, but this remains an open question.

Andrej Adamcsik (Solidarnosc, Poland) agrees with the analysis presented by Jan Dereymaeker. He is positive “but admits that he finds himself a bit surprised by the quick progress in the talks with ICFTU.”

Pavel Moutafchiev (Promyana, Bulgaria) believes the merger is necessary because of the globalization. He hopes that the merger will stop the problems with the ICFTU affiliates in his country.

Joseph Thouvenel (CFTC France) is of the opinion that the mandate given in Jakarta has been exceeded. “There should be a balance between material and spiritual dimensions, and these same basic values will not be found within the ICFTU. Furthermore, two voices are better heard than one single voice.”

Bogdan Hossu (Cartel alfa, Rumania) does not agree with Joseph Thouvenel. He proposes a more “flexible mandate” for the Executive Committee and the composition of a work group.

WCT Secretary general Gaston De Lahaye clarifies the position of the World Confederation of Teachers “To the WCT, an important issue was the discussion on the values. As the essence of these values, the identity of the WCT, is reflected in the declaration of principles, this was presented to the colleagues of Education International, who did not have any problems with it. A joint declaration of principles will be drafted, taking into account the identity of the WCT. Pluralism on the national level has been well defined. National agreements can be a side effect of the cooperation, but it does not necessarily have to be so.”

Bart Bruggeman speaking as President of the Dutch solidarity organization CLAT-Netherlands in 1998. Bart Bruggeman became president of the WFIW after the election of Jaap Wienen to WCL Deputy Secretary General. 

Bart Bruggeman (CNV) “supports the viewpoint of his French colleague. There would have been protest during the Confederal Board had Willy Thys indicated that Emilio Gabaglio was going to present the note.” He wonders if there will be organized tendencies or not in the new organization?
Andrey Adamczyk answers that it was agreed in Jakarta that ICFTU and WCL will express their specific values. “A foundation was also mentioned at that occasion.” He defended the note of Gabaglio as “just an element in the debate”.

It was under the guidance of the ACV/CSC Presidents Willy Peirens and Luc Cortebeeck that the WCL became a cofounder of the ITUC and the WCL disappeared from the international trade union history.

After some debate on the role of the Gabaglio note and the status of WCL as a Christian organization, ACV President Luc Cortebeeck, also President of the European Section, summarizes the discussion saying that not everyone agreed on everything and that there is no agreement on the Gabaglio note. He concludes that there is de CNV proposal in which the WCL continues to exist as a separate organization but cooperates with the ICFTU. Others wonder why the ETUC model is not possible on international level. Another important question is how to preserve a certain identity and how the cooperation will be organized in the new organization?

So it was decided that at the European Section of October 2004 a formal decision will be taken on how to proceed with the merger. The next step would be a formal decision taken by the Confederal Board, and after that a World Congress to ratify the decision taken (November 2005 in Houffalize, Belgium). For decision taking at the European Section, the Executive Committee presented at the October meeting 2004 the document “Recommendation by the Executive Committee to the Confederal Board“ with an introduction and annexes:
Annex I. “Proposal of a decision to be submitted to the Confederal Board”.
Annex II. “Elements that have emanated from the informal dialogue
1. Outline of a new international trade union confederation.
Annex III. “Elements that have emanated from the informal dialogue
2. First draft of the basic principles for a new international trade union confederation.

The CNV proposal was only worked out for Europe. The proposal had not a chance. It was presented to late and without to few convincing power.

Al these papers have already been spoken of in foregoing blogs. What remains is “Annex IV. Alternative CNV proposal.” In a note attached to the annex, CNV President Doekle Terpstra writes that “a CNV working group has been discussing the future of the WCL and possible more intense co-operation between the WCL and the ICFTU for the last month. The working group has presented a proposal to the Executive Board of the CNV, which has been approved unanimously on the 15th of March 2004.”

CNV was one of the founders of WCL and had a long tradition of supporting WCL. Here we see on the first row, third from left Arie Hordijk, who dedicated a lot of his time as Secretary General of CNV to the WCL. At the end of his CNV career he became President of EZA (European centre for Workers)

Instead of a merger, the CNV had worked out the idea of closer cooperation between the two international organizations by introducing a so-called “World Level Secretariat”. This secretariat had to coordinate the common activities of WCL, ICFTU, the International Trade Federations of both sides and TUAC. Meanwhile, both WCL and ICFTU would maintain their own secretariats, as well as the other organizations involved. The reason for this more elaborated model for cooperation was that CNV wanted to maintain by all means the WCL as an independent, autonomous world organization for the sake of international trade union pluralism and identity bound trade unionism.

But unfortunately we must conclude that the CNV proposal had no real chance. ACV/CSC had prepared already for a long time the merger with ICFTU. It was just waiting for the right moment and the right ICFTU leadership. It seemed that the CNV leadership was overtaken by the events. The presentation of the proposal itself was somewhat amateurish, clumsy and naive. Even at the meetings itself, none of the CNV confederal leadership was present. Also unconvincing was the lack of any kind of financial outline for the proposal.

Such a financial outline could have given rise to a thorough discussion on the financial priorities of the WCL. During many years before, there have been lengthy debates on the affiliation fees but without result. In particular the continents tried to escape time after time from an increase of contributions. It seemed that they saw the WCL mainly as a one-direction road for international solidarity. The other side of the problem, that is to bring political priorities in accordance with financial possibilities, was never well debated. This should have been an important task set for the treasurer and the financial commission of the WCL. One of the reasons this debate was never really implemented, because ACV / CSC was always ready in one way or another to absorb the budget deficits. Therefore ACV / CSC had become far away the biggest sponsor of WCL This was apparently taken for granted by the other members.

In 1992 a delegation of the CNV Trade Union for Industrial Workers visited Paraguay and Brazil. From left to right: Doekle Terpstra, Wim van der Jagt( treasurer), Pedro Parra and Frits Hanko (persident). Shortly after this trip Doekle Terpstra became president of the trade union. From 1999 until 2005 he was President of the CNV Confederation. Under his presidency CNV could not prevent the WCL was merged with the ICFTU into the ITUC.

Such a debate would also have made clear that the merger proposal was related to the fact that also ICFTU and its International Trade Secretariats were in need of money because of losing members. Such a debate was and is avoided in all trade unions world wide but this is what happens. Trade Unions worldwide are losing members and therefore money and this makes it more difficult to maintain heavy bureaucratic structures and costly international formal and informal meetings. During the merger talks this point came up but only as a formal point not as as a real point of debate. Talks were all about unity because of globalization and the ongoing neoliberal policies worldwide.

Another alternative would have been to agree with the merger under the condition that former WCL members within the new international organization could make their own groupe, fraction, platform or tendency. This model exists for example in the Austrian trade union confederation ÖGB with the formal groupings of socialist, christian and communist members. It is not an easy model to handle because it requires a fundamental democratic attitude and respect towards minorities. But such a model would have been a very good example of democracy on international level.

But the WCL leadership talked only vaguely about “identity guarantees” in the new organization: “The setting up of an appropriate instrument, internal to the new confederation open to all must make it possible to preserve the heritage of the WCL” (introduction to the “Recommendation by the Executive Committee to the Confederal Board) In annex II we read the following about this question: “The WCL is however the heir of an historical component of the trade union movement rooted into spiritual values and vision. To recognize this unique reality and to preserve its influence a Foundation could be created, within the organization, and whose cultural and education activities could be benefitting to all interested partners.” As in previous debates those proposals were unclear and vague and as a result they disappeared from the merger- agenda.

The result of the inadequate presentation of alternatives was that the debate was ultimately limited to the question "for or against the merger." Polish Solidarnosc was for the merger talks. The Luxembourg LCGB rejected the CNV proposal and supported the merger. The Maltese CMTU supported the CNV proposal. The Spanish USO supported the merger proposal. The French CFTC supported the CNV proposal because of the importance of the spiritual dimensions in trade union action. NKOS (Slovakia) supported the CNV proposal. The Hungarian Munkastanscok explained that their affiliation to WCL was a well conscious choice because they did not want to sit together with ex-communist organizations even not after the more than ten years. In their view the ex communist trade unions want to maintain their monopoly. The Lithuanian confederation LDF spoke more or less the same words. Bask ELA/STV supported the merger like the Rumanian Cartel alfa confederation. ACV/CSC of course supported the merger. Serbian CATUS supports the merger as an answer to the globalization. Others (Bulgaria and Cyprus) express their doubts regarding the merger but recognize the presented documents as very valuable. The Austrian FCG has its doubts. The Ukranian VOST expressed strong doubts about the merger.

President Luc Cortebeeck summarized the problems and concluded that a majority of the members wanted to continue the negotiations of WCL with the ICFTU. From then on the train was on the rails and nobody could stop him anymore. Alea iacte est.