Friday, October 18, 2013


The WCFC Congress Table from left to right: Hernan Baeza (FELATRABS), Necie Lucero (ABCW), Jaap Kos (President), Eduardo Garcia (Deputy Secretary General CLAT), Piet Nelissen (executive secretary), Ivo Psenner (EO/WFCW) and Horacio Mujica (FETRALCOS)

On September 21 in the year 1992 I went along with secretary – assistant Chris Lenaerts by train to Amsterdam where we flew to Santiago de Chile, towards a new experience and challenge. It was not a large World Congress . The WFCW had no regional organization in Africa . At this conference a start was made with the foundation of an African organization. Koffi Zounnadjala of CSTT in Togo promised that in collaboration with the WCL regional organization DOWTAU and the African training center Fopadesc he would organize the Panafrican Federation of Employees. Under the leadership of president Necie Lucero from the Philippines and supported by the WFCW Secretariat together with CNV Aktie Kom Over the Asian Brotherhood of Clerical Workers ABCW had been founded. In Latin America the WFCW did have two regional organizations: FETRALCOS for workers in the informal economy and trade sector with Secretary General Maritza Chireno and FELATRABS for employees in the banking and insurance sector with the Presidency of Hernan Baeza .

The EO/WOW board in Zürich, Swiss (August 27, 1992) from left to right: Jaap Kos (President WFCW), Richard Paiha (FCG-GPA Secretary general), Charles Steck (treasurer EO/WFCW and WFCW), Ivo Psenner (President EO/WFCW) and Piet Nelissen (Executive Secretary WFCW and EO/WFCW)

The European regional organization EO/WFCW was the best organized because it had sufficient resources and a well functioning board with the Austrian President Ivo Psenner of Vorarlberg. Ivo personally went to great lengths to keep the WFCW together and if possible to expand further. He had regular consultations with German speaking unions in of course Germany, but also in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and the German speaking part of northern Italy. It was difficult to get new members in Western Europe, that also could strengthen the financial backbone of the WFCW.

The organizational preparations for the congress had been difficult. The final administrative settlement with the hotel was a disaster. There were no clear agreements made. The hotel had made a mess from the administration. With the necessary improvisation, repeated consultations with the hotel management about their accounts and checking of the participants and their obligations, we could close the financial affairs after a long night. You can safely say that on this first world congress hard lessons were learned.

View if the Congress Hall. In front Chris Lenarts from WCL and working as secretary/assitant to WFCW and EO/WFCW.

Politically speaking the future did not look very bright for the WFCW. For two European organizations this 27th World Congress was an immediately farewell to the WFCW, namely the Dutch Unie BLHP and the Belgian LBC-NKV, member of the Belgian Christian Trade Union Confederation ACV. That made the departure of the last one extra bitter because the ACV was one of the main pillars of the WCL. The departure of one of the largest unions of the ACV made indirectly the support of the confederation ACV for WCL smaller.

"As promised in Turkey, I let you become below in my personal capacity some concerns about the future of the WFCW, which in my view, is closely linked to the future of the WCL," wrote Lucien Stragier, general secretary of the LBC-NKV on May 21 1991 in a letter to WFCW chairman Jaap Kos and EO/ WFCW President Ivo Psenner. In his letter, Stragier writes the following: "I feel that we are experiencing the same problem as the WCL. On the one hand the WFCW is NOT ready to go to FIET and defend within FIET its own values. On the other hand, we are too small to have any real significance on the world stage. Only a further expansion in the continents outside Europe may contradict this statement. Question is of course, whether it is in the interest of trade unionism to have opposing organizations or organizations that seek maximum cooperation. The WCL is struggling with the same problem but some people do not even see the problem. Yet even the WCL will have to choose between an inglorious downfall or a redefinition of its mission but then in proportion to its size and resources. "

In his letter Stragier wrote that the EO / WFCW is not a representative union and that recruitment opportunities for new members are limited. According to him, there is nothing more to recruit in Western Europe. He does not have confidence in the possibilities for EO/WFCW in Eastern Europe: "In Eastern Europe, everything is so vague and one can wonder whether in these countries they ever will and want to convert the present Christian ideology into own international structures. So I think that the EO / WFCW as a trade union is doomed. However, I would still support any suggestion that aims to survive and thus to prove the opposite. "

The rest of the letter is devoted to the proposal to transform WFCW and EO / WFCW into a foundation. "If we say that the WFCW is not ripe for a merger and therefore wants to continue, this is only important for the other continents rather than for Europe. Europe, however, is important for the other continents. There must be a bond with Europe and I think that the modest EO / WFCW therefore is far too small. So we should find something at European level but NOT as a trade union. Not as a union, because this is prohibited in the FIET-construction. (despite all the arguments here, but facts are facts). "

I'm sorry to say this but the analysis of Stragier is quite confusing. The WFCW and EO / WFCW were and are indeed small in the amount of members compared to the FIET as the WCL also was small compared to the ICFTU. Internationally WFCW and WCL are a minority, but a minority with its own views, its own values, its own vision of man and society, different from FIET and the ICFTU. If this would not be the case anymore, a merger is obvious. Unfortunately Stragier writes nothing about this subject.

A minority indeed can not use power politics but is that bad? A minority must use its persuasiveness, its commitment, its diplomacy, creativity and dynamism. History shows that despite their political power limitations, minorities are able to get their rights. Secondly. Why would after decades of communist dictatorship, trade unions in Eastern Europe not want to join a trade unions with Christian roots? After all the Eastern and Central European countries have the same ancient Christian roots as Western Europe. Thirdly, it is disappointing that Stragier bows his head to the Leninist principle that like-minded members of the FIET may not have their own circles of consultation and cooperation.

Trade union pluralism is not mentioned in the letter of Stragier. Instead, he talks about "opposing organizations" that would make cooperation impossible. But in national and international politics opposing organizations many times work together indeed. Why should that not be possible in the (international) trade union movement? WFCW and WCL have always declared its willingness to cooperate with other international trade unions, also with FIET and ICFTU.

Sjef Houthuys speaks in this YouTube film about trade union pluralism in Belgium. it is unfortunate but it is only available in the Dutch language. 

Former president ACV Jef Houthuys (preident of ACV from 1969 until 1987) said in an interview in1976 that trade union pluralism is still a necessity for the trade union movement. "I believe that the workers in our country are well off with the trade union situation as we know it. That means trade union pluralism and therefore if it is possible, collaboration between trade unions. We see here in the first place that there is a need for two different unions because of two different conceptions of man, labor, society and so on. Secondly, I believe that cooperation does not make impossible for each one to have its own principles and doctrinal statements for the great vision and a program in the long run.I believe this is rather a advantage. "

I met Jef Houthuys for the first time in 1975 during his visit to Mexico together with Henry Molina of CLAT. This picture was taken during a tourist visit to the pyramids of Teotihuacan near Mexico City. Far right with camera is Jef Houthuys. He was very interested in the living conditions of the Mexican workers. Second from left is Henry Molina. In the middle my wife Diny together with two friends Eric (far left) and Greet from Belgium.

to be continued

The above story is a personal testimony of what happened at the end of the last century and the beginning of the new millennium in the international trade union movement, in particular in the WCL and CLAT.

1 comment:

  1. Remarkable words of ACV-President Jef Houthuys!