Monday, May 19, 2014

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WCL 33 ( the ongoing story of the international trade federations)

After the WCL World Congress in Bangkok 1997, at the WCL secretariat 4 secretaries were working at the WCL Secretariat for International Trade Action. From left to right: Gaston De la Haye, Secretary General of the WCT (World Confederation of Teachers), Freddy Pools, Executive Secretary for Transport and other ITF's, José Gomez Cerda, Secretary General of FEMTAA and myself Executive Secretary for WFIW and others and Secretary General of the WFCW. The photograph was taken at the Paris Airport Charles de Gaulle on our way to an Pan African Trade Action Colloquium (February 1998).

Until the official election of former ACV Board Member Willy Thys as General Secretary of the WCL at the World Congress in Bangkok (November 1997), little changed at the WCL secretariat for the international federations. At the Congress itself, there was an incident between the presidents of some International Federations, especially between EUROFEDOP / INFEDOP and the CSC Board. ACV blocked the candidacy for the elections of an Executive Secretary replacing Dirk Uyttenhoven who was going back to the textile and clothing trade union ACV. ACV offered the candidate a job the night before the election. The result was that the presidents of the International Trade Federations had to look for another candidate quickly. Fred Pools, former general secretary of ACV Transcom, was elected the next day.

Half a year after the World Congress, the WCL Trade Action under the Presidency of Jacques Jouret (President of the International Federation of Textiles and Clothing IFTC) made another attempt to set things right for the International Trade Union Federations within the WCL Secretariat. Once again a memorandum was presented which once again referred to the aforementioned Trade Action Protocal that was derived from the WCL World Congress in Mauritius in 1993. Unlike previous memoranda this one entered in great detail about the tasks of the Executive Secretaries and the role to play by the WCL Secretariat.

Participants at the Pan African Trade Action Colloquium at the African training centre FOPADESH of ODSTA/DOAWTU. 1. Adrienne Akouete, Deputy Secretary General DOAWTU, 2. Freddy Pools, Executive Secretary WCL, 3. Koffi Chrysanthe Zounnadjala, Secretary General of the Pan African Federation of Employees FPE, 4. Romuald Nuwokpe, Secretary General of the Pan African Federation of Industrial Workers FPTI, 5. Jan Ridder of CNV Aktie Kom Over, the sponsor of the colloquium, 6. Michel André, Secretary General of the World Federation of Industrial Workers WFIW, 7. Gaston De la Haye, Secretary General of the World Confederation of Teachers WCT, 8. José Gomez Cerda, Secretary General of the World Federation of Agriculture and Food FEMTAA, 9.Gbessi and 10.Klefallah both Staff Members of the African Trade Action Department ODSTA.

The new memorandum not only gave a detailed overview of the tasks to comply by the Executive Secretaries (to be the secretariat of all International Trade Union Federations, to participate in all statutory and other meetings, to prepare reports, to maintain regular contacts with the presidents and general secretaries, to review documents, etc.) but also indicated their duties as Confederal Secretaries (Europe and North America). In fact the memorandum gave instructions to the newly elected Secretary General Willy Thys how to organize his secretariat.

Was it coincidence or it had to do with an internal debate within the ACV on the future of the WCL that just before the WCL World Congress in Bangkok a small paper was published by Tony Janssen, (October 29), President of the metalworkers' trade union of the ACV, containing a proposal for the future of the WCL International Trade Federations? A remarkable paper also because the ACV Metal trade union did not belong to the WCL Trade Action since I arrived in 1992 at the WCL. I remember that once Tony Janssen spoke informally with me quite surprisingly very critically about CLAT at a drink organized by ACV.

Article in the magazine 'Camarade Salut', Novembre 1997 of the Togolese
Confederation CSTT on the foundation of the Pan African Federation
of Employees FPE, affiliated to the WFCW/FME.  

The paper begins with the observation that although there are frictions between WCL and ICFTU trade unions about becoming member of the European Federations, which are ICFTU dominated , that at the end things are not going that bad. (see also “Downfall of the WCL part 13” were it is told that FIET/EUROFIET -now UNI- did not accept the European trade union members of WFCW in spite of the statutes of the the European Trade Union Confederation ETUC ) In the paper it is also established that, in a smaller organization like the WCL it is more easy to come " to a consensus because for example one has not to overcome political- industrial conflicts between USA , Germany and Japan.” What is actually said here ? That a large organization like the ICFTU by definition is much more difficult to manage than a small organization like the WCL, that a large organization has more responsibilities than a smaller or that the WCL is insignificant because the major industrial countries are not represented? If these arguments are all correct then it is still the question if all is said about the significance of the WCL for the international trade union movement . Maybe a smaller organization like the WCL is more agile and flexible than a large organization and therefore more efficient? And may be more important than anything else, what about pluralism?

The paper also establishes that cooperation with "the comrades" is well possible. So President Willy Vijverman of the ACV Food trade union became chairman of the International Food and Agricultural Trade Union Federation UITA and writer of this note Tony Janssen became President of the European Metalworkers' Federation EMF. I have learned that generally international positions say more about money power of the member organization than anything else. Who pays more dues has more power. That is human, and even to some extent inevitable but it goes too far to take it for granted. Perhaps somewhat naive but one of the principles of the WCL was not to take for granted such matters.
In the note the differences between WCL and ICFTU are trivialized. The different visions on mankind, world, society and government are reduced to "village quarrels that must not stand in the way to the strengthening of the international trade union movement." The reality of the international trade union movement is to create a "countervailing power against international capitalism in the globalized economy "and that is why unity is required in the international trade union movement. It seems obvious, but the question unto what this unity should ultimately lead , has gone out of sight. Unity is only instrumental, the question still is where are you going?
Together with the African Trade Action Colloquium there was
also a mission of the  World Federation of Industrial Workers.
The picture is taken during a visit to the phosphate mines of Togo.

At the end of his paper Tony Janssen wonders whether in view of the foregoing, an old proposal by former WCL General Secretary Carlos Custer should not be considered again? This proposal means that ICFTU and WCL together take on certain International Trade Union Federations (for example International Metal Federation IMF). "This also means that the International Trade Union Federations should relate to the ICFTU and WCL like the European Trade Union Federations relate to the ETUC. At least the two international confederations would really be recognized and give their original input (at the next congress of the IMB someone from the WCL can speak in addition to Bill Jordan of the ICFTU). In this way, there remains pluralism without entering in a merely harmful competition for local organizations. "

The beauty of this proposal by Tony Janssen lies in maintaining international trade union pluralism which he calls even imperitive. Although he promises in his paper "to test the proposal within IMF" (he expects little opposition concerning the proposal), unfortunately, never anything has been heard about this anymore. As we now know, it ended into a global merger between WCL and ICFTU followed by some mergers between the International Trade Union Federations of WCL and ICFTU. But we are not yet at the end of this history. A lot has still to be told first.  

Friday, May 9, 2014

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WCL 32 (departure Secretary General Carlos Custer, reorganization WCL)

WCL Confederal Board Meeting 1994 in Baarn, Netherlands. The photograph gives an impression of the  WCL affiliates/network at the time of Secretary General Carlos Custer (on the left nr.25). It is impossible to give all names so I refer to those who are mentioned below or elsewhere. WCL President Willy Peirens (above in the middel, nr.9). On his left (7) WCL Vice President Bogdan Hossu, CLAT Secretary general Emilio Maspero (42), FEMTAA Secretary general José Gomez Cerda (54), President WCL Trade Action Commission Michel Bovy (4), Executive Secretary WCL Trade Actuin Dirk Uyttenhove (5), President WFIW Leo Dusoleil (2), WFCW President Jaap Kos, Memebr Confederal Board Ed Grooteboer (29), FEMTAA President Guy Drillaud(6), WCT President Louis van Beneden (31), IFTC President and later President Trade Action Commission Jacques Jouret (33), WFCW President Antoon DeSloovere (13)

The departure of Carlos Custer came entirely unexpected at the end of the year 1996. There was still a year to go before his mandate of the Congress of Mauritius would have ended. The reason of his departure was not clarified either by himself or by the WCL board. The only thing I noticed was his opposition to the early retirement of a number of administrative staff members with whom he worked well together such as his personal secretary, the coordinator of the administration, the head of the accounting and other staff members. He considered their early retirement as an unnecessary reorganization that the WCL would do more harm than good. However, he had no problem with the early retirement of several other staff members. But the ACV did not listen to Carlos and went on with the reorganization.

Was for Carlos Custer the announced reorganization by the ACV, the straw that broke the camel? That is possible. I myself had also written a report with some proposals for changes at the secretariat. Following my report CNV President Anton Westerlaken made together with the subsequent CNV General Secretary Bert Boggelen a study based on interviews with the responsable leaders and staff members.This study was well intended but had little practical results. With a report alone you cannot solve the problem of incompetence. With the proposed reorganisation the real problems were not solved, but I realized that opposition to the ACV would be meaningless given the position of ACV in the WCL.

Part of the WCL staff members that went on early retirement (1996).

I do not know if Carlos had discussed his early departure with Emilio Maspero, the General Secretary of CLAT. I can not imagine that he has not done it since there was a constant dialogue between Carlos and Maspero. If Maspero would have agreed, why would that have been? Indeed, with Carlos at the WCL, Maspero had a lot of informal influence on the WCL policy. Maybe Carlos has threatened to resign if the reorganization would go through and when the ACV went on with the reorganization, he had no other option than to leave?

At the Confederal Board meeting in Lugano (October 1996) Willy Thys of the ACV Board was appointed interim Secretary General with the intention that he would be elected General Secretary at the next World Congress. At my own suggestion, CNV President Anton Westerlaken proposed that I should be elected as Deputy Secretary General at the same Congress. The proposal was supported by Michel Bovy as Chairman of the Commission Trade Action. The aim was to create a strong position for Trade Action within the WCL in order to strengthen the WCL as a whole. Unfortunately, nothing happened then. Apparently CNV did not succeed to convince other WCL members to support this proposal.

During the International Colloquium on Trade Action, which was held shortly after the Confederal Board in Ostend, Belgium (25-27 November), it appeared that the Protocol for the Trade Action Secretariat still was not implemented fully. Therefore, on behalf of the Colloquium Michel Bovy, also chairman of the Commission Trade Action, wrote a letter to Willy Thys, saying the following:

"Through this joint letter, the International Trade Federations make known to the Board of the WCL, that continuation of the current division of labor is unsustainable. Untenable for the two Executive Secretaries and most untenable in relation to the activities of the members of the ITF's. We believe that should be implemented in the short term the Protocol between WCL Trade Action and the WCL (judgment of the WCL Congress in Mauritius)."

Meeting of the Trade Action Commission at the Transcom Training centre in Rendeux, Belgium 1998. In front on the right Michel Bovy, President Trade Action Commission. Clockwise on the left Executive Secertary Dirk Uyttenhove, WFCW President Anton de Sloovere, WCT President Louis van Beneden, WCL Secretary General Willy Thys. 

Shortly after this I made at the request of Willy Thys a list of all relevant documents relating to the decisions on the organization of the WCL Trade Action Secretariat (January 30, 1997). The review contained the Guidance Resolution of the World Congress of Mauritius (1993) and the restructuring proposal that was discussed at the same Congress and in which was stated that "the Executive Secretaries of for Trade Action would do only tasks related to Trade Action. There should be a minimum of three Executive Secretaries and their number should depend on the resources and needs. "

The note also stated that there was no money for three full-time Executive Secretaries and therefore on the Congress came to the compromise to choose two Executive Secretaries: Dirk Uyttenhove and myself. Since I also had confederal responsibilities (Europe and the International Solidarity Foundation), I was in fact involved only as a half time Executive Secretary. Therefore I urged to look for a solution through additional administrative support to the Trade Action Secretariat and to further discuss with the CNV their commitment for additional support for the Secretariat.

After all, during the aforementioned International Colloquium in Ostend, the CNV Industrial Trade Union had announced to make available additional funds for the Trade Action Secretariat. Treasurer Wim van der Jagt had explained that he wanted to discuss with other CNV Trade Unions to contribute extra to the WCLTrade Action Secretariat. A copy of this note was send to the Presidents of the ITF's and of course Michel Bovy, the Chairman of the WCL Trade Action Commission.

Friday, May 2, 2014


Dirk Uyttenhoven (standing right) was elected at the WCL Congress in 1993 as Executive Secretary of the WCL Trade Action Secretariat. I was already working at the WCL since the 1 of January 1992. Sitting are Kelfallah (left) and Gbessy, both staff members of the DOAWTU training and education centre FOPADESC in Lomé, Togo.  CNV Aktie Kom Over made financially possible the African Trade Action secretariat.  The picture has been made in December 1995 during an official visit at the WCL Trade Action Secretariat in Brussels.

Looking for an answer to the weakening of the WCL International Trade Federations ITF's as the result of switching of strong European WCL trade unions towards the Global Unions (Food, Metal and UNI), the WCL Congress in Mauritius (1993) decided to strengthen its Secretariat for Trade Action STA. Hence Dirk Uyttenhoven, from the department of education and training of the Belgian ACV Textile and Clothing trade union, was elected on the Congress as a full-time Executive Secretary of the STA. From then on the STA had about one and a half Executive Secretaries.

The regional seminar and Congress of FELATRABS, the Latin American Federation of Bank and Insurance Workers, was my first experience as Executive Secretary of the WFCW. It was held in september 1995 at the Workers University UTAL in San Antonio de los Altos, Venezuela. 

The presidents of the International Trade Federations ( ITF 's ) considered one and a half full-time Executive Secretaries as insufficient . Therefore, the Commission for Trade Action CTA (consisting of the presidents of the ITF's and the General Secretary of the WCL ) talked for over a year about a 'Protocol for Trade Action' . After one and a half year , such a Protocol was signed by WCL General Secretary Carlos Custer and President of the Commission Trade Action CTA Michel Bovy. It was agreed that the Secretariat would consist of two full-time Executive Secretaries , one full-time and one part-time administrative assistant . The WCL would provide logistical support to the Trade Action Secretariat such as translations, accounting, printing, office, etc. Meanwhile EUROFEDOP / INFEDOP (public services) kept his full-time General Secretary in the person of Bert van Caelenberg, who had his own small, fully equipped secretariat, separated of the WCL Trade Secretariat. The WCT (teachers) replaced in the course of time its retired General Secretary Roger Denis (who was also functioning more or less as a WCL Confederal Secretary) by the full-time delegate Gaston De La Haye as Secretary general.

WFCW President Roel Rotshuizen (right) with Nebeyu Shone, head of the CNV Aktie Kom Over and World Solidarity Liaison office for Africa, in Cotonou, Benin in February 1996. It was the first official visit of a WFCW delegation to the African continent, visiting trade unions of clerical, banking and commercial workers in Benin, Togo and Ghana. The goal of the visit was to support the foundation of the regional African trade union federation for employees FPE.

The full-time administrative assistant was contracted, but otherwise everything remained the same because of lack of money and possibilities and so the Executive Secretaries had to improvise in time and prioritization. Also in the field of cooperation between the International Federations and the WCL everything remained the same. The International Federations went on as before, without much more cooperation and policy coordination with the WCL. Sometimes this brought tensions between the WCL Secretariat and the Trade Action Secretariat but thanks to the benevolent attitude of general secretary Carlos Custer relations remained good.

The Asian Regional Federation ABCW (Asian Brotherhood of Clerical Workers) was founded with support of BATU, the WFCW, CNV Aktie Kom Over and Necie Lucero as President of a Banking Union in the Phillipines. This picture has been taken in the year 1996.

A special case was the International Federation for Agriculture and Food trade unions FEMTAA. The switch of the CNV and ACV food trade unions from FEMTAA towards the Global Union UITA, had as a consequence that FEMTAA henceforth only existed in name. WCL General Secretary Carlos Custer found this unacceptable because of the importance of the agricultural sector in Third World Countries. He invited the former trade union leader José Gomez Cerda from the Dominican Republic, who lived for family reasons in Belgium, to rebuild the FEMTAA on a volontary basis. At the request of Carlos Custer the Trade Action Secretariat supported this attempt to revive the FEMTAA as much as possible.

In March 1995 a seminar and World Congress was held in the UTAL, San Antonio de los Altos, Venezuela with the aim to reconstruct the FEMTAA. Second from left José Gomez Cerda who was elected as Secretary General of FEMTAA. 

Thanks to the efforts of Jose Gomez was held what you might call a rebuilding World Congress of FEMTAA in March 1995 in the Workers University UTAL, San Antonio de los Altos, Venezuela. At the Congress José Gomez Cerda was elected as General Secretary. The former CFTC President Guy Drillaud (France) was elected President of FEMTAA. During the World Congress, the newly joined food workers trade union of Cartel alfa, led by chairman Adrian Cojocaru, was prepared to support the FEMTAA with a significant annual contribution. However, this was not sufficient for financing the costs of the secretariat and the necessary activities, with the result an ongoing search for additional funds.

Photo of all the participants on the FEMTAA Seminar and World Congress, march 1995, UTAL San Antonio de los Altos, Venezuela.

Through organizations such as CNV Aktie Kom Over, World Solidarity, the WCL Solidarity Fund and the ILO, various activities could be funded. But it was much more difficult or virtually impossible to fund the Secretariat in Brussels. One solution could be to move the FEMTAA secretariat to one of the continents. The most obvious was to move it towards Latin America where CLAT had built a solid infrastructure with the Workers University UTAL in San Antonio near the Venezuelan capital Caracas. For unknown reasons, CLAT did not support this proposal with the result that the FEMTAA secretariat continuously had budget deficits, which had to be completed with the help of international institutions for solidarity and/or international development.

Meanwhile, the continental organizations BATU (Asia), CLAT (Latin America) and DOAWTU (Africa) contributed to the strengthening of their existing regional trade federations or supporting the creation of a new federation . Of course the ITF's contributed to this, each in its own way and according to its available resources. Thanks to a special trade action program of CNV Aktie Kom Over and project-support of World Solidarity funds were available . However, the question of the autonomy of the regional federations was never worked out . For the International Federations the regional trade federations were independent, autonomous members with their own structures, programs, funds etc . In contrast, the continental confederations BATU, CLAT and DOAWTU were somewhat reluctant to accept the idea of independent and autonomous trade federations. They insisted on a more centralized policy and decision-making procedures. However a profound strategic discussion of this important issue never got off the ground . The two sides, the ITF's and the continental organizations, made ​​the best of it and that was what it was.