Saturday, July 26, 2014

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WCL 36 (Victor Ciorbea and the Rumanian Trade Unions)

At the end of January 1997 the members of the WCL mission for the Rumanian trade union CSDR were received by then President Victor Ciorbea (in the centre of the photograph). From left to right: Krisztina Gecov of the Hungarian Munkastancsok, Maddie Geerts of the Belgium ACV/CSC Executive Board, Bart Bruggeman of the Dutch CNV Industries Trade Union. Far right on the photograph Rumanian Cartel alfa President Bogdan Hossu also Vice President of the WCL. Next to him CSDR President Radu Colceag.

The regular readers of this blog will remember that some 20 blogs (The downfall of the WCL, part XXI) ago I wrote about a visit to the Romanian trade union confederation Cartel alfa that had invited me to advise on a possible merger with two other Romanian federations. The aim of the merger was to come unto one united national trade union confederation. This merger was like in many other countries of Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of communism sponsored by the ICFTU. Only the AFL-CIO, also a member of the ICFTU, had another view on this matter. I suppose that because of its traditional anti-communist orientation the AFL-CIO was more in favour of trade unions without any communist past at all.

I suppose that the promotion by the ICFTU of one united trade union confederation by mergers was based on different reasons. With the existence of more than one trade union confederation in a country, it was very well possible that one of these confederations would become a member of the “rival” international confederation WCL. This would create new possibilities for the future of the WCL, which was not desired by the ICFTU.

On the other hand 'the old trade union school' considers trade union diversity as undesirable because it would make employers and governments more easy to divide and rule. I regard this view as a legacy of 'old school Marxism' which considered the working class as one class which should be united in one trade union and in one political party, that is to say the communist party. This 'old school Marxism' with its focus on the working men and women as part of the working class, reduces workers into 'one dimensional' human beings, as if there are no other realities besides being a member of the working class.

However, the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and the Central and Eastern European countries had learned us that the one party Communist system could not live up to its claims of a just society for all people. People want to have freedom of choice, follow their own ideals and visions, freedom of speech and organization etc. Men and woman are more than their class. They are spiritual beings that look for more in life than material well-being. Political democracy is the best possible answer to this normal desire of all people.

Another photograph taken during the visit of the WCL mission at President Victor Ciorbea (in the corner below). From left to right:  Bogdan Hossu, President of Cartel alfa and Vice President of WCL, Piet Nelissen, Confederal Secretary of WCL, Achille Dutu, Secretary general of Cartel alfa, Bart Bruggeman,President of the CNV Industries, Maria Carmen Ionescu , head of the CSDR secretariat and Maddie Geerts, member of the ACV/CSC Executive Board.

This 'old school Marxism' has also the tendency to look to trade unions exclusively as dealers with political and social power. With such a vision, trade union mergers always are justified, because more members means more power. The way ICFTU representatives presented themselves during congresses and seminars to which I was also invited as a WCL representative confirms this vision. ICFTU representatives always started their speech with how big and important the ICFTU is because of its number of members. But quantity is only one aspect of an organization, a less important aspect because in the long run cultural and spiritual life are more important for human existence.

Another important principle of the WCL oriented trade unions is that they are primarily focused on their rank and file. Trade unions should work bottom up and not top down. But the kind of mergers sponsored by the ICFTU were mostly top down. For a country like Romania, where people did not have any experience with free and democratic trade unions because of 50 years communist dictator ship, a trade union merger would be the wrong signal to all those people who wanted a democratic Romania. Once again they should get the feeling that everything is controlled without them.

For all these reasons and more the board of Cartel alfa decided not to merge. But the two other involved trade union confederations, Fratia and CNSRL, did unite in the new federation Fratia-CNSRL of which Victor Ciorbea became the first president. The new confederation of course became a member of the ICFTU. Before becoming president of the new confederation Ciorbea was since February 1990 president of the prestigious Romanian Education Association, which was in turn a member of the confederation CNRSL.

But after a while it became clear that the merger did not work. It was president Victor Ciorbea himself who decided to leave Fratia-CNSRL and to create a new trade union confederation called CSDR. I was surprised that in May 1995, Victor Ciorbea together with some staff visited the WCL office in the Trierstraat in Brussels and started to talk about the affiliation of CSDR to the WCL. We agreed to start the procedures of affiliation, in which should be involved Carte alfa, that was already some years a member of WCL.

León Drucker (left), President of  the Luxemburg trade union confederation LCGB, was also part of the WCL delegation. On the right Bogdan Hossu, President of the Rumanian trade union confederation Cartel alfa and Vice President of WCL.

A while after this happened, I accidentally flew with the same flight as Anna Oulatar of the ICFTU to Romania. I was surprised by her very negative attitude and remarks about Victor Ciorbea. I got the impression that she took the whole question as a personal feud between her and Victor Ciorbea. However, Victor Ciorbea never mentioned her name during the years I was working with him, nor did he say anything about the ICFTU.

In consultation with the CSDR and Cartel alpha some WCL missions were organized to Romania, which also resulted in contacts between the CSDR and European affiliates of the WCL. At that time Victor Ciorbea was also politically active in a coalition of Christian Democrats with the National Peasant Party (CD PNT). Halfway through 1996, he told me confidentially that he would probably become elected as mayor of the capital Bucharest. I told him frankly, that he must make a clear choice between being a trade unionist or a politician. I told him that I personally preferred him to stay as a trade unionist, but unfortunately he choose for politics.

As in most countries of Central and Eastern Europe, at that time Romanian politics were still very unstable due to lack of experience, opportunism and corruption. Victor Ciorbea and many with him will have had good intentions with the thought that from the cockpit of the government, they could create a stable, social and fair Romanian democratic society. But the reality of life is much, much tougher than well-intentioned politicians can imagine, especially if they have lived a large part of their lives under a communist dictatorship.

The CDR with Victor Ciorbea as a presidential candidate won the parliamentary elections in November 1996 and formed a coalition government of CDR, Social Democratic Union (Romanian Social Democratic Party + Democratic Party) and the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania. During his premiership (12 December 1996-30 March 1998) Ciorbea was mainly concerned with reforming the economy and reducing the national debt. However, the economic reforms, particularly the privatization of state enterprises, were slow. Furthermore, under Ciorbea's premiership corruption was addressed. In the meantime under the presidency of Radu Colceag the CSDR became a member of the WCL.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Inspired by his brother Frei Chico, Lula joined the labour movement when he worked at Indústrias Villares. He rose steadily in the ranks, and was elected in 1975, and reelected in 1978, president of the Steel Workers' Union of São Bernardo do Campo and Diadema. Both cities are located in the ABCD Region, home to most of Brazil's automobile manufacturing facilities (such as Ford, Volkswagen, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and others) and are among the most industrialized in the country. In the late 1970s, when Brazil was under military rule, Lula helped organize union activities, including major strikes. Labour courts found the strikes to be illegal, and Lula was jailed for a month. Due to this, and like other people imprisoned for political activities under the military government, Lula was awarded a lifetime pension after the regime fell. (Wikipedia)

Below you find a copy of an article written by the former Brazilian trade union leader, Founder of the social democratic Workers Party PT and President of his country Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, carinosamente called Lula by his fellow countrymen. He was a great trade union leader and a great president. He did what until now only a very few Latin American presidents have done. He integrated the poor in the Brazilian society, as subjects and not as objects, and he dared to look for a Brazilian way of compromise between capital and labor, the compromise that made possible the European welfare state.

He admires the European road to social welfare without copying it. He sees the European Union as an historical achievement that inspires other nations and their regions. In this article he insists that Europe and Latin America should continue their road to social welfare and democracy by looking for what he calls a new utopia. I hope this article will inspire to look together with him to the new utopia with long term solutions for the problems in our continents and the world alike.

On 10 February 1980, a group of academics, intellectuals, and union leaders, including Lula, founded the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) or Workers' Party, a left-wing party with progressive ideas created in the midst of Brazil's military government.

Article copied from Queries, The European progressive Magazine

Contributor: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, June 20th 2014

I believe that the construction of the European Union is not just a European legacy, but rather part of the world’s heritage. It is a political institution that inspires countries to work together and increase cooperation and integration in their regions. It was the inspiration for South America with Mercosur and the Union of South American Nations, and for Africa with the African Union and the regional economic communities that are now engaged in developing the continent. It is an amazing achievement that countries that have been at war for centuries, begun to work together peacefully to resolve their differences through dialogue and politics and not by force of arms.

It is perhaps difficult to perceive at this moment, especially from inside a Europe that suffers from unemployment and the loss of worker’s rights after years of economic crisis, which dates from the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Mainly for a generation that had the good fortune to grow up in a developed society and did not have to suffer the pain of war. But, just as it is advisable to step back some distance in order to discern the magnitude of a giant monument, certain achievements are only clearly visible when seen from a distance and with a broader perspective of time.

The social rights and the standard of living that Europeans enjoy are still a distant goal for the populations in the majority of countries in the world. The social welfare state is a great achievement, the result of the struggle of generations and generations of workers. We in Latin America, are still struggling to achieve part of that which you, in Europe, must fight to protect against opportunistic initiatives to reduce rights that arose with the economic crisis.

Working people, the middle class and immigrants cannot be held responsible for the crisis caused by the irresponsibility of the financial system. Banks were too heavily leveraged, with huge speculative investments, rather than responsible and productive ones. It cannot be left to the most vulnerable segments of our society  –the immigrants, the retirees, the workers, and the countries of southern Europe – to pay the bills for the greed of few.

The brutal adjustments imposed on the majority of European countries – which has been justly called “austericide” – has delayed the resolution of the crisis without reason. The continent will need to have vigorous growth to recover the dramatic losses of the last six years. Some countries in the region appear to be emerging from the recession, but the recovery will be much slower and much more painful if the current contractionist policies are continued. More than imposing sacrifices on the European population, these policies are prejudicial even for those economies that managed creatively to resist the crash of 2008, such as the United States, the BRICS and a large share of the developing countries.

In order to overcome this crisis, we needed in 2008, and still need today, more political than purely economic decisions. It is essential to understand and explain to the peoples the origins of the current crisis. Politics, still analog in a digital world, must be renewed to engage in a dialogue with society to identify the problems and to create new solutions. Political decisions cannot simply be outsourced, shifted to technical commissions, multilateral organizations or third or fourth level bureaucrats. The roles of leaders and political parties cannot be replaced in a democracy. If progressive forces are not capable of presenting new ideas and representing workers and young people, offering advances and hope, we will see, sadly, an increase in the voices that promote fear, intolerance, and xenophobia.

In March, I had the opportunity to talk in Rome with the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. His courage and skill trying to solve ancient impasses in Italian society was rewarded by the population with heavy voting in favor of the Democratic Party. It is a clear demonstration that it is possible to overcome the scepticism with politics.

We need to create a new historical horizon. Not a new theory, but a new utopia capable of motivating the population and serving as a horizon for progressive forces in Europe.

Lula became president after winning the second round of the 2002 election, 
held on 27 October, defeating the PSDB candidate José Serra. 
Lula served 2 terms as president and left office on 1 January 2011.  

The world has changed in the last 30 years. But instead of lowering the standards of European worker’s rights against the competition of workers from emerging countries, what is needed is to raise their standards of living to levels similar to those of the Europeans. We need a broader and more generous vision of Europe, facing the fact that it’s possible to achieve the goal of a world without poverty.

30 years ago, when most of South America lived in sombre times with dictatorships spread throughout the continent, the solidarity and support of the European Union and progressive parties were of great help in strengthening the forces of the left and achieving a return to democracy in our region.

Today after great popular and political efforts, our continent is a peaceful and democratic region, with significant advances in economic development and the struggle against poverty made in the last decade.

In South America it was the inclusion of the poorest levels of society that helped propel the economy forward, increasing the income and consumption, creating strong internal markets, that allowed a progressive agenda with the advancement of social and worker rights.

In Brazil, the numbers that best translate the success of that strategy of investing in the poor are the more than 20 million jobs created in the formal sector in the last 11 years, the 36 million people that emerged from extreme poverty and the 42 million people that moved into the middle class.

I am convinced that the solution for the economic crisis worldwide lies in the fight against poverty on a global scale. Social funding should not be seen as simply spending, but rather as an investment in people. We must stop viewing the poor of the world as a problem and start viewing them as a solution, both within countries, and on a broader scale around the world.

Investments in social programs, agricultural production and in financing infrastructure in developing countries, especially in Africa, can create new jobs and a new consumer market. Despite the worldwide economic crisis, African GDP grew consistently at rates of 5% and 6%, making space for the demand for more sophisticated goods and services produced in the wealthy countries and contributing to a sustainable recovery of the economies of Europe and the rest of the world.

The Europe that managed to be reborn after the devastation of the wars of the first half of the 20th century is a proof that it is possible, through politics and democracy, to improve the standard of living of the population.

In South America, a generation of leaders like Dilma Rousseff, Cristina Kirchner, Michelle Bachelet, Pepe Mujica, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales, among others, succeeded, against all kind of conservative, and even reactionary opposition, to reach power by democratic means and promote great social and political advances in their countries.

The contribution of the progressive political forces is crucial to our continents. Therefore, a more direct political dialogue and closer ties are needed between South American and European lefts. It is important not only for our regions, but for the whole world.


Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was President of Brazil (2003-2010), and is a founding member and Honorary president of Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party).

Monday, July 7, 2014

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WCL 35 (one of the first steps towards a merger of WCL and ICFTU?)

One of the key players at the meeting between WCL and ICFTU was obviously the Argentine trade union leader and WCL General Secretary Carlos Custer. After the World Congress of the ITUC in Berlin (May 2014) he went to Rome where he met the pope and visited also old trade union friends like former ETUC Secretary general Emilio Gabaglio, (who played an important role in the merger process ICFTU-WCL). At the moment Carlos Custer is Vice President of the Political Consulting Council of CLATE (Latin American Confederation of Public Employees)  and Secretary International Relations of the Argentine political party "Partido Nacional Instrumento Electoral por la Unidad"
Another important event in the period of Carlos Custer as Secretary General is the meeting between heavy delegations of WCL and ICFTU in the month of January 1995. Below you find a report of the meeting based on the notes I took during the meeting. Approximately ten years (2006) after this meeting the merger of WCL and ICFTU into ITUC (2006) took place. One can wonder if this meeting was the beginning of the long way to the ITUC.

Another important role at the meeting was played by WCL President Willy Peirens, also President of the Belgium trade union confederation ACV-CSC (from 1987 - 1999). He also had important functions within the ETUC and the ILO. "Historically, the ACV-CSC has a close relationship with the Christian Democracy. Recent years that band, however, has become much looser. Among the two social-liberal governments from 1999 to 2007, the ACV -CSC also sought cooperation with socialists and greens. Simultaneously the Christian Democrat CD & V moved more and more to the right." (Wikipedia: Algemeen Christelijk Vakverbond) 

The WCL delegation consisted of WCL President Willy Peirens, also President of the Belgian confederation ACV/CSC, by far the largest funder of the WCL, Secretary General Carlos Custer (Argentine), the 3 Confederal Secretaries Toolsiray Benedin (Mauritius), Jean Hinnekens (Belgium) and myself (Netherlands), French CFTC President Guy Drillaud, Michel Buvy (Belgium) as President of the WCL World Committee of International Trade Union Federations and Beatrice Fouchère (Swiss) as WCL coordinator at the ILO. From the side of the ICFTU were present General Secretary Bill Jordan (Great Britain), Deputy Secretary General Eddy Laurijssen (Belgium), Secretary general Andrew Kailembo (Tanzania) of ICFTU-AFRO, Secretary general Luis Anderson (Panama) from ORIT. Johan Stekelenburg, President of the Dutch confederation FNV could not be present.

This photo of FNV President Johan Stekelenburg (1941-2003) was taken during his speech at a meeting of the Solidarity Association CLAT-Netherlands because of its 25 years of existence in 1994. Due to the merger between the Dutch Catholic and the Social Democratic trade union confederations, the FNV maintained for several years ties with CLAT-Netherlands as a solidarity association with CLAT in Latin America.

For the record it should be mentioned that FNV worked together with the WCL Solidarity Foundation through their department for international cooperation. The reason for this was that the FNV resulted from a merger between the former catholic confederation NKV and the former socialist confederation NVV (1982). As a catholic confederation NKV has been an important member of the WCL. The NKV supported trade union organizations in the Third World countries through the WCL. It was said that this should not be finished because of a the merger. In practice the cooperation went more and more difficult because the FNV department for international cooperation gave little or no credibility to WCL members in the continents.

The WCL-ICFTU meeting had a friendly character. About some points one agreed easy like for example on the World Bank and the IMF. Both delegations agreed that the ILO and/or the Ministers of Labor should be more involved in decisions taken by these global institutions. The G7 meetings should be considered as a lobby target when there are special cases on the agenda that are labor related. The proposal of Germany and Britain to diminish the European Union aid for the so called Lomé countries was rejected. On the contrary WCL and ICFTU agreed to push for more support. It was also decided that together with the European Trade Union Confederation ETUC the European Union must be pressed to give more support to the former Communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

The debates became more critical when members of the ICFTU delegation presented complaints about the behavior of regional organizations of WCL. ORIT Secretary General Luis Anderson wanted more respect and a dialogue instead of a confronting attitude of CLAT. Secretary General Anderson refers to problems around CUT in Chile and another new confederation that has been attacked by CLAT. Anderson wonders what WCL and CLAT are doing in Chile.

ICFTU Secretary General Bill Jordan (left) "Mr. Jordan was a member of the General Council of the British TUC, and served on all its major committees, including the Finance and General Purposes Committee, the International Committee, Economic Committee and the European Strategy Committee, which he chaired. He served on the National Economic Development Council and chaired its Engineering Industry Committee, was on ACAS Council and member of Foundation for Manufacturing and Industry." 

ORIT Secretary general Luis Anderson McNeil (middle). " He was the first Panamanian Secretary General of CIOSL/ORIT Inter-American Regional Organization of Labor (ORIT/ILO). He was also appointed Vice Minister and Minister of Labor in the Republic of Panama in 1984, member of the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Commission from 1983 to 1989 and member of the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Authority, the entity that oversees the Panama Canal. He contributed to the labor aspects of the Torrijos-Carter Treaty signed in 1977 between Panama and the United States of America." (Wikipedia)

Andrew Kailembo was Secretary general of the African ICFTU organization AFRO. You can find some information on him in a book of  George Gona, Andrwe Mtagwaba Kailembo: The Life and Times of an Africa Trade Unionist, Nairobi, Printpak, 2002, ISBN 9966-25-7.

Carlos Custer confirmed the very critical position of CLAT towards ORIT but he said also that there should be mutual respect and that he as Secretary General is working on this. “We should do everything possible to come to cooperation and agreements like for example the declaration of all Peruvian and Ecuadorian trade unions against war. In Chile it is not the WCL nor CLAT that decide what happens but the members of the new trade union confederation. Cooperation in Africa should not be a problem because of the fact that one or two trade unions choose for a membership of another international trade union federation.”

Secretary General Kailembo refers to the cooperation between ODSTA and AFRO at the ILO Conference 1994 and on the new EU Lomé Treaty as examples of good relations. On the other side AFRO and members of the Executive Committee of the ICFTU were not pleased with what he called trade union piracy in Ghana and Liberia. Toolsiray Bendin recognizes the problems in Africa and confirms that ODSTA does not want to have problems with ICFTU. The problem is that some trade unions of a confederation are affiliated to ICFTU oriented international trade federations (ITF's) and others to WCL ITF's. But ODSTA does not accept any so called double membership.

The ICFTU delegation remarked that the differences between the regional organizations in Latin America and Africa made it very difficult for the ICFTU to cooperate more with the WCL. But on the other side in view of the growing globalization we have to come to more cooperation, to a common policy and to speak with one voice.

WCL President Willy Peirens confirmed this by saying that “even when one can not agree on a merger with the aim to come to one voice, we should cooperate with the aim to make stronger the international trade union movement. This also requires cooperation at the ground level, open and honest relations together with reliable organizations. WCL does not always check the reactions of its members on regional or national level. Sometimes there are “accidents de parcours”. We should use all our efforts to avoid such accidents. There is no alternative." ICFTU Secretary General Bill Jordan concludes at the end of the meeting that “the international trade unions” need a single voice. The employers are merciless. They want to get rid of all trade unions. We need to unite, so they cannot continue on that way.”

The meeting gave me the impression that the ICFTU wanted to make clear that the regional WCL organizations blocked the cooperation between the WCL and the ICFTU and not the European trade unions (which did not have anymore their own regional WCL organization, a big mistake of the European WCL trade unions taking into account that they were indeed a minority in the European Trade Union Organization ETUC).

On the one hand Carlos Custer as a man of CLAT confirmed the position of CLAT opposite to ORIT, in the eyes of CLAT a trade union instrument in the hands of the North American AFL-CIO and behind it the US Government (it may be not accidental that the AFL-CIO was not present at this meeting). On the other hand, as a good trade union diplomat with a lot of experience in trade union unity country Argentina he confirmed that mutual respect en cooperation must be possible between the two democratic international trade union organizations.

It seemed that WCL President Willy Peirens, as leader of one of the strongest European trade union confederations and a in one of the smaller economies of Europe, wanted to go very far into cooperation with the ICFTU. He used even the words “merger” and “no alternative” during his interventions. As a strong confederation in a small country ACV/CSC looked always for good relations with the strong trade union confederations in the neighboring countries which besides being member of the ETUC were also member of the ICFTU like the Dutch FNV, the German DGB and French trade union confederation CFDT (a former Christian trade union confederation that had left already a while ago WCL). Moreover some years ago some strong trade unions of ACV/CSC had left the WCL international Trade Union Federations and had become a member of ICFTU oriented International Trade Federations. Besides all this the ACV-CSC is a strong competitor of the also strong Belgium socialist oriented confederation ABVV-FGTB which is a also an important member of the ICFTU. 

At that time I believed that ACV/CSC did not look for a merger with the ICFTU because of respecting the positions of the WCL regional organizations CLAT and ODSTA and others, and not in the least because ACV / CSC could play a bigger role on the international stage with the WCL than without.