Monday, April 27, 2015


Emilio Gabaglio as ETUC Secretary General signing the European Framework Agreement on Teleworking, Brussels 16/O7/2002. (Foto: ETUC)

While the two International Wood and Construction federations were looking for some kind of merger or cooperation between the WCL and the ICFTU debates had started about some kind of a merger or institutionalized cooperation or the creation of a new World Organisation. It happened that Emilio Gablagio had elaborated a note that served as a kind of discussion paper for the two informal meetings the WCL and the ICFTU Executive Committees have held at the beginning of 2004.

The note was used also as an introduction to the internal WCL debates at the European section held on the 18th of March 2004 about the future cooperation between WCL and ICFTU. However, to status of the Gabaglio note was not clear to the participants. Therefore WCL Deputy Secretary general Jaap Wienen explained the role of the note: “Because there seems to be some confusion on the status of the note Gabaglio note, Jaap Wienen (Deputy Secr. General of WCL) gives some further explanation on the chronological events. Two meetings with the ICFTU took place. During the first meeting, Gabaglio presented his point of view. The political secretariat reflected on these statements, but did not have the mandate to discuss changes. These reflections had some effect on the second note, but it was not possible for the (WCL) secretariat to discuss all possible alternatives. The note is therefore not a reflection of the two political secretariats, and will not be the final document.”

What was not explained, is why Gabaglio was invited at both meetings nor why he prepared the note. Gabaglio had been ETUC Secretary General from 1991 until 2003. Before 1991 he had worked for 17 years at the ICFTU on various positions. Before, in 1969 he was elected National President of ACLI (Italian Workers' Christian Associations). During his presidency of ACLI a conflict raised with the Italian Catholic Hierarchy. Gabaglio organised at the end of August 1970 in Vallombrosa, Italy an ACLI Congress titled “Workers movement, Capitalism and Democracy”  during which was introduced the hypothesis of the 'Socialist ACLI'. Only a year later ACLI was publicly disowned by the Italian Episcopal Conference and the repudiation was later confirmed June 19, 1971 by Pope Paul VI in person. In spite of the almost immediate reverse of Gabaglio and his subsequent self-criticism, ACLI split in two factions. 

"Philip Jennings is the General Secretary of UNI Global Union, an organisation with over 20 million members, representing 900 unions in over 150 countries and with its head office in Nyon. In May 2013 UNI Global Union was at the centre of worldwide press coverage, as the “Bangladesh Safety Accord ”, a legally binding agreement by major US and European clothes manufacturers to raise safety standards in Bangladesh factories, was negotiated in Nyon by both UNI Global union and Industriall." See interview 'Living in Nyon', September 18, 2013. (Foto: Living in Nyon)

As already explained before, ETUC Secretary General Gabaglio was not capable to convince EUROFIET to respect the statutes of the ETUC. According to the ETUC statutes each European member of the WFCW had the right to be a member of EUROFIET but EUROFIET refused and had its own conditions. This arrogant power policy of EUROFIET against the ETUC rules led to the departure of two important WFCW members what of course meant a weakening of the WFCW. Was this what the EUROFIET wanted? May be yes, may be not, but what is sure that for the EUROFIET pluralism was not important, and deliberately wanted to maintain its monopoly in the European social dialogue. This is not only a shame for a democratic organization like EUROFIET (now UNI) but also for its Secretary General Philip Jennings as a citizen from Great Britain, one of the oldest democracies in the world. (See also: The Downfall of the WCL 12 and 13) 

Back to the note of Emilio Gabalglio because in the note are made some interesting statements about the history of WCL and ICFTU.
1.2. During the Cold War and after the creation of the ICFTU in 1949 (the split within the WFTU), the three main international organisations had each a specific role, according to its nature:
- The ICFTU was dominated by the leading organisations of industrialized countries. Most of them had links with social-democratic parties in Europe, with an AFL-CIO working in the wake of the foreign policy of the United States.
- The IFCTU (which became the WCL in 1968), a Christian organisation whose proposals also took into account spiritual aspects.
- The WFTU, which comprised organisations having links with communist parties.”

In other words: the ICFTU was social democratic and socialist and therefore class struggle oriented. The WCL was social-christian oriented and because of its spiritual values against class-struggle and for social dialogue. The WFTU was part of the communist party strategy and on international level controlled by the Soviet Union as the main communist world power.

Why the AFL-CIO was a member of the ICFTU? The AFL-CIO had its leftist oriented groups but its majority never questioned the free market capitalism, like European ICFTU and also WCL members did. On the contrary, the AFL-CIO was a loyal promotor of the free-market capitalism in the Third World like for example in Latin America where the AFL-CIO dominated ORIT, the regional partner of ICFTU, at a certain moment supported dictatorships and US interventions against leftist political leaders (Dominican republic and Guatemala). Without doubt the AFL-CIO functioned during the Cold War as as the promotor of US interests and its free-market capitalist model.

In the Gabaglio note we read the following about the ETUC:
1.3 During the 1960's, the European trade unions of the WCL and the ICFTU strengthened their cooperation links. Some debates were then opened in Europe, leading to the creation of the ETUC in 1973. Before reaching a compromise (the idea met with some hesitation and resistance by some WCL organisations, the ECFTU (ICFTU's European regional organisation) became the ETUC, which meant that any WCL organisation could become an affiliate to this new confederation created to act as a counterbalance to the development of the EEC (that later on became the EU). That is why it was impossible to negotiate the creation of a WCL- specific space.

Gabaglio explains here not only why the ETUC always had been dominated by the ICFTU members but also why trade union pluralism was never on the agenda of the ICFTU. Everybody with some feeling for international policy and strategy could understand that in the long run this anti-pluralism attitude will end in the destruction of the WCL as a minority. Why the WCL did not make this analysis is a mystery. Was it because of lack of leadership, confusion about the road to follow or because European WCL members were losing their spiritual values? May be a little bit of each?

1.3. Weakened during World War II (after breaking off relations with Central and Eastern European organisations and as a consequence of the creation of single confederations in Germany and Austria, under the Anglo-American pressure), the WCL gained ground worldwide , thanks to the creation of regional organisations or coordination offices: CLAT in 1954 in Latin America, BATU in 1963 in Asia, UPTC in 1959, FOPADESC in 1973 and finally the DOAWTU in 1993 in Africa.”

1.4 The “industrialized countries” base decreased after the disaffiliation of:
- The CFDT in 1973 (replaced by the CFTC France)
- The NKV in 1978 (which merged with NVV to create FNV Netherlands)
- Quebec's CSN in 1986.”

The ideological seduction of socialism was not the only factor that played a role but sure it was one of the factors why these 3 trade union federations did leave WCL. Of course it is very ironic that this happened within more or less two decades before the communist model based on socialist values in the Soviet Union, center and Eastern Europe collapsed completely. Also ironic was that the Christian oriented Solidarnosc trade union in Poland together with the Polish Pope John Paul II played a decisive role in the fall of communism. It was the victory of social christian and democratic values on communist values.

Gabaglio shows us in the next paragraph that for the ICFTU trade union pluralism was never important:
1.6 After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the ICFTU exerted some pressure on the WCL for both organisations to merge, arguing that from that moment on, trade union pluralism at the international level was no longer justified.

I have never had an inside view in the policy kitchen of the ICFTU so I can only guess what kind of ideas existed within the ICFTU. So let me guess. Apparently, the Cold War justified international trade union pluralism (however, for ICFTU trade union pluralism in the Western world was never important, it was tolerated mainly because it existed) but now the communist model had collapsed and free-market capitalism had definitely won, seemingly trade union pluralism had definitively also come to an end.

What happened with this intent of merger? Gabaglio tells us the following:
1.7 After many debates, a proposal was made: the WCL could then become an organisation (foundation...) aimed at fostering the development of trade unionism in developing countries (training, debates, financial aid, and so forth).
1.8 Beyond the fact that the debate was obviously far from being closed (given the wounds opened by ORIT in Latin America during the military dictatorships), the ICFTU's arrogance also played an essential role in the failure of the dialogue process. The proposal on the creation of an organisation focused on the Third World was not accepted. Neither was the idea of an outright merger.”

I had learned to know the arrogance of the ICFTU during my work in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Every ICFTU representative on every occasion, was it a national trade union congress, a seminar or a meeting, started with the observation that the ICFTU with its millions of members is the greatest and the most important trade union organisation in the world. It never occurred to these spokesmen that next to the quantity component there is a quality component, that of vision, values and ideas. It was precisely the Polish trade union Solidarnosc that showed to Central and Eastern Europe how important ideas were in the struggle against communism.

Monday, April 13, 2015

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WCL 48 (the building and woodworkers merger)

WFBW Secretary General Bert van der Spek (CNV Construction and Wood trade union)
and WFBW President Jacky Jackers (ACV Construction and Industries)
talking with a delegation of strikers in Indonesia
during a WFBW mission in April 2004.

Another document that throws light on the debates about the so called cooperation and/or merger between ICFTU and WCL organizations is a note of 12 December 2003 written by Bert van der Spek, Secretary General of the World Federation of Building of Woodworkers WFBW affiliated to the WCL. The note was sent by letter of 16 December 2003 to Doekle Terpstra, President of the CNV, to which the Wood and Construction union of Bert van der Spek is affiliated.

For a long time there is pressure from the IFBWW. The pressure exists in terminating cooperation if the WFBW is not willing to proceed to a merger. This has been discussed with the Wood and Building Trade Union CNV. At that time it has been clearly said that a merger is not on the agenda and that at most there can be cooperation in relevant fields. ACV/CSC Building and Industry has adopted the same attitude, although a remark must be made here. ACV/CSC Building and Industry is under high pressure of ACV /CSC. Within ACV/CSC there are movements that can lead (and perhaps will lead) to a unification with ICFTU International Federations. This can become dangerous. ACV/CSC Building and Wood has chosen not to leave the WFBW but wants more cooperation with the IFBWW. Wood and Construction CNV can accept this, however somewhat reluctantly.

In the first place one must take into account the dominance of the Belgians. They are a strong decisive factor. If they stop engaging in activities (and money) in the WFBW and consequently WCL, then the question is whether the Netherlands still can continue in the same way. Secondly, it is not possible to beat the IFBWW. A certain way of co-operation can be an alternative and be of advantage for the WFBW if it is well organized. That advantage can exist of being represented at the ILO and the World Bank but also the use of experts.

On the 18th of November a delegation of board members of the WFBW ( Jackers, Van der Spek, Nelissen and Bonnewijn) has negotiated with board members of the IFBWW. Again there was pressure to merge. IFBWW wished the elimination of IFBWW and WFBW. It was a difficult process of negotiation. The WFBW confirmed again that a merger is not on the agenda. There can be searched for a way of cooperation that keeps intact trade union pluralism. As a result of the (prolonged) negotiations the following has been established. Obviously this is a proposal that must be presented at the Congresses (for WFBW in May 2004).”

WFBW President Jacky Jackers and WFBW Secretary general Bert van der Spek
visited a construction factory in Indonesia in April 2004.

The text of the agreement:

The presidiums of the International federation of Building and Wood Workers (IFBWW) and the World Federation of Building and Woodworkers (WFBW) met on 18 November 2003 in Geneva and discussed further developments of co-operations based on the letter of intend of 28 January 2003.
Both organisations agreed to start a process leading to a new international organisation bringing together IFBWW and WFBW and other potential organisations in our sectors. The intention is that members of the two organisations become member of the new global organisation.
For the realisation of this project it is proposed to establish a joint steering committee on the highest level in January 2004 in order to:

1. further develop the existing co-operation on ILO and other international institutions and Multinational Companies to define a more wide reaching joint action program including a proposal for financing to be implemented as soon as the terms of agreement have been established.

2. develop statues and new structures for the new global trade union organisation.
The WFBW will put forward the proposals for statutes and new structures for the new global organisations at its World Congress in May 2004 and the IFBWW at its World Congress in December 2005.

After these congresses both organisations will define the necessary steps for the establishment of a new global organisation.”

Therefore there will be a continuation of the independence of the WFBW (and the IFBWW). Pluralism remains. Cooperation will be intensified and brought together in a new world organization to which WFBW and IFBWW will be affiliated.
In this construction, there remains room for WFBW and also a place for the WCL. For me no lines may be cut to WFBW and WCL. Perhaps there can be made a comparison with the European Federation of Building and Wood Workers EFBWW. The independence of CNV Wood and Construction and FNV Construction continues, while both cooperate as two national organizations that affiliated to the EFBWW.” (end of the note)

Incorrect comparison is made in the last two sentences of the text. It's not about that two unions from the same country but with a different identity can be members of the EFBWW, but that the EBFWW itself is not a federation of two different European trade union organizations, each with their own ideological identity. This observation brings us back to the problem that from the outset trade union pluralism has not been institutionalized within the European trade union organizations, beginning at the ETUC itself. Rather, the social-democratic oriented unions have opposed institutionalized pluralism on ideological and power political grounds.

On the one hand they still cling to the old idea of the unity of the working class and therefore insist on the creation of unitary trade union organizations, on the other hand they believe in trade union pragmatism. Ideological beliefs about society, government, state, labor other than those laid down in human rights and ILO conventions would no longer be relevant to trade union action, which of course in everyday practice is not sustainable. In this context, the great English miners' strike of 1984-1985 is a perfect example of how two conceptions of state and society clashed. On one side stood the Thatcher government, on the other hand, stood the National Union of Miners (NUM) under the leadership of Arthur Scargill.

However, the most important European WCL trade unions accepted these ideas about pragmatic and unitary trade unionism and accepted therefore a unitary ETUC. (see for example also 'The downfall of the WCL 33 - the ongoing story of the International Trade Federations)'  Some WCL members did not agree. They insisted to form their own WCL fraction within the ETUC. This was rejected by mainly the Belgian and Dutch trade union confederations ACV / CSC and CNV. They believed that the new reality of the European Union asked for more unity of trade unions, neglecting that the European union is not just a pragmatic project of cooperation between European states but that it is from the start a political project. This becomes more and more clear if we look to the political debates on the future of the European Union which have become more intense than before.