Monday, December 30, 2013


The US-EURO flag as designed by Petrus

Military Integration

The idea that the U.S. and the EU together are building a Transatlantic Empire started with two observations coming together. On one side I read some critical articles on trade negotiations between the European Union and the U.S. started this year on the 14th of June. On the other side I was surprised by the magnitude of the building site of the new NATO Headquarters in Brussels. This did not look like a building of a military alliance that was not important anymore since the end of the Cold War by the downfall of the Soviet Imperium. On the contrary it looks like a renewal of NATO by extending and modernizing its Headquarters.

The construction site of the new NATO building opposite to "the old one" in Brussels, Belgium.

Wikipedia (Dutch version: NAVO)  informs that in the autumn of 2010, the Dutch construction company BAM started the construction of a new headquarters for NATO on the other side of the Avenue du Bourget in Brussels, so to say opposite the old NATO headquarter. The contract has a value of approximately 460 million euros (more than a half billion US$). The new building is of about 250,000 sqm and will host about 4,500 employees. Such an effort suggests more a strengthening of the NATO than the supposed reduction of the importance of this transatlantic military alliance. Such an investment indicates that NATO is planning to stay for another long time.

NATO is build on the "Three Musketeers Principle" which reads "All for One, One for All"

Since 1948, 4 years after the Second World War, West European countries cooperated military in the strongest way possible between free and independent nations, that is to say in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization NATO as an answer to Stalin's policy in Eastern and Central Europe. The core of the treaty is Article 5, what I would call “The 3 Musketeers Principle" that reads "All for One, One for All”, which means that in the event of an attack on one of the states north of the Tropic of Cancer, it will be perceived as an attack on all, and that all countries will cooperate to ward off the attacker.

It is clear that nearly all West European countries became a member of the NATO including also Turkey. It was a very successful alliance for the West European countries because it guaranteed peace and stability for about 50 years, years in which West Europa could not only rebuild but also create the so called welfare states. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the former member states of the Russian dominated Warschau Pact became gradually member of the NATO, countries like Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Estonia, Letonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria and even a country like Albania. Today NATO is going as far as the borders of Russia itself. These days an internal political struggle is even still going in Ukraina about which side it should choose, the European Union or Russia?

According to the common opinion, NATO had become less important after the end of the Cold War. Member States conceded the peace dividend and reduced their armed forces. But NATO has since been in a phase of transformation, in which new tasks such as combating terrorism, proliferation and anarchy on the agenda came. In the Prague Summit in 2002 and the Istanbul Summit in 2004 agreed on this. Article 5 has been declared to date once applied: after the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. NATO, the United States shortly after the attacks supported by AWACS radar aircraft.

So it seems ironical but it was probably the Al Qaida attack on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington that started the idea to rebuild the NATO as a global military alliance against terrorism in stead to be dedicated only to the defence of West Europe. Probably this is the reason why France more or less surprisingly decided to reintegrate the Nato command structure in 2009. In the time of the presidency of General de Gaulle France went away from NATO (1966) with the aim to develop its own independent nucleair capabilities, called Force de Frappe. However under the presidency of Sarkozy France started to reintegrate into NATO. The recent elected socialist president Hollande did not change this policy. On the contrary, he continues the French Africa policy of military interventions in Libya, Mali and recently in the Central African Republic. Great Britain coordinates its military operations worldwide already a long time with the U.S. It seems to me that in the next decades Europeans will continue to cooperate military with the U.S., whereby the U.S. will be the most powerfull and decisive military force.

On the economic level we see the same development: more economic intergration between the USA and Europe. “On 14 June (2013), Member States gave the European Commission the green light to start trade and investment talks with the United States. The launch builds on the report of a High-Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth, published in February 2013.”
Inmediately after this report was published, USA and Europe issued a common statement: We, the Leaders of the United States and the European Union, are pleased to announce that, based on recommendations from the U.S.-EU High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth co-chaired by United States Trade Representative Kirk and European Trade Commissioner De Gucht, the United States and the European Union will each initiate the internal procedures necessary to launch negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
The transatlantic economic relationship is already the world’s largest, accounting for half of global economic output and nearly one trillion dollars in goods and services trade, and supporting millions of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. We are committed to making this relationship an even stronger driver of our prosperity. In that regard, we welcome the High Level Working Group’s recommendations on how we can expand further our transatlantic trade and investment partnership, promoting greater growth and supporting more jobs.
A high-standard Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would advance trade and investment liberalization and address regulatory and other non-tariff barriers.”

To emphasize the importance of the negotiations of this Convention, the European Commission made in March 2013 for its member states an impact assesment on the future of the EU-US trade relations and an in-depth analysis on the potential effects of the EU-US Treaty.
When negotiations are completed, this EU-US agreement would be the biggest bilateral trade deal ever negotiated – and it could add around 0.5% to the EU's annual economic output.
The European Union and the United States have the largest bilateral trade relationship and enjoy the most integrated economic relationship in the world....
Total US investment in the EU is three times higher than in all of Asia.
EU investment in the US is around eight times the amount of EU investment in India and China together.
EU and US investments are the real driver of the transatlantic relationship, contributing to growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. It is estimated that a third of the trade across the Atlantic actually consists of intra-company transfers.
The transatlantic relationship also defines the shape of the global economy as a whole. Either the EU or the US is the largest trade and investment partner for almost all other countries in the global economy.
The EU and the US economies account together for about half the entire world GDP and for nearly a third of world trade flows.”

That these negotiations are about a further integration between the USA and Europe we can read in the following statements of the European Commission: “Given the low average tariffs (under 3%), the key to unlocking this potential lies in the tackling of non-tariff barriers. These consist mainly of customs procedures and behind the border regulatory restrictions. The non-tariff barriers come from diverging regulatory systems (standards definitions notably), but also other non-tariff measures, such as those related to certain aspects of security or consumer protection.”

How deep the integration between Europe and the USA will be is indicated by the fact that the recent negotiations were prepared by a so called High Level Working Group of the Transatlantic Economic Council that published the above mentioned report in February this year. “The Transatlantic Economic Council was set up in 2006 guide and stimulate the work on transatlantic economic convergence. The TEC is currently the only EU-US high level forum in which economic issues can be discussed in a coherent and coordinated manner. It brings together a wide range of ongoing economic cooperation activities in issues of mutual interest and provides for a platform to give political guidance and direction to this work. At the same time, the TEC provides for a political forum for discussing strategic global economic questions. The TEC brings together those Members of the European Commission and US Cabinet Members who carry the political responsibility for closer economic ties. Three "advisory" groups have been set up to help guide the work of the TEC:
In addition, civil society at large is consulted on the TEC's objectives and debriefed after its annual meetings.”

The barriers that must be demolished in this new major agreement include different standards and laws that both continents have on for example public health, public procurement, copyright and the like. It is much more difficult to harmonize these kind of standards and laws because they are often the result of deep cultural traditions and beliefs. These are the laws that until now ban gene food from Europe, gives protection to data and arrange to keep out of European hands the shipping to U.S. ports. That is why France wanted to exclude from these negotiations all aspects related to culture. After a lot of talks the other 26 EU countries agreed to leave aside all what has to do with culture, but if the European Commission during the negotiations decides the matter has to be discussed with the U.S., it can present the question again to the EU member States. "Then we'll say no again, as now," French Trade Minister Bricq said.

But today there is more criticism. The heart of this criticism is a strong anti Europe attitude that in recent years is gaining political ground in all West European countries including France, the Netherlands, Germany and of course also Great Britain. It is a new wave of conservative nationalism that was thought to be politically dead after World War II. For many European workers things have gone too fast. They feel threatened by the cheap labor force coming from the new EU members, not only undermining their level of wages but also other social security services. At the same time the global competition makes disappear industrial activities to other parts of the world, especially to China. Add to this the Bank and Eurocrisis which had as a result that many West European countries had such huge debts, they had to cut their national budgets, that in turn created more unemployed. For the average wage earner in Western Europe, the future has never been as uncertain as today. And as we know such an uncertainty is the breeding ground for political experiments that could destabilize Europe

The above information is coming from public sources like Wikipedia, the website of the European Commission, the NATO websit and papers.

Friday, December 27, 2013


Group photo of the seminar "The social security system in the countries of transition", Training and Education Centre of Cartel alfa in Snagov, Rumania 1993.I do not remember all the names of the participants.But there was of course WCL Vice President Krzysztof Dowgiallo, standing in the centre. On his right Marcel Savoye, expert from ACV Belgium. In de back row left to Krzisztof stands Bogdan Hossu, the charismatic but also practical President of Cartel alfa. Second from left on the back row Pekka A Aro expert from the ILO. On his left Adrej Adamcik from Solidarnosc foreign affairs department.In front sitting right is Olexandr Dzyulik, Persident of VOST Ukraïne. There was also Marc Spautz from LCGB Luxemburg and others from Albania, Belarus, Lithuania and Russia.On the right standing Marleen Mens, one of the well-trained secretaries of WCL, who functioned as an administrative assistant to the seminar.

The ongoing missions to Albania since January 1993 did not result in any new affiliation to the WCL. In early February 1993, a new mission presented itself. The Romanian confederation Cartel alfa asked advice about a possible merger with the former communist confederation CNSRL. Cartel alfa was a young federation (1991) which had justified its existence in a short time under the leadership of its charismatic president Bogdan Hossu. The board was committed to democracy and the social Christian principles. They were eager to learn as much as possible from other trade unions. This youthful elan of Cartel alpha was reflected in the WCL.

Why Cartel alpha was thinking of a merger with the so called post- communist confederation CNRSL? There were different reasons. At the meeting of the WCL Confederal Board in 1992 I had already noticed the impatience of President Luca of the strong and rich oil trade union. According to him, the WCL and Cartel alpha were not active enough. What he exactly meant with these observations, he did not make clear during the brief encounters. I did not know the background from which his criticism was coming. Anyway, I considered it as an internal matter of Cartel alfa.

Some of the participants of the seminar in Snagov. Left Aldona Jasinskiene of LWU Lithuania, Victor Kozel of CMOT Belarus and 2 representatives of Podkrepa Transport, Bulgaria.

Now, upon arrival I was told Luca had joined the CNSRL. Apparently the departure of the oil trade union had caused within Cartel alpha doubts about their future or was there more to it? According to some, the reason for the departure of Luca was that he wanted to become president of Cartel alfa, but that the presence of Bogdan Hossu as president dit not give him a chance. It could be possible. Like anywhere, personal ambitions also play a major role in internal conflicts, more often than people like to admit, especially in politically and economically unstable countries.

It was obvious that a broad survey of the situation had to be made. Not just a power analysis, but a comprehensive analysis based on the importance of Cartel alfa for its members , the existence of a pluralistic trade union movement in support of a democratic pluralistic political landscape, political and economic development of the country, meaning of their own identity based on socio -Christian values and the personal ambitions of the leaders of Cartel alfa . This led to an list of pros and cons of the merger that was finally discussed by the entire board . The conclusion was that the Romanian trade unions and Romania in general were best served with a Cartel alfa as an independent trade union confederation. In retrospect it can be established that this was the right decision. Cartel alfa developed into a strong, well-organized trade union confederation that could stand on its own feet and was also able to play an important role within the WCL.
This photo I got of Valentina Serycheva (sitting behind the desk) with members of the Womens' Committee of the Trade Unions Assembly Rossiyanki in the White House at Moscow. The White House was partly destroyed during the Russian Constitutional Crisis in October 1993.The rebellion against Sovjet President Michael Gorbatsjov was  beaten down under the guidance of Jeltsin.

As proof of its capacities Cartel alfa organized in that same year, prior to its extraordinary congress (21-23 September 1993), a WCL seminar for member organizations and observers from Central and Eastern Europe. This seminar took place in a training centre in Snagov, a legacy of the old communist confederation. The theme of the seminar was "The social security system in the countries in transition." The training center was simple and sober as is usual in Central and Eastern Europe, but thanks to the efforts of Cartel alfa useful and inexpensive.

Social security was just one of the problems the former communist countries had to deal with during the transition from a centralized and planned state economy to a free market economy based on private property. Until then, no one anywhere in the world, had any experience with such a transition from communism to capitalism. For example how to organize the privatization of some giant industrial complexes with tens of thousands of workers? No one had even the slightest idea of the true value of these companies. Who should manage such privatized factories? How labor must be organized? What was the role of the state in social security, unemployment insurance, health care, pension systems, etc. No wonder that with such an amount of unknown problems also a lot went wrong.

Bogdan Hossu, the charismatic and practical oriented President of Cartel alfa  at the seminar in Snagov (1993).
In Romania, a privatization committee of the government had decided to issue shares to employees as a way to make them owners of the company. It was a noble idea to make the workers shareholders, but what they should do with these shares? Workers in capitalist countries often do not know what to do with shares, so how could workers know what to do having lived their whole life in a communist country? Besides, they needed income because of the low wages. The result was that they often sold their shares much to cheap to the former communist executives and leaders who had positions from which they knew more about the future possibilities of a company. Of course there were those who gambled wrong and lost money with the closure of the factory, but there were also those who in a short time managed to earn a lot of money. The result was that in a few years there was a group of super rich people, the so called oligarchs.

What could we do about all this as international unions? Indeed, West European unions had gained experience with capitalism over the course of decades, but that had been a long time learning process. The welfare state exists since only after the Second World War. Before that, the unemployed, the sick and the elderly were also at the mercy of employers and the labour market. Hence, before the Second World War many were looking for radical solutions like communism. However the creation of the welfare state based on democracy and mutual responsability, capitalism was tamed by cooperation between political parties, governments, trade unions and employers. The Social Dialogue was born.

View from the lake to the Snagov Education and Training Centre of Cartel alfa.(1995)

Therefore, we organized all kinds of seminars on problems like pension systems, social security systems, about the division of tasks between government, trade unions and employers and the Social Dialogue. Seminars were organized where participants could learn about capitalism, how companies operate in a free market economy by using a kind of role play. Vik Meeuws of ACV had developed such a role play that we used at a seminar in Snagov (1995).

It may be a called a small miracle that despite all these difficulties, most countries in Central and Eastern Europe have been able to build a more or less stable market economy and political democracy within a few years. The European Union has clearly played a major role in it . Without the European Union, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe would have had much more difficulties to stabilize politically and economically. It was therefore appropriate that the trade unions in Central and Eastern Europe as soon as possible were involved in European politics even though their countries were not yet members of the EU. At the end of the year 1993 Cartel alfa and CNSRL were admitted as observers to the ETUC .

The bus with which participants arrived at the seminar centre in Snagov (1995)

In retrospect, you may wonder whether Cartel alfa was put under pressure to merge with CNSRL , as an attempt to prevent that the WCL would have an important member organization within the ETUC? Indeed, new strong WCL members within the ETUC could change the balance of power between ICFTU and WCL on European level in favor of WCL. From this perspective the future of WCL as an organization of any significance on European level was at stake and without a European stronghold the WCL would be to weak.

To be continued

Friday, December 20, 2013


Emilio Màspero, photographed in 1982 during one of his visits to CLAT-Netherlands. Inspired by Emilio Màspero in 1969 a group of 5 Dutch people had the very original idea to found 'CLASC-Netherlands" as a solidarity movement with CLASC. 

Just for the record it is good to remember the analysis made by Emilio Màspero on the relations between Latin American and North American trade unions based on social christian values. Màspero analyzed without any complex of inferiority and without blaming only the US of everything what is going wrong in Latin America. On the contrary, he looked for a common analysis based on common values between Latin America and the United States.

North American trade-union organizations have systematically discriminated against the Christian trade-union organizations and made them the object of humiliating scorn. With respect to relations, we have always be granted just one alternative: that we disappear as an organization and a reality so that we might be absorbed by the trade-union organizations inspired, promoted, and financed in Latin America by North American trade-union organizations and the U.S. Government. There is not the slightest respect for international pluralism. The idea is to monopolize all in order to place it at the service of a formula, and of interests and partial viewpoints of one single sector of the democratic trade unionism of the two Americas-disavowing all the other democratic trade-union organizations which are making their own original efforts in Latin America.........We share with the North American workers the Judeo-Christian ethic. Yet, despite this spiritual communion and ethic, there is no systematique dialogue, nor any system of relations based on dignified and fraternal solidarity.”
Emilio Màspero, 'Trade Unionism as an Instrument of the Latin America Revolution' in 'Latin American Radicalism', edited by I.L. Horowitz, Castro and J.Gerassi, Vintage Books, New York 1969. (page 207-231)

I wonder if there is now more respect for trade union pluralism than before. In Europe we have experienced that there is a lot of pressure from different social-democratic oriented trade unions on social christian trade unions like for example in Germany and Denmark by starting to deny even their formal status of trade unions. It seems that the old Marxist slogan 'proletarians of all countries, unite! is still the main slogan for many trade union leaders. Political pluralism and free market competion are nowadays generally accepted but trade union pluralism is still be seen as not desirable. Of course trade union unity is used also as a way to defend old fashioned power monopoly.

On the left Dolf Coppes (1925-2001) the first President of CLASC Netherlands, talking with Rangel Parra (1920 - 1987), Secretary General of the Federation of Latin American Campesinos FCL, during the first years of CLASC Netherlands. From 1972 until 1977 Dolf Coppes was a member of the Dutch Parliament for the Politieke Partij Radicalen PPR. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of CLAT Netherlands, Dolf Coppes said the following about the creation of what was then called CLASC Netherlands: "In early 1969, I interviewed Emilio Màspero for the magazine Nieuwe Linie. Màspero had been frequent in the Netherlands, for fundraising, but he was until then not really identified as a man with a special message. I was very impressed by him. In the margins of the interview  the idea arose that Dutch trade union members for solidarity with CLAT, should become member of CLAT Netherland. This was badly needed. CLASC was banned almost everywhere. Only in Venezuela and Curacao there were no problems. I dropped the idea during a speech at a training center in Renkum (Netherlands). There were present Gerard van Pijkeren and Wouter van Dam. In late summer they came together with Gerrit Pruim and Toon Kuiper suddenly to me. Everything was done, there was an association founded and whether I wanted to be president." (See the special Jubileumboek CLAT-Nederland)

As we can read Emilio Màspero was of "the old spiritual trade union school" like many other trade union leaders in Europe and the rest of the world. Has this school had its days? Are the social Christian values in today's world not of importance anymore or on the contrary do we need them as an answer on a pure materialistic view on mankind? Can we fight against social injustice, social inequality, crime and corruption, consumerism and materialism without spiritual values? To ask the question is answer it.

Driving from the airport to the capital Tirana of Albania I was surprised to see all around small one-person bunkers.Later I learned there are hundreds of thousands of them. They were meant to prevent a NATO attack on the country which of course was more an obsession of the dictator than a real possibility, taken into account the zero strategic importance of this small country. It is sad to see how a whole country lost so much money in something what comes from a phobic mind.

The year 1993 started with a WCL mission to Albania. For the first time a representative of the Italian ACLI joined the mission that as usually was headed by our Polish vice- president Krzysztof Dowgiallo. I got no good memories of this and other missions to Albania. Albania looked as a lost land in everything. It was materially and spiritually destroyed by the prolonged communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. As a result of his ideological fundamentalism, Albania had been isolated for more than 40 years of Europe and the rest of the world. Already in 1948, Hoxha broke with Tito's Yugoslavia and in 1953 after the death of Stalin, he also broke with Russia. The only communist country Albania had contact with, was Maoist China. Albania was the only Maoist country in Europe.

The consequences of that isolation could one see all around: poverty and disorder, dilapidated houses, everything from poor quality. We had a conversation with Xheka Valer, President of the "Independent Union of Trade Unions of Albania" BSPSH, founded in 1991. The head office was a shabby building that hardly was heated. Everyone walked with thick winter coats. The office of Xheka was an empty room with an oversized desk, meant to impress, not to work. The new union proved unstable. As a result of infighting Xheka was put aside.We also visited the former official Confederation of Trade Unions of Albania KSSH who had broken in 1991 with its communist past as a party and state controlled trade union. Their new president was Kastriot Muco

Albanian delegate from BSPSH (left) and his translator on the WCL seminar "World Confederation of Labour for New Trade Unionism after Communism" held in Budapest 1993. 

Likewise, during later missions the contacts did not lead to lasting relationships. In 1995 we met Minella Kureta president of The League of Albanian Autonomous Trade Unions on the KGZE conference (an annual conference of social Christian oriented trade unions from Central and Eastern Europe organized with the help of EZA and EU financial means). The Federation of European Miners invited to some of its events, Gezim Kalaja, President of the Independent Trade Union of Miners and Geologists of Albania. The European Organization of the WFCW organized a mission to strengthen the contacts with the Albanian trade union of workers in commercial sectors. Ultimately, none of these trade unions became a member of the WCL or WCL related trade union federations.

Another problem with the Albanian trade unions was to determine what they really represented in the real working world. Even field visits could not dispel the doubts about that. However, we were able to see with our own eyes how bad the situation was in the country. A wharf, where once seaworthy boats were made, was almost deserted: work places that looked like huge barns with broken roofs and windows, old rusty boats and a lot of spilled oil on the ground. The few workers who walked around asked if I could look for a new Western owner so they had work again. I asked Solidarnosc, with its experience with trade unions of the Gdansk wharfs, if they could do something but it was hopeless. 
A fertilizer plant proved to be a gift from China who had given it away because it was outdated. I have no knowledge of chemical plants, but you could see that this one was ready for demolition. The surrounding areas were heavily polluted with chemical waste. Enquiries showed that they knew nothing about chemistry and environmental pollution. The few workers also asked me if I knew someone in Western Europe that might be interested to buy the factory (during my visit to Cuba in 2010, I saw the same situation in a garment factory and a factory for large flowerpots. The same shabby equipment and poor quality of the products).

Gezim Kalaya, President of the Independent Trade Union of Miners & Geologists of Alabania.

In a OECD report of 2002 the following is said about the Albanian trade unions: There are a number of free trade unions in Albania. The two main trade union groups are the Confederation of the Trade Unions of Alabania KSSH and the Union of the Independent Trade Unions of Albania BSPSH. A third union, the Independent Federation of Miners and Geologists, is active but membership is low due to the decrease in the number of individuals working in the mining industry. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs reports that together the KSSH and BSPSH have approximately 285,000 members, the trade unions have become increasingly weak, and their influence is primarily limited to state-owed companies.” ( “Anti-corruption Measures in SouthEastern Europe, Civili Society's involvement” page 25 and 26)

The most disappointing was that ACLI did nothing to provide some follow-up to the Albania mission. Since it was impossible to serve all the former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe from Brussels, I tried to link some new organizations to a member organization of the WCL. At that time Italy was the only country that knew the Albanians more or less. Many Albanians looked during the communist dictatorship illegally to Italian TV stations. It was their only window on the world. Some had even learned to speak Italian by TV. But as I said, ACLI remained silent.

Friday, December 13, 2013


The last picture I made of Emilio Maspero, was in November 1991 during the general assembly of CLAT Netherlands. Second from left is Emilio Maspero. To his left is Leonie van Bladel, President of CLAT Netherlands. To his right CLAT deputy general secretary Enrique Marius. Standing in front of the painting of the Dutch Queen Beatrix, made in Haiti, Hedy d'Ancona, Minister of Culture.
Unlike the European trade unions, the unions on the American continent don't have a common project similar to the European Union. On the contrary, until recently CLAT was convinced that the North American labor movement defended interests opposed to those of Latin America. At the time of the Cold War the AFL-CIO even placed the interests of the U.S. above the struggle for democracy and social justice in Latin America by defending the foreign policy of the US sometimes together with military intervention (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Chile etc) and even supporting dictatorships (Paragua, Nicaragua) . Has this been changed since the end of the Cold War? Maybe nowadays the AFL-CIO feels more connected with the Latin American trade union struggle for democracy and social justice than before but the question remains which model the AFL-CIO sees as the most appropriate for Latin America? That of neo-liberal capitalism, which has indeed brought much prosperity for North American workers, or the European model with its social dialogue, its network of social and health services, protection of the labor market etc.?

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez identified himself strongly with the Great Liberator Simon Bolivar (digital photo composition by Petrus)

In this ongoing debate between the northern and southern part of the American continent, which was conducted by CLAT with a certain ferocity, the Twentieth-Century Socialism of Venezuelan President Chavez sowed once again confusion. Just then also died Emilio Maspero (2000), the man who had made CLAT great with his intellectual power and energy. And if that was not enough, shortly thereafter from Europe came the first rumours about a merger of the WCL with the ICFTU. For CLAT General Secretary Eduardo Garcia, who had become the successor of Emilio Maspero, it must have been difficult times. How CLAT was going to continue without the WCL because it became soon clear that particularly the Belgian ACV/CSC was serious about the merger (under pressure from the Walloon side ). Without WCL there would be no more international political and financial backing for CLAT. The merger of WCL with ICFTU would certainly lead to financial problems and that would be very bad at all for CLAT with its headquarters and training and education center UTAL in Venezuela, the very country of President Chavez.

The tragedy is, that despite the many millions of dollars in aid from Europe during the last decennia, the CLAT had not succeeded to become financially independent. There are many causes for this. First of all the overall lack of political stability in Latin America due to poverty , social injustice , undemocratic political leadership , unemployment , the place of the military in the political system ( in some Latin American countries the budget of the army is many times larger than for example of the ministry of education or social services programs ), and so on. The second cause is the inability of unions to develop a sound financial policy. Solidarity is a commonly used word in Latin America, but it appears very difficult to put it into practice. Besides, trade union members feel more like a victim without self-esteem than people with confidence in the future. Many trade unions promote this culture of "being victim", not realizing that this undermines the confidence of their own members. All this is reinforced by a widespread lack of trade union democracy and transparency, whereby many trade unionists distrust the trade union and do not see their own trade union as their own responsibility. The consequence is that the payment of trade union contribution is low and irregular.

Opening of the UTAL in 1975. From left to right: Victor Duran who became later Director of UTAL, José Merced Gonzalez who was also WCL Confederal Secretary and Rangel Parra, General Secretary of the Latin American Federation of small Farmers (FCL).

Of course, CLAT also looked for other financial sources than membership fees, to finance its budget. For an international organization this is not easy . Nevertheless, with foreign aid in the course of decades, many projects have been set up , designed to make possible self-financing of CLAT. Many of these projects failed, due to lack of entrepreneurial and management skills. To lead succesfully a business requires other skills than leading a union. For example, thanks to the support of the Dutch NOVIB , CLAT had in the seventies its own printing company in Caracas, Venezuela . Despite the support of two Dutch experts paid by the NOVIB, the company had to be sold after some years . CLAT has also tried to reduce the costs of UTAL by renting it to outsiders but also failed to a large extent and had to knock back on the doors of European donors.

On WCL Board Meetings Emilio Maspero talked about opportunities to present projects in the various bodies of the European Union to support the WCL and its regional organizations, including CLAT . He spoke at one point even about the golden mountains of the European Union. A misunderstanding that I would have liked to make clear to him, but I believed this was a matter of discussion to be led by WCL chairman Willy Peirens. As a member of the Steering Committee of the European Trade Union Confederation ETUC, he was well informed that the European Union was the domain par excellence of the ETUC. Since WCL unions are a minority in the ETUC it was hardly possible to make use of EU funds. In the framework of the Phare-Tacis program repeatedly it has been tried to present projects with the aim to build democratic unions in Ukraine and Belarus. But one way or another, those WCL projects never met all bureaucratic requirements . After being rejected two, three times, while others less well–founded projects were approved , there was no other choice but to give up.

Left we see Arie Hordijk (1927-2010), former Secretary General of CNV Netherlands. he is one of the speakers inuring a protest against cutting back aid for development before the Dutch Parliament. In the middle Gerrit Pruim, Secretary of CNV Aktie Kom Over (changed to CNV Internationaal). The Dutch confederation CNV organized  the protest. On the right you see as one of the speakers the Dutch politician Cor Kleisterlee.The other speaker was professor Jan Tinbergen, Nobelprize winner for his work on macro-economics.  Hordijk together with CNV chairman Lanser played an important role in the transformation of the International Christian Trade Union Confederation (ICTUC) into the World Confederation of Labour (WCL). Based on personal experiences and meetings with trade union leaders in the Third World, they came to the conclusion that a purely Christian international had no future while religiously inspired unions do have.

Indeed , the ACV/CSC was watching that even the possibility of a conflict between the ETUC and WCL on available European funds for the WCL or its regional members, should be avoided. Thus, the WCL was not allowed to become a member of the Christian Democratic oriented European Centre for Workers' Questions EZA (the work of EZA is supported financially by the European Union), despite the request of the then new chairman Arie Hordijk, former General Secretary of the CNV ( a key member of WCL) and EZA General Secretary Joachim Herudek. It was said that EZA was an unfair competitor of the European Trade Union Institute ETUI, the Research and Education Center of the ETUC. But to my great surprise the WCL became member of EZA inmediately after the arrival of General Secretary Willy Thys (former ACV/CSC Boardmember). I can only imagine that this was possible because of a certain kind of understanding with the ETUC on the future merger of WCL and ICFTU . The pieces on the European chessboard were slowly pushed in the direction of the merger between WCL and ICFTU while most WCL members stood outside the game.

Before his retirement Joachim Herudek was Secretary General of EZA. 

Curiously but appropriate in this setting, was the prohibition of Willy Peirens to lobby at the Christian- Democratic oriented European People 's Party EPP and other Christian-Democratic personalities at high political positions. Looking for financial support for the 23th WCL World Congress that would be held in Mauritius in 1993, Carlos Custer and myself had a conversation with Miet Smet, Christian-Democratic Minister of Employment and Social Affairs in Belgium . During that time Belgium had the Presidency of the European Union. Therefore Minister Miet Smet was also President of the European Council of Ministers of Labour. We believed she could give a financial hand to our international seminar prior to the Congress by delivering one or more speakers funded by the EU or some other kind of financial support. The WCL president rejected our efforts declaring that the Minister of Labor made life of ACV/CSC difficult. The argument that we spoke to her as the President of the European Council of Ministers of Labor and not as a Minister of Labor of Belgium, was not accepted.

The WCL Board Members at the 23 Congress 1993 in Mauritius. From left to right: Bogdan Hossu, President of Cartel alfa Rumania, Anton Westerlaken, President of CNV Netherlands, Emilo Maspero General Secretary CLAT, Willy Peirens President WCL and ACV/CSC Belgium, Akpemado General Secretary ODSTA, Michel Bovy, President International Trade Federation FIOST and Belgium Transport Trade Union. Re-elected General Secretary Carlos Custer just walks away.

In the same period I had a similar experience after a meeting with Leo Tindemans (1922-2013), former Belgian Prime Minister and former president of the Christian Democratic European People 's Party EPP . Although Leo Tindemans clearly demonstrated to be ready to establish contacts with the WCL , which he knew well from earlier times, WCL President Willy Peirens did not want to give a follow-up arguing that ACV/CSC had bad experiences with him on national policies. Again, the argument that Tindemans now is more a European than a Belgium politician was not accepted. Once again the WCL was blocked to develop contacts with one of the most powerful political parties in the European Parliament and the European Commission. I was wondering why this was happening because I was sure that ETUC and ICFTU officials maintained contacts with high ranking European Social-Democratic politicians. Also it was very frustrating that ACV/CSC representatives in the WCL Confederal Board insisted upon me as a confederal secretary for Europe, to lobby for more financial support for the WCL, but in practice I had no room for lobbying within the European Union. The result was that on European level the WCL became more and more a political orphan. How could the WCL survive in such conditions?

To be continued

Friday, December 6, 2013


Santiago Pereira, Secretary General of the Chilean Confederation CCT affiliated to CLAT in his office in 1991, one year after Pinochet left Government.
Left and right in Latin America continued to fight against each other, with or without weapons, but always with the involvement of the U.S.. In Chile, by domestic opponents, the army and with the help of the U.S. , the democratically elected leftist President Allende of the United People Coalition was overthrown (1973). The result was years of repression under the dictatorship of General Pinochet. The example of the Chilean putch was followed by generals in Brazil and Argentina. The unions in those countries were controlled by the dictatorship. Trade unionists were murdered. The supposed rise of the left crashed into violence and oppression of the Latin American armies. Restoration of the rule of law would then take decades.

After the Sandinist revolution the Nicaraguan Confederation of Workers CTN resited the severe attacks of the Sandinista Government. In 1988 he was together with 3 CTN members and other protestors arrested in Nandaime. Because of international pressure he was freed after a short time in prison. (Photo 1983)

CLAT tried to survive among all this violence as a democratic , humanistic, social – Christian oriented trade union movement, but it was not easy . Again that was the case in1979 after the victory of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua . Like in Cuba, after the victory of the revolution, Marxist oriented Sandinistas started to make life difficult for democratic trade unions. CLAT had not only to keep fighting against conservative, employer oriented regimes but also against left-wing regimes who believed in dictatorship as an answer to injustice, exploitation and poverty . Thanks to support from Europe including the WCL but also European NGO's , CLAT managed to survive, but always distrusted by both sides. 

The fall of Communism made a temporary end to the radical, revolutionary Marxism as a viable alternative to development and social justice, but it brought at the same time the victory of American neoliberalism . CLAT General Secretary Emilio Maspero did not hesitate and declared war to neoliberalism. He analyzed that neoliberalism together with the proposal to create an American Free Trade Zone, would degrade Latin America into a large supermarket in which the U.S. can buy what it needs and the workers will stay poor.

This photograph has been taken in 1982 during a visit to CLAT Netherlands (a solidarity organization with CLAT). From left to right: Kees van Kortenhof (coordinator of CLAT Netherlands), Carlos Custer (Confederal Secretary of WCL), Emilio Maspero (Secretary General of CLAT), Ernesto Molano (Secretary General of the World Federation of Industrial Workers WFIW/WCL) Wouter van Dam (President of CLAT Netherlands) and Juan Marcano, Secretary General of the Venzuelan CGT, affiliated to CLAT.

Also according to Maspero the answer to this challenge or provocation of the U.S. was a kind of Latin American Union along the lines of the European Union. Unfortunately, in every day Latin America this is more a dream than a practical possibility. A project of such magnitude requires at least a minimum of common understanding, political and financial stability, economic growth and governments that can assert its power to all corners of the country. Already only the lack of mutual trust makes it difficult to come to a common market, let alone into a Union with open borders and common directives like in the EU. And we're not even talking about the U.S., which from a hegemonic position can play with the political and economic interests of each and every country.

The result was that one cooperation pact - the Andean Pact in 1969 – was followed by another – Mercosur in 1991 - without the first pact having given a significant result. In 1994 another new attempt was made to create a common Latin American market with a common economic policy. The Andean Community and Mercosur merged into the Union of South American Nations, an organization modeled as the European Union. Unfortunately Emilio Maspero could not witness this anymore. He died on the 31 of May 2000. Was this what Emilio Maspero had dreamed of and finally Latin America give a common response to the challenges of the U.S.?

It was precisely the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who spoiled the game with his Bolivarian Socialism, a variation on the Marti Socialism of Fidel Castro. Balanced policy to achieve a common Latin American market and economy, was replaced by anti-American rhetoric. Chavez used his petrodollars to set up his own alliances. Once again the result was regional political instability and confusion. Again the Latin American institutions were not strong enough to resolve the disagreements in concert. As a true caudillo Chavez made his own one-man show. With his death in 2013 this all came to an end. Since then it has become calm in Latin America and little heard from a possible common Latin American policy, common market and directives.

Photograph taken at the UTAL, San Antonio de los Altos, Venezuela during a mission of three members of the Dutch parliament to Venezuela, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Haïti organized by CLAT-Netherlands. From above left clockwise: Harry Aarts of the Christian Democratic Party, Aad Nuis of the Democrats 66, Harry van den Bergh of the Social Democratic Party, José Merced Gonzalez of CLAT and the translator.

The intellectual and organizational capacities of Maspero in this new Latin American political crisis were sorely missed . What should be the attitude of CLAT facing the Venezuelan government of Chavez ? For or against Chavez, in both cases it would become difficult. To be against Chavez and his supporters meant surely difficulties for CLAT, with its headquarters and training and educational center UTAL still in Venezuela . Supporting Chavez would mean CLAT to choose against its own principles in favor of an authoritarian Marxist nationalist leadership in which the trade union is subjected to state and government. Whatever the new leadership of CLAT would choose, difficulties would be there.

To make things even more difficult, in the meantime the merger between WCL and ICFTU was announced which meant CLAT would loose its international support. Was this the reason that CLAT decided so surprisingly quick to merge with the ORIT? But on what common ground they are standing? The European trade unions united in the ETUC have at least the European Union as a common project with the aim to defend and extend the welfare state in times of globalization. Will there be in the near future an Inter-American Union with the dollar as a common currency (you don't believe the US will change its dollar for an inter-american currency like the Germans changed the Deutsche Mark into the Euro)? Will there be an Inter-American Parliament and an Inter-American Government like the European Parliament and the European Commission? Will there be common borders (the Rio Grande will disappear), a common market (an inter-american supermarket), a common foreign policy, and finally a social Latin America?

As far as I know such a common interregional project does not yet exist in the Americas. On the contrary, the US is still exporting its neoliberal, free market model to Latin America and the rest of the world. It's true, this model has given wealth to a large middle class, which reaches to the skilled workers in the US. Do Latin Americans now think that this model can also be applied in their continent? But probably it is already very important that the Latin and North American trade unions together stand for democracy and the civil society as the only way to live together. It seems that these are very interesting topics for debates between the North American and the Latin American unions. But may be there have been also other reasons for CLAT to merge with ORIT?

To be continued

Saturday, November 30, 2013


On the cover of the book a photo of his father August as a young man.On the backside we read the following: "My father was a great trade union man. From Europe he brought the Christian trade union movement to Africa, Asia and Latin America. My father was a great catholic.He was one of the first laymen who got access to the Second Vatican Council. And yet he pointed Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus towards his trade unions."
Geert van Istendael, son of the former secretary general of the International Christian Trade Union Confederation August Vanistendael (see previous blog), is a writer, poet and essayist. He wrote a book about his father, titled "Gesprekken met mijn dode god" (conversations with my dead god). It contains the following passage about his father's work in Latin America.

"Most he loved Latin America. There he had started with $ 300 and only one man. From Tijuana to Punta Arenas , from the pampas to the Popocatepetl he had to conjure out of nothing the trade union. The brave one has disappeared long ago into the past, the trade union federation even in this ultra- Catholic half- continent remained a minority , but fighting spirit it had, like no other one. They could tease him until his death, these Latinos , they conspired and intrigued as wild wood spiders. In a letter to his home, he calls the trade union there a pigsty . They like to live in disorder, they proclaim chaos as the fundamental principle of workers' struggle . But in 1954 the Confederacion Latinoamericana de Sindicalistas Cristianos (Latin American Confederation of Christian Trade Unionists CLASC) was founded, in 1968 it was renamed or should I say de-baptized into Central Latinoamericana de Trabajadores (Latin American Confederation of Workers CLAT) , which then again in 2008 has been absorbed by the broad social democratic trade union movement " ( Geert van Istendael, Amsterdam / Antwerp 2009 , p.158 )

Indeed, Latin America is chaos and disorder as a result of political instability, bureaucratic arbitrariness, corruption and poverty. You may become annoyed about this, but at the same time admire the talents of the common man to stay upright. Latin Americans are masters at improvising. Despite the political, economic and social chaos, they know to make the best of it. What a contrast with Europe, where enthusiasm and joy often perish between rules and bureaucracy.

It is very strange to see the image of Stalin in Mexico City on the 1 May Parade (1978) while former Soviet Leader Leon Trotsky during his exile in Mexico City was brutally murdered by  a secret agent of Stalin in 1940. 

But trade unions were not new in Latin America. Partly thanks to the European immigrants, trade unions have been around in Latin America since the 19th century, mostly anarchist or Marxist-oriented (see for example “Historia del Movimiento Obrero en America Latina” written by Victor Alba, Liberos Mexicanos Unidos 1964). New was the idea of a social-christian oriented trade union movement. The classic trade union movement preached class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat, some of them were political fundamentalists, or they were bribed by Government and political parties. It went so far that some trade unions had no problem to cooperate with a military or party-dictatorship in their country. The trade union was not so much a movement for the emancipation of workers as well an instrument of one or another political party. The gap between rich and poor stayed as it ever was. CLAT wanted to change this by giving back the trade union movement to the workers so they could decide for themselves about their destiny. That is why CLAT used the slogan “Solo el pueblo salva el pueblo” (only the people can save the people).

The Cuban Revolution (1959) and the subsequent revolutionary movements in Colombia like the ERLN with the priest Camilo Torres and the communist FARC (still existing and nowadays negotiating a peace agreement with the Colombian government in Cuba), the Tupamaros in Uruguay, the Montoneros in Argentina, and much later, the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua (1979) brought no real change. The liberation theologians with their so-called grassroots groups and the labor movement generally proved powerless.

That the position of the new star trade union star CLASC would become difficult between the existing trade unions, governments and polictical parties including the leftist revoltionary, became already clear inmediately after the victory of the Cuban revolution (1959). CLASC secretary general Maspero went inmediately after the victory of the revolution to Cuba, where he gathered with young leaders from the Catholic Working Youth, an organisation to which he had belonged also. They had risked their lives by supporting the revolution in the cities. Together with these young men Maspero made a press statement in which the position of CLASC was explained (original text in Spanish).

José Gomez Cerda is a trade union leader from the Dominican Republic who has had also  some international positions like for example Secretary General of the World Federation of Agricultural and Food Workers (WFAFW) and nowadays he is Persident of the Latin American regional federation for retired workers CLATJUPAM. On his website "Accion del Movimiento de Trabajadores en Internet" ACMOTI you find a lot of data on the trade union movement in the Dominican Republic as well as Latin America and International. 

"We fully support all revolutionary intentions aimed to implement of agrarian reform, industrialization, economic development, tax reform, fair distribution of wealth, full employment, 
 economic independence, political sovereignty, provided that all these efforts will not be used to consolidate the revolution as an end in itself, but to allow more full and effective exercise of human freedom and the construction of a new and fair society.”

... We declare finally that the Social Doctrine of the Church, inspired by humanist and Christian values, human dignity, social justice, freedom and social solidarity, are strong and effective enough to serve as a foundation for all revolutionary efforts to
build a new and better economic, social and political order ... " (José Gomez Cerda, "Emilio Maspero:el dirigente syndical").

From left to right: Mercedes Barcha, Gabriel Marquez (Gabo), Teresita Gonzalez and Reinol Gonzalez Photograph taken during the visit of Gabo and his wife in Miami where Reinol and his wife Teresita live in exile.  Reinol wrote also a book on his time in jail on Cuba called "Y Fidel creo el Punto X, un testimonio revelador sobre el régimen de Castro",Saeta Ediciones, Miami-Caracas 1987.

But Castro had become communist. Democrats and former revolutionaries like Reinol Gonzalez were put aside and then eventually disappeared for years behind bars. Others, such as Jose de Jesus Plana and Eduardo Garcia Mouro, had fled the country. CLAT and August Vanistendael have worked a long time to get out of jail Reinol Gonzalez. With the help of the Colombian writer Gabriel Marquez (Gabo) he was released in 1977. He then had been in jail 16 of the 30 years for which he was convicted. Jesus Plana came to work at the UTAL, the workers' education and training centre of CLAT in Caracas. Eduardo Garcia was elected deputy general secretary of CLAT and became one of the main fellows and friends of Emilio Maspero.

Second from left Emilio Maspero during the opening of the UTAL in 1975. On his left Eduardo Garcia followed by Henry Molina, José Jesus Plana (first Director of UTAL) and Acacia Maspero.

Despite this setback in Cuba, Maspero continued following his own path for what he called the liberation of Latin America. He refused to accept the Cold War for Latin America and to stand at the side of the U.S. He did not succumb to the pressure of the North American State Department and the AFL-CIO. “In September 1960 Maspero was invited by the State Department of 
the United States and met with key leaders of the AFL-CIO, including George Meany (president of the AFL-CIO from 1955 until 1979), Rumualdi and Serafino. These meetings were conflictual and have not contributed anything positive to the relations between CLASC and the AFL-CIO." (idem José Gomez Cerda)

From left to right: Rangel Parra (Secretary General of the Federacion Campesino Latinoamericana FCL), Sjef Houthuys (President of the Belgium trade union confederation ACV, Emilio Maspero (Secretary General CLAT) and Eduardo Garcia (Deputy Secretary General of CLAT). UTAL was financed by European trade unions like the Belgium ACV and the Dutch CNV and for a large part also by the German Christian Democratic "Konrad Adenauer Stiftung" and the Dutch NGO "NOVIB". 
So Maspero was not the man to surrender whatever the situation may be. He refused to compromise or to moderate his positions even when this brought him a clash with August Vanistendael, the man who had stood also at the cradle of CLASC.
"Emilio Maspero had its own personality, and was always provocative, both with governments, employers, international organizations ... 
 as within his own organization, but always with his own positions and alternatives to problems. His first internal conflict, in early 1961, was with the President of CLASC (José Goldsack) and General secretary August Vanistendael of the International ChristianTrade Union Confederation ICTUC (predecessor of the WCL), about the positions of the Christian trade unions in Colombia. While Goldsack and the Secretary General of ICTUC advocated a prudent policy towards ORIT organizations in Colombia (
there existed already Christian trade unions before CLASC was born) Máspero faced the sectors with another trade union affiliation.” (idem José Gomez Cerda)

to be continued