Conferences and certainly World Congresses are Holy High Masses where is swung with a lot of incense, where the past is celebrated and the future announced. They are feel good shows for the conference participants so that they are more motivated to make sacrifices in the form of dues payment, winning new members or to support the association.
For the WCL World Congress this was obviously not different, but with the difference that it went really well with the WCL. The WCL had succeeded to gain in Central and Eastern Europe new members, who for the first time participated at the WCL World Congress. Despite a limited number of wealthier members, WCL could finance in recent years plenty of missions and activities in Central and Eastern Europe. The Coordinating Committee for Central and Eastern and Western Europe was dynamic and active. The African trade union movement also had become more active and present in the WCL. Obviously there was going on a lot in this continent. That is why the WCL 23th congress was held on the African island Mauritius. Toolsiray Benedin, confederal secretary and colleague and himself coming from the island of Mauritius, had prepared largely well the Congress.
|An overview of the Congress hall during the official opening.|
Under the leadership of General Secretary Emilio Maspero CLAT was and remained a widely respected and well-known trade union movement in Latin America and beyond. Although internationally there should be done more, in particular in the ILO. Also in Asia, the BATU (Brotherhood of Asian Workers) went well, but there was still room for more. The WCL itself was present on international level, albeit on a modest scale, but enough to be respected, even by the ICFTU and the ILO. With some extra efforts it could only become better in the near future. Thanks to the national solidarity funds of Western European organizations, particularly from the Netherlands (CNV Aktie Kom Over, nowadays CNV International) and Belgium (World Solidarity), the unions in the continents could rely on financial and technical support for the development and / or strengthening their unions.
What were the weaknesses? The representativeness of the WCL in Europe was still insufficient. The financing of the WCL was too dependent on a few Western confederations in particular the Belgian ACV, which alone accounted for more than half of the WCL budget, followed by the Dutch CNV and then remotely by the French CFTC and Austrian FCG / ÖGB. Due to the departure of some strong unions, some International Trade Union Federations were weakened in some sectors, at European and global level. The International Trade Union Sector Action had to be built up from the ground. The emphasis was still too exclusive on the political struggle for trade union rights and labor laws. More had to be done to help workers to get better working and health conditions, to support (international) works councils, to get better collective bargaining, etc.
The official poster of the congress.
The WCL had enough staff which was well-trained. Internal streamlining, modernizing and adjustments would make more effective the WCL in the future. General Secretary Carlos Custer was a team leader who gave much responsibilities to his confederal secretaries. He had good political instincts that is why the WCL was respected everywhere. He therefore certainly deserved a second term. Therefore, I was confident that after a few adjustments, the WCL was able to continue building its future. Of course, there was still a lot of work to do but with proper and targeted efforts, there was still much to be gained.
We confederal secretaries had few contacts with the members of the Executive Committee of WCL. As managing director of the WCL Solidarity Fund and as member of the Financial Committee, both functions on request of SG Carlos Custer, I had of course regular meetings with most of them but this was always limited to formalities. They behaved more as directors of a company in stead as directors of an (trade union) association. This surprised me because working with trade unions always meant for me a different life style, a style more adapted to those we present, that is to say not to much hierarchy, a more informal way of operating and open to each other.
|Coffee break during the Congress of the staff. From left to right: Jan Cleuren (translator), Luc Vermeersch (translator), Greta Geselle (coordinator office), piet nelissen, Johan Verstraete (press), Hilde Vanlancker (translator).|
The World Congress meant the departure of Vice-President Krzysztof Dowgiałło of the Polish Solidarnosc. Thanks to him the WCL was known quickly in Central and Eastern Europe and even Russia. His position as Vice-President of the WCL was occupied by Bogdan Hossu, President of the Romanian trade union confederation Cartel alfa. I had already gotten to know him as an active and dynamic participant in WVA missions and activities. Under his chairmanship Cartel alfa had become internationally already a prestigious trade union confederation, a remarkable achievement when you take into account the situation in which his country was after the fall of dictator Ceausescu.
At the time of his vice-presidency a WCL liaison office was opened in Bucharest. That was important for maintaining and developing contacts in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. The staff spoke also Russian and of course English. They took care of the translation to and from the Russian of press releases and announcements of WCL. The liaison office prepared for missions during which the employees were also Russian-English interpreters. To save costs, the office was located in the offices of Cartel alfa where Bogdan Hossu took care of the daily supervision.