Friday, March 6, 2015


WCL Confederal Board with ILO Director general Somalia as guest speaker, Washington DC 2000.

Some weeks ago, to my big surprise I read on Wikipedia about the World Confederation of Labor the following about “Globalization and ITUC merger”:

As globalization became more of a threat to union membership throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the WCL increased its efforts to carry out a similar global unification of labour leadership. Its 1993 congress in Mauritius attempted to lay out a concrete strategy for responding to business attacks on organized labour around the world. The WCL soon obtained consultative status within the International Labour Organization and joined the International Council of the World Social Forum. (1)

The WCL was formally dissolved on 31 October 2006 when it merged with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) to form the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Since the time of merger, many trade unions especially in the Global South have become disillusioned with the ITUC. The dominant affiliates of the ITUC are not independent of their ruling classes, even if they organizationally seem to be, but they are politically tied to the ruling establishment.[7]. The junior employees of ITUC are paid minimally and the trade union uses ineffective retired people to save costs, whereas the management leads a lavish lifestyle”

Participants of the Coordination Meeting of Latijn  American federations affiliated to WOW,
 Santiago de Chile November 2014.

The surprise relates of course to the last 3 sentences of the paragraph above. However, to my surprise a few weeks later the last 3 sentences had disappeared from the Wikipedia article. If you look to 'view  history' (the knob above the WCL article on the right side), you will find the old paragraph (25 January).

The critical passages are based on a blog called “Trouble in theinternational labour movement: is the ITUC ready for the challengesahead?” of Andreas Bieler, Professor of Political Economy at the University of Nottingham/UK (note 7) and an article called "International trade union need to be less combative, encouragemore interaction with workers" in ANI, New Delhi, December 26, 2014 (note 8).

European Trade Union demonstration organized by the ETUC, Brussels, March 2013.
The French communist trade union confederation CGT was also present.

Bieler opens his blog with the following observation on the merger:

The establishment of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in November 2006, resulting from a merger of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labour (WCL), was greeted with enthusiasm by labour movements from around the world. A united, stronger international trade union promised greater input on global politics towards more equality. Since then, many trade unions especially in the Global South have become disillusioned with the ITUC. In this post, I will assess to what extent the ITUC is prepared for the key challenges of the global economy in the 21 century.”

Bieler distinguishes two challenges: Two key challenges for the ITUC can be identified in the global economy, the increasing inequality between developed and developing countries, between the rich and the poor, and the expanding informal sector of the economy.”

Press Conference at the office of the African Federation FPE, affiliated to WOW. Lomé, Togo, February 2014.

Bieler doubts whether the Global Union is a truly global union that can accommodate all unions in the world, either coming from the Northern or the Southern part of the world. He refers to an attack of COSATU Secretary General Bongni Masuku on the Northern dominance within the ITUC.

Dominated by the big four Northern unions AFL-CIO (USA), DGB (Germany), TUC (Britain) and RENGO (Japan), the ITUC would defend the current system and safeguard the interests of capital, it is alleged. ‘Despite much talk about trade union independence, the dominant affiliates of the ITUC are not independent of their ruling classes, even if they organisationally seem to be, but they are politically tied to the ruling establishment, hence their vociferous defence of the system’ (Masuku, 2010: 64). Ultimately, it would be the working classes of the Global South, who are the victims of this situation, as they are considered to be affected worst by ‘the viciousness of the global system’. In other words, the ITUC dominated by big Northern trade unions, is accused of co-operating with capital in the continuing exploitation of the South. Unsurprisingly, Southern labour movements increasingly question the use of the ITUC in the representation of their concerns.”

Child Labour School of the BSCWF affiliated to WOW, Bangladesh 2013

May be the words used above are a little bit to strong, but there is some truth in it. Thus I learned during the merger talks that the trade unions of the South were pressed to agree with the merger under the threat that they otherwise would not get more financial support. I also learned that the new structures and rules (statutes) left less room for trade unions from the south than was usual in the WCL and its ITF'S.

The merger was to a certain degree also Eurocentric because of the balance of power within the ETUC between the German DGB, the British TUC, the Scandinavian LO's and to a certain extent the French trade unions. The main goal was also to integrate as much as possible the large (ex)communist trade unions of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. I believe this was one of the reasons why every intent of WCL and its ITF's to look for ways to guarantee organized pluralism within the ITUC and its Global Unions was bluntly rejected.

To be continued

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