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.

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