WFTU’s Historic Past, Active Present and Inspiring Future
The Founding Congress
The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) was established in Paris on 3rd October 1945. The First World Trade Union Congress (Paris, 3-8 October 1945) which voted to establish the WFTU was attended by delegates representing 67 million workers from 56 national organizations from 55 countries and 20 international organizations.
The First World Trade Union Congress was preceded by the World Trade Union Conference held in London from 6 to 17 February 1945 and which accomplished much of the preparatory work. The London Conference was attended by 204 delegates from 53 national and international organizations representing 60 million workers worldwide. The conference had as co-chairpersons, representatives of the British TUC, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) of the United States and the All Union Central Council of Trade Union of the USSR. They were assisted by three vice-chairpersons – from the CGT of France, the Chinese Federation of Labour and the Confederation of Workers in Latin America. Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the British TUC, was the General Secretary of the Conference.
The Foundation of the WFTU was thus seen as indicative of the new era that had opened with the defeat of fascism at the hands of the anti-fascist alliance of states. The working people and the democratic forces saw in that victory the new future of the world, where imperialism and colonialism would retreat and where freedom, peace, democracy and prosperity would advance for all humankind.
Basic Aims & Objectives of the founding Congress
The Constitution of the WFTU adopted in 1945 placed among the aims of the WFTU: “To combat war and the causes of war and work for a stable and enduring peace.”
The second resolution adopted by the First World Trade Union Congress outlined the principles for a fundamental charter of the rights of the trade unions and their immediate demands.
The right of the working people to organize themselves; freedom from every form of discrimination based on race, creed, color or sex; the right to work and to paid holidays; adequate rates of pay and a higher standard of living (housing, food, etc.,); social security providing guarantees against unemployment, in sickness, accidents and old age. The resolution on the “people’s right to self-determination” clearly put forward the slogan of national independence:
“Victory over the fascist powers was based both upon the united military might of the United Nations and the active struggle of the people to secure their full enjoyment of our basic liberties and the right of self-determination and national independence”.
“It would indeed be but incomplete victory if the common people in the colonies and territories of all nations were now denied the full enjoyment of their inherent right of self-determination and national independence”.
Achievement of a united movement
The first four years of the WFTU- 1945 to 1949 showed the great potential of a united world trade union movement. Despite the initial opposition of certain bureaucrats, the WFTU was given consultative status at the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. The WFTU took the initiatives for the adoption of ILO conventions on the right of association and collective bargaining. Powerful support was given to workers struggles for their rights and demands.
The WFTU organized an intense solidarity campaign in support of the anti-fascist forces in Spain and Greece managed to convince the U.N. to recommend to member states the withdrawal of their ambassadors from Madrid. The defense of trade union rights was at the heart of the solidarity actions with workers who were victims of repression, including workers in colonial territories. On two occasions, July 1946 and February 1947, special missions were sent to Iran when trade unionists were arrested and democratic liberties suppressed. a similar mission was sent, in March 1947, to South Africa following the brutal repression on striking miners.
The growth in membership and influence of the trade union movements all over the world has been most remarkable during this period. The world trade union movement actively helped the organizing process in the newly-independent countries.
Intervention of the Cold War – Setbacks, Splits and Reemergence
The split came in the shape of a letter from the British TUC, read out by its President Arthur Deakin at the WFTU Executive Bureau meeting in Paris on 19 January 1949, demanding “suspension of all WFTU activities for a period of 12 months”. He said that if this was not accepted, the British TUC would withdraw from the WFTU.
The motion was rejected as it did not fall within the competence of the Executive Bureau. The matter was referred to the Executive Committee and to the Congress. Following this, Arthur Deakin, James B. Carey and E. Kupers (Netherlands) walked out of the meeting. Soon afterwards, several organizations withdrew from the WFTU. The split was formalized. In December 1949, those who withdrew met in London and formed the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).
It is thus clear that those organizations which now constitute the WFTU never intended to divide the world trade union movement. They have always been striving to promote the unity of workers the world over.
The WFTU held its Second World Trade Union Congress, as planned in Milan from 29th June to 9th July 1949. Delegations from 61 countries were present at the Congress representing around 71 million members. The congress rejected the British TUC’s proposal to cease activities. An open Letter was adopted by the Congress addressed to trade union activists in the United States, Great Britain and other countries whose centers had pulled out of the WFTU, urging them to find a way to reach an agreement around common aims.
The 13th World Trade Union Congress (Damascus, 1994) was attended by 418 participants from 160 national, local regional and international trade union organizations representing more than 300 million workers from 84 countries on every continent. The constitutional amendments approved by the Damascus Congress define WFTU’s current aims and objectives.
As set forth in the declaration adopted by the London World Union Conference in February 1945 and the resolutions and principles adopted by the First World Trade Union Congress in Paris in October 1945, the WFTU is a democratic, class-based international trade international trade union organization of struggle of all wage-earners, which supports and encourages action by trade unions in every country to obtain the independent rights and demands of the workers, to defend their interests, to combat all forms of domination and subservience, exploitation and oppression, and to bring about socioeconomic development, and which develops and coordinates co-operations and solidarity.
Trade union organizations from all countries in the world that wish to unite on the basis of the principle of independence in order to achieve common aims join the WFTU on a voluntary basis, irrespective of differences in their political, philosophical and religious beliefs, in the race of their members, or in social regimes. As an international organization, and notwithstanding the relations established at national level by member organizations, the WFTU maintains its independence from governments, political parties and employers.
The WFTU therefore proclaims its prime objective is to contribute to the emancipation of the working people by means of struggle.
Against all forms of exploitation of people and for obtaining and guaranteeing living and working conditions for all workers which would allow them the widest possible benefits from the fruits of their labour, in order to obtain for them and their families the time and the means to live in conditions appropriate to our epoch which is one marked by the headlong progress of science and technology; against colonialism, imperialism, domination and expansionism in the economic, social, political and cultural spheres, for the elimination of racism and underdevelopment; to guarantee sovereignty, freedom and security of nations, non-interference in their internal affairs, respect for their political, economic and social independence and the establishment of a new and just international economic order, for the right to full employment and the guarantee of this right, for full and adequate social security legislation to protect workers and their families in the event off sickness and old age, and every other type of assistance and social security; for training, education and culture for all workers, thus enabling them to gain access to any responsibility or position within their capabilities, for protection of the working environment, effective measures to maintain and promote ecological standards and sustainable development, for the achievement of social, economic and political democracy, the defense and development of workers and trade unions’ right and freedoms, respect for human rights and the implementation of the Universal Declaration of Trade Union Rights, for the prevention of a nuclear war and the dissolution of all military alliances and blocs, against aggression and war and to promote international détente, the establishment of a just and lasting peace, peaceful coexistence and mutually advantageous cooperation amongst all people and among Stage; an end to the arms race, especially in nuclear arms and the total prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons and progressive arms reduction leading to general and complete disarmament.
The Organizational picture of WFTU (as per Durban Congress)
In the five years that passed from the 16th Congress until today we tried to implement the resolutions we had voted in the last Congress in Athens; Resolutions that obliged as to work for the Organizational Strengthening of the WFTU in the workplaces and in each region. The Congress mandate us to increase and enhance our numerical strength.
- In the 16th Congress we had 78 million members. Today here in the 17th World Trade Union Congress we come with 92 million members. An increase of 14 million new members. An increase of 18%.
We want to applaud all the Organizations that with their action promoted the positions and the principles of the WFTU, and they assisted in this important numerical strengthening of the family of the WFTU.
This increases in numbers is a result of collective work. It is a result we achieved all together.
Along with the increase in numbers we also made other positive steps in our organizational structure.
- 7 new Regional Offices were founded and started their operation during the past five years.
- 1 new Sectoral TUI was founded.
- More and better schools of trade union training were organized. More and more qualitative international fora and activities.
- The organizational growth of WFTU is reflected also in the participation of this Congress. In our last Congress 850 delegates took place today we have here 1520 delegates. In our previous Congress 101 countries participated. Today with us are representatives from more countries.
- In the previous Congress… trade unions participated. Today with us we have more Trade Unions.
This is the real image. We become stronger. We continue. The international working class expects so much from the WFTU. The WFTU is growing – out responsibilities are growing. our objective in the next Congress of WFTU is that the WFTU will have 100 million members from all corners of the world.
In the organizational field we also contributed greatly:
- In the creation of new Trade Unions and Federations.
- In the improvement of the functioning of Trade Union Organizations and also by
- Cultivating the need for the deepening of collectivity, of internal democracy and of respect to the membership in the base.
If we had to draw a conclusion from our action in the organizational field, we could safely say that we made significant steps forward. However, the needs are many. Everyday there are new needs, new priorities present themselves, Today the life and the expectations of the working people put upon us new complex duties. Our effort for the organizational strengthening, for the increase of membership, for the enrolment of new members, for the foundation of new trade union organizations where it necessary, for the increase of the presence of women and young workers in the leadership of the trade unions is an ongoing battle. Today we have the obligation to fulfill these objectives.
WFTU at the present time
Addressing the 103rd Plenary session of the International Labour Organization (ILO), WFTU General Secretary Com. George Mavrikos stressed the following points as WFTU Action Program.
- We call for struggle against unemployment. The unemployment kills the dreams of young people. The unemployment is an enemy of the trade union movement and an ally of the capitalists. The WFTU has declared October 3rd every year as International Action Day against unemployment and series of universally important issues. We all must take part in this struggle, with a concreate program and initiatives.
- The right to strike is in danger. Governments and the bourgeoisie have their own lecture on Convention 87. Their aim is to abolish the right to strike and place conditions that make strikes impossible. It’s the duty of all of us to defend the right to strike. Strike is a unique weapon in the class struggle and even more in our times, when the attacks against the rights and conquests of the workers are constant. It is a right, registered in the Convention 87 of 1948 and in national laws. It’s wrong to send this issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
- About a month ago, on May 13th 2014 in the town of Soma in Turkey more than three hundred of our brothers lost their lives, because the mine they were working in didn’t have the necessary health and safety measures. The employer’s thirst for bigger profits killed more than three hundred workers. For the WFTU, the struggle for health and safety measures is a basic priority. For the international class-oriented trade union movement, workers Life is the most important principle. So, the struggle for health and safety measures is a first-grade priority, along with the struggle for salaries, the struggle against unemployment.
- Today, while we are discussing here in Geneva at the ILC thousands of our brothers, our colleagues are imprisoned. Many activists in different countries are tortured; the migrant workers discriminated; Trade Union Democracy denied and deplored. We shall have to overcome the hurdles unitedly conducting militant struggles.
- Despite having over 90 million members which should entail WFTU 5 titular members in the governing body of ILO, these seats are occupied by ITUC and others through undemocratic and non-transparent procedures. As in the UN system we have been demanding proportionate representation for WFTU in the world body. We will continue the struggle for democratic functioning of ILO’s governing body.
The Political and Economic Crisis
“Neo-liberalism holds to a theory
- That the State (or Government) needs to reduce its intervention in economic and social activities.
- That labour and financial markets should be regulated in order to liberalize the enormous creative energy of the markets.
- That commerce and investments should be stimulated by eliminating borders and barriers to allow for full mobility capital, goods, service and labour.
We are witnessing a world-wide economy in which states are losing power and are being replaced by markets centered in MNCs which are the main units of economic activity in the world.
Neo-liberalism refers to the policies and processes whereby a relatively handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of social life in order to maximize personal profit. The economic consequence of these policies is, a massive increase in social and economic inequality, a marked increase in severe deprivation for the poorest nations and people of the world, a disastrous global environment, and unstable global economy and an unprecedented bonanza for the wealthy.
Thus, neo-liberalism is indeed capitalism with gloves off because profit making is the essence of democracy; any government that pursues anti-marketisation policies is anti-democratic, no matter how much informed popular support they enjoy. Therefore, it is best to restrict governments to the job of protecting private property and enforcing contracts. Neo-liberalism is merely the current version of the battle for the wealthy few to circumvent the political and civil powers of the many.
The mythology of free market also submits that governments are inefficient institutions that should be limited so as not to hurt the magic of the natural laissez-faire market. Corporations themselves are effectively totalitarian organizations operating along non-democratic lines. That our economy is centered around such institutions severely compromises our ability to have a democratic society. The corporate news media, the PR industry, the academic ideologues and the intellectual culture writ large play the central role of providing the necessary illusions to make this unpalatable appear rational, benevolent and necessary if not necessarily desirable. Through a variety of institutional mechanisms signals are sent to intellectuals, Pundits and Journalists pushing them to see status quo as the best of all possible worlds and away from challenging those who benefit from the status quo. Neo-liberalism’s loudest message is that there is no alternative to the status quo and that humanity has reached its highest level; though some periods were also designated as “end of history” in the past and events thereafter highlighted the silliness of these messages.
Economic policies dictated by the world economic trio (WB-IMF-WTO) which are driven by the MNCs operating on speculative capital. International finance system collapsed under Capitalist system. 25% of the world GDP is based as “dark face” of the free market capitalist system. Cutting Salaries of public employees, market flexibility in the labour market by cutting the cost of fringe benefits, cutting social benefits, social spending, making requirements to obtain pension more difficult, and freezing public investments, eliminating or limiting plans or policies for equality of minorities. The attempts to economically enslave Greeze and the heroic fight by the Greek working class (PAME) are recent lessons. Union-Free environment and Individual agreements in the name of Labour law reforms, governments such as the Indian Government attempts to destroy unionization, right to collective bargaining. Making easy for employees to close down factories etc. are conspired and the Indian working class is on a relentless struggle against those anti-worker measures”.
We are in need of trade union cadres at all levels. Cadres who will
- Believe in the general line and the strategic objectives of the WFTU and will implement in practice and bring to live these aims. Cadres that have faith in our demands and in the line of the WFTU. Since faith makes us bold and determined in the class-oriented struggle.
- Cadres who will love the class they belong to the working class and will fight next to their fellow workers with patience, with understanding, with substantial assistance aiming for the maturing of class consciousness of the workers, so that we evolve the consciousness of the worker.
- Cadres who will implement in practice and not only through words, the collective spirit, the principles of criticism and self-criticism. Cadres who will put the “We” over the “Me”.
- Cadres who will attack careerism, bureaucracy, corruption and elitism. Who will unmask and expose the role of the sold-out trade unionists; Cadres who will be courageous against bourgeoisie and against blackmails.
- Cadres who will defend the WFTU and its positions first and foremost inside their own countries with bravery and arguments. Not only outside of the country. Firstly, inside their own country. Inside their own sector, inside their workplace.
- Cadres who will make it their priority to help new trade unionists into become valuable leaders, so that they can become the new blood and will continue and strengthen the class-oriented trade union movement. Cadres who understand the need for constant renewal at all levels.
- Cadres who will be internationalist. Who will respect the history of the working class in their countries and internationally, who will honor the martyrs of our class and who will actively express the internationality solidarity for our brothers in need in all parts of the world?
- Cadres who will respect the traditions, the culture and the right of each worker to believe or not to believe in religions.
We are optimistic that with these criteria and with the care of all of us we will be able to form a trade union manpower who will be identified by their loyalty, their organizational, ideological and political abilities, for their militancy and courage and for their experience.
Role of WFTU – the future
The Athens pact adopted in the 16th conference of WFTU and Durban declaration of the 17th Congress called upon the working class to understand that the war conducted against the capitalists is not only economic and does not only aim at greater and deeper exploitation of the workforce but also it is a generalized war, ideological, political, cultural, social and environment one.
World over, several struggles are being launched by our affiliates as well as others. “Arab Spring” starting from Jasmine revolution, Occupy Movement etc. are some of the significant examples. Vietnam’s socialist market economy, Latin America’s ALBA, creation of CELAC (Community of Latin American & Caribbean States) China’s Socialism with its own characteristics are some alternate economic systems pursued against the neo-liberal globalization and dominant finance capital.
WFTU has advanced the international campaign on Globalization of rights – for public education, decent housing, clean water, free medicine, right to food. This is to be carried forward. These basic issues should not be continued as profit providers for capitalists. The future campaigns, demonstrations and other forms of struggles should be on the board principles-based demands;
Alternate system of Government with social ownership, control and planning.
- Radical transformations towards the new economic order built on certain principles,; economic justice, equitable development, people’s participation in the shaping of economic policy, food and energy sovereignty, Universal access to essential services & public utilities, protection and promotion of human rights, using industrial policy for creating purchasing power of the people for ensuing living wage, protection and promotion of jobs.
- Reorient budgets, repeal and reverse the policies that brought the crises. More public investment for social infrastructure.
- Progressive tax system; dismantle tax havens; arrest movement of speculative capital.
- Phase out WB, IMF and WTO to build a new international financial architecture, full scale socialization of banks.
- Every investment should result in job creation and job retention, no jobless growth.
- Abandon capitalist practices of capital-intensive industrial structure, lean model production, easy exit policy.
- From everyone according to ability; to everyone according to necessity.
On this historic day, the 75th anniversary of WFTU we shall re-affirm and carry the struggle forward to create history.
Let us again recall WFTU’s basic principles and carry on our future tasks at all levels. Unit level, national level, regional level as well as international level. The struggle brings results, the struggle is our power, the struggle is our weapon. We have to defend our right to struggle.
Let us continue to plan, to organize and to support the struggles of the workers and their fair rights.