The 16th Congress of the World Federation of Trade Unions Athens, Greece, April 6-10, 2011
Written by Zoltan Zigedy, MLToday
Republished by www.wftucentral.org
“We shall produce an open, class oriented, democratic congress, all together workers, men and women, fighters from all the branches, all of us who have voluntarily joined the rows of the class struggle against capital and imperialism.”George Mavrikos, General-Secretary, WFTU, opening remarks, April 6, 2011.
“…against capital and imperialism…” defined the work of the five day Congress of 881 delegates and observers from 104 countries assembled in Athens in early April. Representing nearly 80 million workers world-wide from well over 200 labor organizations, delegates to the Congress assembled to assess the work of the Federation and plan for the future struggle “against capitalist barbarism, for social justice, and a world without exploitation.”
Since its inception in 1945, the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) has been the vanguard of workers’ struggles throughout the entire world. Despite efforts by the minions of capital and class collaborationist trade union leaders to split, marginalize and subvert it, the Federation has endured as a beacon of class struggle, anti-imperialism, peace and internationalism.
Founded as a worldwide center for workers’ organizations inspired by the broad antifascist unity resulting from the victory in World War II, the WFTU swiftly became the target of those most threatened by working class unity and militancy. Stirred by anti-Communist hysteria and pressured and supported by the agents of capital, US and UK unions, along with their subservient friends, destroyed this promising unity by leaving the Federation to form the provocatively named International Confederation of “Free” Trade Unions in 1949. Besides destroying the unity and primacy of workers’ interests, the breakaway Federation – enchained by Cold War ideology – became the center for appeasement and collaboration with capitalism and a propellant for divisive anti-Communism.
The World Federation of Trade Unions suffered a severe blow with the demise of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist countries. Socialist countries offered generous material assistance to the work of the Federation and, with this support removed, the WFTU had to regroup to offer workers an international center for class struggle.
Nonetheless, the Federation persevered through the difficult period of capitalist triumphalism and reactionary ascendancy. Moving its headquarters from Prague, Czech Republic to Athens, Greece, the WFTU began a steady, determined ascendancy back to leadership of the world’s most class conscious, anti-capitalist workers.
The now consolidated WFTU took even bolder steps after the Havana Congress in December of 2005 with new leadership and the energetic, capable direction of General-Secretary George Mavrikos.
Since the Havana Congress, 2005
Dynamic leadership and ideological firmness combined to grow the WFTU since 2006. Over the last six years, the Federation has added 89 new affiliate organizations and re-vitalized many regional and sector organizations. Through persistent work, Trade Union Internationals – units organized around key industrial and service sectors such as transport, construction, metalworking, education, public sector and so forth – have been established and energized to spur initiatives in these areas. Organizing meetings and conferences, the WFTU has established links with nearly every national and regional federation where class struggle is on the agenda. In addition, the WFTU put action to words by initiating international solidarity campaigns with struggles emerging throughout the world. The organization brought consistent, uncompromising anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist understanding to all its campaigns.
Life confirmed the resolve of the Havana Congress to “…enhance the militant characteristics as a class oriented trade union organization able to unite the workers to the struggle against capital.” With the profound capitalist crisis breaking out in 2008, confidence in employee/employer cooperation suffered a severe blow, undercutting the authority and relevance of class-collaborationist unionism embedded in the International Trade Union Confederation, the trade union center spawned by the International Federation of Free Trade Unions. Workers world-wide turned to the WFTU for leadership against the predation and inhumanity revealed by the devastation of working class living standards by a wounded capitalist system.
Much credit belongs to the many trade union organizations that materially supported the WFTU through its most difficult years. Organizations throughout the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America provided funding for the Federation to keep the spark of militant, class-struggle unionism alive. In recent years, PAME, the Greek All Workers Militant Front, has made a signal contribution in terms of both funding and key cadres. PAME, founded in 1999, is the federation uniting workers, small business people, independent farmers, students, youth, and women in the struggle against the capitalist policies ravaging Greece. They have emerged as the leading force against the EU and IMF imposed austerity now destroying Greek living standards. PAME’s disciplined, organizational imprint was felt throughout the Congress, from the smallest detail to the enthusiastic, militant tone permeating the Congress. Similarly, they have been the backbone of the WFTU revival.
A Celebration of Success and the Resolve to Win
The enemy is one, imperialism! Capitalism is not our world. It’s the New World, socialism! The worker’s right is our law and not the capitalist’s profit! Come on people, don’t give up, the only way is to resist and fight! A chant taken up by the militant workers of PAME throughout the Congress
On April 6, the 16th Congress of the WFTU opened with a rousing demonstration attended by over 4,000 working class citizens of Athens and international delegates and observers. After energetic, stirring songs and chants, the delegates, observers and friends witnessed a video tracing the 65 years of WFTU action. Gloria Restrepo of Fenaltrase, the National Federation of State Service Workers, a component of the Colombian Workers Confederation , greeted those in attendance, asking for a moment of silence for those martyred in the class struggle since the last Congress. Restrepo was one of over 180 delegates from Latin America, coming from almost every Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking country in the Americas. Greetings from political leaders throughout Greece were conveyed by the WFTU President, Muhammad Shaaban Azouz.
Mavrikos rallied the assembly with a speech outlining the role, successes and prospects of the WFTU:
The participation in the Congress has exceeded all expectations… The great interest for our Congress was expressed through proposals and written texts that have arrived from all corners of the globe… In total we received 1,850 pages of suggestions and comments…
[O]ur meeting takes place at a crucial period, a period that has two basic characteristics. One is the deep crisis of the capitalist system and the escalating war against workers that leads millions of workers to massive unemployment, misery, poverty, migration and the other is the growing aggressiveness of imperialism by military means and interventions…
Faced with these anti-labor policies, the working class in many countries in five continents has resisted and disobeyed, it has organized big strikes, important events and multiform activities. We deeply realize that the capitalist mode of production has nothing else to give but barbarism…
In the same period we took advantage of any existing possibility… as we did for the murders of trade unionists in Colombia, in Philippines, for the five Cubans who are illegally imprisoned in the US etc…
We see it [the intensity of imperialist conflicts] in a very characteristic way these days in Libya where under the pretext, the fake excuse of protecting civilians, the aircrafts of the imperialists, the EU and NATO are bombing Libya. They are the same people who supported the undemocratic regime of Gaddafi, with whom they were taking pictures and were signing profitable contracts after having organized internal reactions; they are now bombing and killing the people of Libya… When Gaddafi announced that he will not renew its contract with such oil companies as the French Total, the Italian ENI, British BP, the Spanish REPSOL, Exxon Mobil, then the secret services of France, Great Britain and Spain begin their work to organize the so called anti-regime in eastern Libya. And it was then that the bombing begin….
What international trade union movement [does] the global working class movement need today?
● A movement that is compatible and allied with the capitalist system to “modernize it? Or a movement that will represent the working class and its allies and will be in conflict with the capitalists to overthrow the exploitation system?
● A movement that will support the imperialist war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya, in Yugoslavia? Or a movement that is in conflict with imperialism and the unjust wars and that will struggle for peace and friendship among all people?
● A movement that seeks to unite the working class to cooperate with the monopolies and multinationals in the line of class collaboration? Or a movement which will follow the line of class struggle and unite the entire working class based on its class interests?
● A movement that supports Israel’s policies, which slanders Cuba, defames Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Iraq, and North Korea? Or a movement of proletarian internationalism that is firmly on the side of the Palestinian people to have its own homeland, to support the Cuban revolution and defend the right of every people to decide alone on the present and future?
● A movement, bureaucratic, elite, of luxurious offices, with rich salaries through corruption and transactions? Or a movement whose leadership and cadres, in local, sectoral, regional and international level will be identified with the working class, the poor peasants, youth, women, landless, immigrants and indigenous?
The General-Secretary of the WFTU elaborated further on the following days of the conference. Mavrikos noted the deepening crisis of capitalism marked by massive and growing unemployment, the enormous debt piled up from rescuing capitalist enterprises and for military adventure, and the escalating battle against workers through work-place “flexibility”, destruction of social benefits, privatization, and increased exploitation. He projected unemployment as the most important issue and committed the WFTU to the fight for a 35 hour week/7 hour working day.
He cited the deaths of 2 million workers in the work place every year as an example of capitalist indifference and the 22% increase in military spending from 2007-2008 as an example of waste and imperialist war mongering.
Mavrikos pledged to grow the Federation, preserve its militancy and further the work advanced since the last Congress. He warned that much of the labor movement has atrophied and that “…a trade union that does not strike is for decoration.” At the same time, he was open and candid about some of the weaknesses of the WFTU, including financial commitments, communication, and opportunism.
Over 120 delegates and observers spoke at the 16th WFTU Congress, including the Vice Chairman of the All China Federation of Trade Unions and the President of the Vietnamese General Confederation of Labor. Leaders of major organizations from Africa (OATUU), the Arab countries (ICATU) as well as numerous unions and federations in Central and South America made militant reports and statements. COSATU from South Africa had a strong and militant presence and gave indications that it will soon join the WFTU fraternity. COSATU international relations secretary, Bongoni Masuku said: “Capitalism is responsible for poverty, unemployment and illiteracy. We struggle against these conditions and thanks to WFTU we are given the chance to express our solidarity to all peoples that try to resist!”
Of course representatives from the Cuban labor movement were present and active in the work of the Congress. Salvador Valdes Mesa, General-Secretary of the Central Organization of Cuban Workers (CTC) noted: “Thanks to our socialist system and the solidarity expressed by the peoples of the world, we managed to maintain our social and trade-union rights. We have also expressed our solidarity towards the peoples of the world like in Haiti. We will struggle and participate actively within WFTU so that it becomes a wider, democratic, class oriented and anti-imperialistic organization.”
Salutes to the Congress were received and read from Raul Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Evo Morales, as well as the Presidents of Syria and Cyprus.
On the evening of April 7, delegates and observers were treated to an evening of internationalism at Greek Communist Party (KKE) Athens headquarters. A brief speech by KKE Central Committee General-Secretary, Aleka Papariga, was followed by an evening of militant songs from the world-wide workers movement followed by a reception. Papariga offered:
It is inevitable, in our opinion, that today the specification of the strategy and the tactics of the labor movement is a top priority, so that it can withstand the pressure in the period of the crisis, in order to pass into the phase of counterattack, to make a serious step forward, a small or big leap, so that the negative balance of forces over the last 20 years begins to be reversed…
We assess that in the conditions of the crisis both the Communist Party and the labor-trade union movement are obliged to wage a very complex struggle. On the one hand, to create focuses and conditions for the workers based on the daily problems which the crisis is sharpening, so that wider working class masses can be drawn into action, especially younger age-groups which are relatively politically immature and have been educated in the conditions of the retreat of the world’s revolutionary labor movement and at the same time so that all these fronts in the sectors and workplaces will be united into a single movement which will fight for the overturning of the balance of forces, the overthrow of the power of the monopolies, in the direction of the socialist perspective.
Of course this is not an easy matter, because in the conditions of crisis the radicalism that develops not only comes up against state violence and ideological intimidation, but it also comes up against the systematic dissemination of reformist and opportunist views which cloud, weaken, fragment and assimilate consciousness.
However, there is no other alternative to the strategy of rupture and overthrow. Full text: http://www.solidnet.org/index.php/greece-communist-party-of-greece-/1399-cp-of-greece-greeting-of-the-gs-of-the-cc-of-the-kke-al-papariga-at-a-meeting-with-the-congress-representatives-of-the-world-federation-of-trade-unions-en-sp-ru
The KKE General-Secretary’s comments were received enthusiastically by the delegates and observers.
Before the close of the conference, George Mavrikos was re-elected General-Secretary unanimously and by acclaim, a tribute to the leadership provided by him and his team since the Havana Congress. He spoke to the enthusiastic audience:
Today we are stronger and we shall move with greater determination. We must fight against whatever weaknesses we have. You should know that we are aware that we have not done anything great, but our duty. That is the way we have been educated since we were young, and in the same way we are going to continue our work. We are working class soldiers of the working class movement in the war of bringing down the system of exploitation.
The Congress closed with the election of a new, expanded Presidential Council representative of men and women leading the working class throughout the world.
Some Conclusions and Observations
1. The Greek comrades showed their willingness, ability, and skill in organizing an event of this magnitude and significance. Their hospitality, efficiency, and warmth will leave an emotional memory for some time to come. Their authentic militancy, ideological clarity, and modest purposefulness undoubtedly will provide a well of inspiration for all in attendance.
2. The WFTU has made a qualitative leap in restoring its financial and organizational stability while establishing a leadership role among the world’s most ideologically advanced and militant workers. The prospect for growth and influence are limitless providing that we all show the same energy and determination as the leadership team.
3. The WFTU unwaveringly places anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism at the heart of its work. There is no compromise or mutation of this commitment. Equally importantly, the affiliates overwhelmingly endorse these principles as central to their work. As such, they constitute the most advanced forces in the international working class movement.
4. The road ahead is blocked by opportunist, bureaucratic, class collaborationist unionism, especially in Europe and the US. Overcoming this obstacle is critical to the unity and advancement of the international movement. This is a task to be approached with great care and sensitivity, but clear-sighted determination.
5. As a media representative of MLToday, I am honored to have participated in what may prove to be a major step forward in the struggle against exploitation and for socialism. Many thanks to our host, PAME, and long live the WFTU!
April 19, 2011