The General Secretary of the WFTU, comrade George Mavrikos addressed the following opening speech to the VI Presidential Council Meeting taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa on 9-10 February 2012.
“We are meeting ten months after the historic congress of our organisation which strengthened the WFTU. Ten months after the 16th World Trade Union Congress where the WFTU showed that it’s alive and strong, that it represents the international class-oriented trade union movement and it is able to organize open and democratic congresses. Ten months after that, the decisions that we took – ‘The Athens Pact’ is not only a question of present interest but also proves the right analyses that we made for today’s politico-economic situation and that we are ready to organize the struggle in a better way.
We meet in South Africa, in the country with a rich history of struggles and we express our respect and our appreciation to this country and its people. We express our thanks to the leaderships of NUMSA, NEHAWU, CEPPWAWU and POPCRU for their hospitality, their reception and the cover of such Meeting with the participation of high level trade unionist leaders from 28 countries of the five continents. We thank all those who have helped us to be here today.
Today, there are three basic facts in workers’ reality and life.
First of all – a deepening capitalist crisis together with an effort of the bourgeoisie to lose the minimum possible in the crisis by transferring a big burden to the working class and the popular layers.
The crisis started in the USA, embraced all Europe and it is expanding throughout the World. The crisis sharpened the inter-capitalist rivalries between the Euro and the Dollar, between Germany and France and among their allies. The crisis is used and salaries, pensions and social rights are cut while privatizations are generalized. The situation is also difficult in most African countries for ordinary people. Colonialism ended but capitalism continues. Colonialists left and come right back through transnational corporations, cartels, monopoles, through neoconservatives and social democrat governments. Africa is very rich in resources but it has very poor workers. This is confirmed by the UN data published in December 2010 on average life expectancy:
– Angola 47 years old
– Chad 49 years old
– Lesotho 47 years old
– Mozambique 49 years old
– Rwanda 49 years old
– Nigeria 49 years old
In total 16 African countries have average life expectancy under 50.
Throughout the world the great problem for the working class, for youth and working women is UNEMPLOYMENT. The capitalists, under conditions of deep economic crisis, are trying to divide a job among 2-3 part-time employees.
Unemployment, however, cannot be faced with such anti-labor policies. It will grow continuously.
On the basis of the recent data published by the ILO, there are already one billion unemployed poor workers in the World.
– 900 million workers live with “income” lower that 2 Euros per day.
– In Spain there are 5.3 million unemployed workers, 3 million in France, one million in Greece. The total real number of unemployed workers in the European Union exceeds 24 million; the majority of them women and young workers.
So the immediate task for the unions is to support unemployed workers to survive, to make sure that they have food, electricity, medicines, clean water; that they have economic and social support from the government and public institutions.
At the same time we need to uncover the causes of unemployment. To make the working class understand that a final solution within capitalism cannot be given. To understand that the struggle against unemployment is a main basic front for the WFTU.
Second, a main characteristic of this period is the tension of intra-imperialist rivalries and their expression through the tough aggressiveness of NATO, the EU and their allies.
In the last period there is a strong imperialist aggression especially against those peoples who are resisting the plans of the USA, NATO and their allies.
In Syria the foreign imperialist aggression continues. Arab countries that have kings and reactionary regimes are used to promote the plans of the imperialists. In Libya the conflicts continue. While in the Persian Gulf the imperialists, the European Union have imposed an embargo on Iran with the excuse of its nuclear program. The USA and the European Union slander socialist Cuba with the pretext of the death of a criminal in prison; Israel continues its attacks on the Gaza Strip against the Palestinian People. The Government of Turkey threatens Cyprus and it uses the “Muslim brothers”. In fact, Turkish governments are the most firm allies of the USA and Israel in the region.
The position of the WFTU is firm. The people are the only responsible to decide freely and democratically for the present and future. The WFTU is against the plans of imperialists and against imperialist wars and it organizes campaigns for internationalism and solidarity with those people suffering from the imperialists.
The WFTU affiliates and friends in Nigeria and in Africa need to be in struggling readiness because the USA, the transnational corporations and the international capital have plans for the division of the wealthy Nigeria in two or more States.
The third characteristic, we have the struggle of the working class and the popular layers that gets more intense and gives more hope and perspective to the peoples and the workers. The latter fight back and their struggle intensify every day. The example of the great strike in Nigeria with many deaths, the many months of struggle of SME in Mexico, the strike of many days of the heroic steel workers in Greece, the strike of workers in Kazakhstan, the workers in the banana plantations in Panama, the struggle of workers in the Panama Canal, in Portugal, in India, in Thailand, in Italy, in Poland, in Bulgaria, in Belgium, in the metal sector and transnational corporations in South Africa, in the food sector in Colombia, in the mining sector in Peru, in the public sector in England, the youth in Chile, the protest in Wall Street… all these examples prove that big sections of workers in all continents resist the anti-labour policies applied by both neoliberal and social democrat governments. Today, under conditions of deep capitalist crisis, under conditions of decay of the capitalist system, the struggles of workers, of poor peasants, of the youth are the optimistic hope and the only way to generalize the counterattack of workers against the system of capitalist exploitation.
Nowadays, under such conditions, the expression of internationalist solidarity is more than necessary. On one hand, the struggle of each trade union organization in its country being class-oriented, confronting the employers with acute forms of struggle and keeping pace with other popular layers are a great contribution to the internationalist duty. On the other hand, the expression of solidarity with the struggle of our comrades in other countries should get stronger. This solidarity should be a subject discussed at factories, at workplaces where workers will be informed, encouraged and will understand that they are not alone in the struggle, that working class unity at international level can bring positive results. Inside transnational corporations and strategic branches. Everywhere.
Our efforts should be at such a scale that the various arguments used by governments and the mass media to slander the working class struggles cannot be applied.
Another essential aspect of internationalism and workers solidarity is the sharing of experience, the use and transmission of this experience for struggles to become more active, to be better organized and to get better results for the working class.
We all have the duty to continuously reinforce the internationalist character of the WFTU.
What kind of trade unions we want
We as the leadership of today’s FSM claim that, under the conditions we live in, the international working class and the people need an international trade union organization which will basically have the following main characteristics and those are the characteristics that we would like and we try to have the WFTU:
1. Class orientation and revolutionary thinking, which will emphasize that we’re talking about an organization of workers that firmly fights against capital and against imperialism. Trade unions that are independent from governments and capitalists.
2. Democratic and open dealings with simple people; reforms at all levels, supporting leaders who will come from the basis of society, who will be honest, will respect criticism and self-criticism, and also discipline, leaders who will fight bureaucracy and corruption.
3. The kind of unity that will unite all workers, irrespective of sex, color or religion; it will unite workers, poor farmers and the youth in order to include them all in the fight against capital and the monopolist companies; it will unite them in the struggle and teach them not to step back or give up.
4. Its international character, workers’ solidarity, cooperation and support (both ethical and economic) for each country’s working class, for each branch that fights for its freedom, for its trade union and democratic rights, for its life and rights.
5. The use of all kinds of class struggle, from the simplest to the most complex; launching ideas and goals that will demand satisfaction of the present-day needs of all workers, and will at the same time lead to a class struggle to end the exploitation of man by man.
6. The use of international organizations to implement the ideas of the workers; coordinating the actions of different movements that are fighting for the same goals.
7. Education for the working class, especially so that the workers will love the history of their nation, the traditions, the culture and the history of the international working class movement; providing an education to make the workers cleverer as a class, to believe in the values of the class struggle, and to know the class struggle.
The WFTU has made many positive steps, but the sector with most difficulties is finances. The basic economic support that the WFTU receives comes only from seven WFTU affiliates and friends. Without the assistance of our friends the situation would be worse.
We want to highlight and to thank also the organizations that every year send us their small but constant contribution. Our organizations from El Salvador, from Colombia, Guyana, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh send small amounts of 300 or 500 Euros showing that they support our joint efforts. They send letters saying that we stand together in our struggle. These are small amounts with a very big symbolism! The problem though still remains and it is a big problem. The needs are also big.
We underline the fact that the WFTU does not receive any money from governments nor from employers.
For the year 2012, the International Action Day the WFTU we suggest to be Wednesday October 3, 2012. The success of the previous initiatives and the conditions that we live in put us in front of an additional duty for the success of the day – the organization of initiatives by all our members and friends in their countries in the framework of the Action Day.
We recommend the International Day of Action to promote the needs and the demands of workers for everyone to have food, housing, clean water, free and public health care system and education system, free medicines. We should reveal by data the millions of children dying from hunger and thirst, the millions of people who are starving, who have no medicines while their countries are rich and their natural resources have been plundered by multinationals and monopoles. An international effort should be made to reveal and condemn the reasons for this social phenomenon. The trade unions that are members of the WFTU as well as its friends should lead these actions at every workplace, in all sectors, in all countries, in order that specific initiatives to take place. Information should be gathered, protests to be organized, events to be held as ‘courts’ at the expense of multinational companies speculating on water, medicines, food, books and others. We should demand solutions to be given with no delay. The material gathered after the initiative and the actions to be deposited to the UN, ILO, FAO, and UNESCO by big delegations of our affiliates and friends.
About the prices in foodstuff, about the cartel in supply and distribution of food and seeds: to attempt in coordination with colleagues from Italy and Europe to organize a dynamic protest in the offices of FAO in Rome Italy.
The 2012 Action Plan that all of you received is very rich in activities and they are all important, all necessary. The objective of the activities is to strengthen through the trade union movement:
– The participation of young workers and women in trade unions. For this reason we will organize the meetings of working women as well as the second International Conference of Working Youth on 29-30 April 2012.
– We want to strengthen the capability for collective bargaining and trade union freedoms and we will organize two central seminars in each continent.
– We will organize four International Trade Union Congresses in the branches of Energy, Transport, Pensioners and Education.
– We will organize in Ramallah, Palestine, a big Internationalist Conference on March 22nd and another one in Brussels on the developments in the Arab World.
– In 2012 we will continue our presence and action inside the international organizations such as the UN, ILO, FAO, UNESCO and we will bring there the voice of workers.
– In Africa we will continue to pay even more attention with two central objectives: the cancelation of the debt and water, food, medicines and electricity for all.
We will organize three main seminars
Two regional conferences
Trade union education at the Central Offices
Initiative on AIDS-HIV
In the documents you have received there is a monthly detailed action plan for this year. Here we will discuss free and democratically for two days and we are convinced that the final action plan that will become after your proposals, observations and criticisms will be even richer, more current.
Comrades, after the 16th World Trade Union Congress we are more optimistic. We all got optimism, encouragement and strength. The new Presidential Council and the new Secretariat, together with the leaderships of the TUIs and the Regional Offices, have the capability and the strength to respond to our new and difficult but necessary duties.”