People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 21

May 21, 2006

Problems Of Unity In International TU Movement


                                                M K Pandhe


On the eve of the forty eighth Congress of CGT France, a meeting was arranged between National Committee of CGT and several leaders of the international TU movement on  April 23, 2006 at Lille (North of France) to consider the problems of unity in the world TU movement. CITU was invited to participate in the discussion.


Guy Ryder, General Secretary, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), Willy Thys, General Secretary, World Confederation of Labour  (WCL) participated in the meeting.


Bernard Thibault, General Secretary, CGT in his introductory remarks referred to the challenges faced by the trade union movement all over the world due to the policy of globalisation. The resistance by the working class to these policies cannot be effective without a powerful international trade union movement. He stressed the need for exchanging different approaches towards new unity of the TU movement with a view to evolve common understanding on these issues.


Emillo Gabaglio, leader of the European trade union movement, reviewed the background of the division in the world TU movement. He noted how the World Federation of Trade Unions was founded in 1945 when the fascist forces were on the retreat. It brought together on a common platform unions of different ideologies  and a powerful trade union center emerged to  defend the interests of the working class. The unity was, however, short-lived and on the eve of implementation of Marshall Plan, the WFTU was split and ICFTU came into existence. The division continued in the cold war period.




After dismantling of socialism in former Soviet Union and East European countries, WFTU was considerably weakened. Earlier All China Federation of Trade Unions also left WFTU during the cultural revolution period. CGIL (Italy) and CGT (France) also left the WFTU.


The division and weakening of the trade union movement at the international level enabled the capitalist class to adopt the policy of globalisation and impose onerous conditions of work on the working class. Closure of factories, growing unemployment, imposition of the right of hire and fire, downsizing of manpower and increasing the workload, increasing the hours of work and part time low paid employment, casualisation, contracterisation and outsourcing of jobs, attack on trade union and democratic rights of workers including right to strike became a global phenomenon.


Speakers who participated in the discussion highlighted these features in their speeches. The representative from Belgium pointed out that in his country right to form a union in an establishment where less than 50 workers are working is denied by legal enactment. In Colombia hundreds of trade union leaders have been murdered by the hirelings of the employers without any action by the government. In Indonesia, curtailment of trade union rights of the workers have become a matter of daily occurrence and TU activity has become increasingly difficult. In former Soviet Union countries, privatisation offensive is in full swing and the trade unions have to go on strike even to get their earned wages. The trade unions in Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have to fight against closure of several establishments and large scale unemployment. The standard of living of the workers is declining while pensionary benefits bring them below the poverty line.


The speaker from Communication Union in USA noted that his union has been fighting against the policies of Bush government. He called for strengthening of the struggle against globalisation not only in meetings but on streets also. Without a firm policy of worldwide struggle the unity of the working class cannot be possible, he observed.


Guy Ryder, General Secretary, ICFTU, called for reorientation in the world TU movement. He observed that for a meaningful dialogue in the world today within the TU movement we must be prepared to listen to the views of those who differ with us. He underlined the task of combating poverty, exploitation, oppression and inequality through united international action of the working class in a globalised economy. He advocated universal respect of the fundamental rights of workers and access to decent work as indispensable for sustainable development. He condemned all forms of discrimination as affront to human  dignity and to equality. He endorsed the need to promote, support and coordinate international trade union action on multinational enterprises and international social dialogue with international employers organisations.


Willy Thys, General Secretary, WCL, expressed his conviction that organisations of democratic and independent trade unions were crucial for the well being of the workers, their families,  and for the social progress  and prosperous future for all. “Today, more than ever in history, confronted by  unbridled globalisation, effective internationalism is essential to the future strength of trade unionism and its capacity to realise that mission,” he said. He condemned all forms of violations of freedom of association, the right to strike and the right to collective bargaining and called for mobilisation of international solidarity. He concluded by highlighting the need to develop mutual cooperation with all trade union organisations to maximise the coherence and impact of the democratic and independent trade union movement.


Decline In Union Membership


John Monks, Secretary General of Confederation of European Trade Unions, expressed concern at the low trade union membership of less than 10 per cent in most of the advanced countries. He also mentioned about growing resistance of the workers in these countries against deteriorating working and living conditions. The massive vote of the working people against European constitution was a reflection of the feelings of the workers about the unfavourable situation they had been facing. He called for strengthening the unity of the workers to resist the attacks with more determination.


He expressed concern at the growing economic crisis in the world due to steep hike in prices of petroleum products.


Focus on Developing Countries


Speakers from developing countries pointed out how under WTO regime trade relations have become more unfavourable to the developing countries as a result of which the share of the developing countries in the world trade is declining. They also mentioned about the protectionist policies adopted by advanced capitalist countries, which prevent entry of products from developing countries in their market. The trade blocks formed by them are also not favourable to developing countries. The working class movement is facing difficulties in improving their standard of living as a result of these policies.


Advanced capitalist countries are transferring highly polluting industries to the developing countries without taking necessary protective measures for the workers. The workers are thus exposed to several risks and health hazards without any protective measure from the governments of developing countries.


The speakers noted that the MNCs in developing countries do not abide by the national laws and regulations which gave them unbridled right of exploitation of the workers. The governments of these developing countries do not take any action against MNCs for fear of foreign direct investment not coming to their countries. Conditions in export processing zones all over the world are worse since no labour laws are implemented there.


They, therefore, proposed that the world trade union movement had to give up its present defensive position and become aggressive so that capitalist onslaughts can be fought  more effectively. Unity of the world trade union movement must be directed towards this objective.


Some speakers mentioned that the task of social transformation should be suitably highlighted by the united trade union movement.


Speaking on behalf of CITU, I pointed out that global finance capital is united to launch offensive against the working class which is sorrowfully divided. This has resulted in inability of the trade union movement to fight the offensive with determination. Hence unemployment is growing while downsizing of the manpower has become the order of the day. Millions of regular jobs are being converted into low paid informal jobs and closure of large number of small and medium industries all over the world is taking place with concentration of capital in the hands of lesser employers. In the name of labour flexibility, labour laws are being changed in favour of capitalists. Attacks on TU rights have now become a global phenomenon.


The dominant world trade union movement is today more concerned with the problems of developed  countries while adequate attention is not properly focused on the issues of the developing countries which are employing largest number of workers in the world today.


Attack on TU Rights


CITU noted that the policies of globalisation have played havoc in the developing countries and the government policies are increasingly dictated by MNCs and advanced capitalist countries. Consequently global as well as national inequalities are increasing adding to the army of poverty stricken population. The international trade union movement must pay more attention to the problems faced by the working class in the developing countries. Millions of jobs in IT sector are transferred from developed countries to developing countries due to low rate of wages. A large number of children are forced to work in developing countries due to poverty of their parents and mere seminars will not stop the phenomenon of child labour since it is closely linked with the question of growing poverty in the developing countries.  The conditions of women workers are deteriorating with no attention of authorities to their problems.


More and more solidarity actions of the working class all over the world are of paramount importance today to regain the losses suffered by the working class due to the ferocious attacks by the global finance capital.


The presidium welcomed the dialogue which expressed united as  well as divergent views prevalent in the trade union  movement and expressed the hope to continue the dialogue to protect the interests of the working class.


On  April 24, 2006 another meeting was convened on the question of formation of a new international organisation. TUs from Uruguay, India, Peru, Colombia, Madagaskar, Angola, CIS countries, Poland, Niger and France participated in the discussion. General Secretaries of ICFTU and WCL were also present.


The founding conference of a new world organisation after merger of ICFTU and WCL will take place in Vienna (Austria) on November 1-3, 2006. On October 30 separate meetings of ICFTU and WCL will be held to pass resolution about dissolutions of the two organisations.


The CITU expressed its inability to join the new organisation since it would prefer to remain independent to strive for still wider unity of the TU  movement in the world. It noted that the WFTU is not included in this unity and some working relations should be  established with WFTU so that worldwide action on common issues facing the working class could be organised. The CITU also felt that no worldwide TU unity is possible without involvement of All China Federation of Trade Unions, a trade union of the largest populated country in the world.


Need for Clear cut Policies


The CITU felt that a worldwide unity of the working class has to spell out clear-cut policies of the TU movement towards neo-colonialism. US imperialism attacked Iraq  on the plea of finding out weapons of mass destruction and openly talks about regime change in certain countries which do not agree with US government. The unilateral declaration of blockade of Cuba for decades in open defiance of UN resolution, the threat of attack on Iran, non-observance of UN resolution on Palestine, are all issues which international TU movement cannot ignore. We should not merely oppose war but also  struggle for total destruction of all nuclear weapons as well as disarmament.


The CITU welcomed all international dialogue between the countries of the North and South with a view to evolve common understanding and action programme to protect the interests of the working class. The CITU stood for cooperation with trade unions irrespective of ideological differences and international affiliations in the struggle against the policies of globalisation.


Both General Secretaries of  ICFTU and WCL expressed their respect for the views of the CITU and wanted to continue dialogue on the contentious issues faced by the trade union movement the world over.


The meetings held in Lille despite expression of divergent views became a forum in which an international dialogue could be started. Though inconclusive, it underlined the need for continuation of the worldwide  dialogue among trade unions of divergent views so that common understanding in the world trade union movement could be evolved.


“Workers of the world unite!” is a slogan which was never so relevant as it is today!