People's Democracy

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


No. 16

April  17, 2011



Against Capitalist Barbarism, For Social Justice




THE 16th World Trade Union Congress of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) concluded on April 10, 2011 in Athens, Greece, calling upon the working class all over the world to unite in the struggle to protect their hard-won rights which are under intense attack on the pretext of the global economic crisis; to achieve the contemporary needs of the workers and all sections of the toiling people; and to achieve a just society which, it categorically asserted, is not possible under the present capitalist system.


As many as 881 delegates and observers, representing workers from different sectors and industries in 105 countries over 4 continents, participated in the congress. The CITU, which recently decided to get affiliated to the WFTU, was represented by 20 delegates led by its president A K Padmanabhan and its secretary Swadesh Dev Roye who is also the head of its international department. Six representatives of the All India State Government Employees’ Federation (AISGEF) led by its vice president Sukomal Sen, a former general secretary of the Trade Union International of Public and Allied Employees, also participated in the congress.




After a rousing welcome to the delegates and observers by thousands of workers, mostly young men and women and students, at the inaugural session at the Faliro Pavilion on April 6, the congress had a serious discussion on the “Athens Pact” presented by the WFTU general secretary George Mavrikos. A K Padmanabhan was in the presidium of the first session.


Being held in the background of the global economic crisis, the worst since crisis of the early 1930s, the discussions in the congress focussed mainly on the impact of the global economic crisis on the working class and the strategies that needed to be adopted by the working class movement at the national and international levels to protect the interests of the workers. The report pointed out that the sharp rise in unemployment, dramatic shrinking of the real income of the workers, the reduction of social spending budgets, raising the retirement age etc, show the parasitism and decay of the capitalist system. Hiding the real fact that it was the toiling masses who were actually bearing the brunt of the crisis, the problems arising out of the crisis were presented as ‘national problems’ to impose further burdens on the workers and the common people so that capitalists, who were responsible for the crisis in the first place, could protect and further increase their profits. In Britain, the income of the rich increased by 30 per cent last year; the number of billionaires increased from 43 to 53; and 9 of them increased their wealth by more than 1 billion euros during the last year.


In the USA, the official unemployment rate is 9.5 per cent. But if we include the number of those who could not find full time jobs and of those who, unable to find any employment, stopped looking for work, a whopping 19 per cent of the total workforce is daily confronted with the spectre of unemployment there. In several countries, unemployment has reached alarming proportions, driving large sections of the American youth to crime and anti-social activities.


While science and technology have recorded huge advances, the benefits of these advances are denied to the common people. Today the world has the necessary resources and expertise for increasing global food production to meet the needs of the entire population on the planet. Yet, the number of the hungry and malnourished is increasing. As per the FAO, more than 10 crore people joined the ranks of the poor after the beginning of the crisis. Hunger was not limited to the developing countries alone. In the USA, the richest country of the world today, 4.9 crore people suffer from malnutrition. About 1.7 crore children in the USA live in households unable to provide daily meals; the number of children in the US who were left with no food at all for one day or more jumped from 7 lakhs to 11 lakhs within a year.


In 15 countries including Afghanistan and several African countries, the life expectancy at birth is as low as 45 – 49 years. It is lower for women who die in hundreds of thousands due to lack of medical care during childbirth and suffer from anaemia and malnutrition. In 37 more countries, life expectancy at birth is 50 – 59 years.


The WFTU strongly criticised the prescriptions of the World Bank, IMF and WTO for the development of the third world countries and demanded that the debt of the third world countries should be cancelled now. It declared that the debt, in fact, does not exist; it has been repaid by these countries many times over. The real debtors are those who exploit the people and the rich resources of the third world countries.


The ‘Athens Pact’ asserted that the present global economic crisis was neither the first nor would it be the last under capitalism. Such crises were systemic of the capitalist mode of production; there can be no convergence of economic and social achievements in a capitalist society.




The WFTU congress noted the experiences of the great struggles of the working class in different countries such as in Greece, Portugal, Spain, France and Italy in Europe, in Mexico and the USA, and in other countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, against the attacks on their working and living conditions. Similarly, the recent struggles against rising food prices and unemployment and also for democracy in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, etc indicate that people, particularly the young, were getting mobilised to fight for their rights. These were positive developments, indicating that the crisis provided opportunities for the awakening of the working class and the people, though equally serious problems coexist.


Unless there was a class oriented approach, however, there is a risk that these various outbursts or spontaneous movements would quickly get deflated or manipulated. Without persistent and consistent struggle against monopolies and imperialism and their associations, and without showing a complete alternative perspective, it would be easy for imperialism to redeploy its forces and to launch a counterattack.


The congress stressed the need for united struggles and united tactics of the labour movement. Such unity should not be just for the sake of unity, but aim to overthrow the power of monopolies and effect a convergence of the movements for another way of development. With such unity, solidarity and coordinated struggles only could the working class achieve gains and protect them. It was decided to organise an international meeting of trade unionists to discuss the issue of “Our Work and Coordination within Multinational/Transnational Companies” by the end of 2011.


The “Athens Pact,” unanimously adopted by the congress also pointed out that the working class, when united on a class basis, would bring to their side other sections of the people like the poor farmers, the self-employed, and the tradesmen, as allies in its struggle against the monopolies and big capital. It warned that the opponents and enemies of the workers were uniting forces under their own umbrella with the single-minded objective of suppressing the working class movement. The workers must be made conscious of the need of united struggles.




Highlighting the importance of paying special attention to organise women workers, it was pointed out that in all capitalist countries working women face cruel exploitation. Unemployment among women is higher than among men. They are the last to get jobs and the first to lose them. They mostly work in part time, insecure, uncertain and casual jobs; they are paid less than men; they get lower or no pensions; violence against women is increasing in all countries; prostitution is spreading; hundreds of thousands of women are forced to migrate within and across countries in search of employment. The proportions of illiteracy, poverty and hunger are disproportionately high among women. For example, 3/5 of children who do not go to school in the European Union are girls; 90 per cent of the one million people who are victims of trafficking every year are women and girls.


Significantly 32 per cent of the delegates to the WFTU congress were women. A separate session of women delegates was held on April 7, which was attended by the general secretary of the WFTU. It was decided to organise an international conference to discuss the issues of working women in detail and constitute a preparatory committee for this purpose.


The congress also noted with concern the low level of trade union organisation among young workers. From the state of trade union organisations in the sectors, which had huge presence of young workers, it was clear that young workers were mostly out of the purview of the trade union movement. They are compelled to keep a distance from collective actions and struggles. They become the target of multifaceted exploitation not only because they perform the more precarious, casual and low paid jobs at work but also because they are targeted by the spread of drugs, child prostitution, illiteracy etc. The congress emphasised the need to reach out to the young workers and make special efforts to organise them and to convince them to play a decisive role in revitalising the trade union movement of the working class and not to remain as spectators.


The 16th congress of the WFTU was informed of the progress made in the activities after the last congress held in Havana on December 4-5, 2005. The headquarters of the organisation was shifted to Athens and the meetings of the presidential council were regularised. Efforts were made to improve the functioning of the different trade union internationals (TUIs), though still there were some which were not functioning regularly. Several international conferences and conventions on different issues were held and an international conference of working women was held in Brussels. These efforts were reflected in the increased and enthusiastic participation in the 16th congress. It was decided to further improve the coordination among the regional offices, among the TUIs and also improve the relations of TUIs with the WFTU.


The 16th congress of the WFTU re-elected Mohammed Shabban Azzouz from Syria as its president and George Mavrikos as the general secretary. A 40 member new presidential council, including A K Padmanabhan and Swadesh Dev Roye from CITU, was also elected by the congress. A K Padmanabhan was elected as vice president and Swadesh Dev Roye as secretariat member. The congress expressed confidence that by the time of the next congress when the WFTU would celebrate its 70 years, thousands of new trade union cadres, young men and women workers would be developed and promoted to strengthen the class struggles and that they would deliver to the next generations a world without exploitation.