By George Mavrikos
At the recent World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) Congress, outgoing leader George Mavrikos delivered an opening speech which analyzed the WFTU’s activity during the previous period and identified the challenges and struggles for the working-class movement. The following article is based on excerpts from that speech.
After the overthrows in the international balance of power that occurred in the period 1989-1991, the international trade union movement was also faced with great difficulties and great challenges. Those developments gave rise to serious debates, conflicts and confrontations within the trade unions. We can say without exaggeration that the situation was unprecedented. We saw trade unionists and movements in panic. We saw some hiding out of fear, others changing their beliefs overnight, others lowering and hiding their banners, their history, their flags.
I was present in 1994 at the crucial [13th Congress of the WFTU] in Damascus, Syria. It was an existential Congress. The discussions were on complex and central ideological, theoretical and organizational issues. Such as whether there was a reason to keep the WFTU or whether it should be dissolved, and we should all go to the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation, then known as the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions). Like whether the working class exists or not, like whether class struggle exists or has been abolished by class collaboration. It was a generalized conflict because both poles, both lines, were strong.
At that Congress friendships were broken, fraternal unions were divided, and each of us chose sides. The majority position at the Congress was to keep the WFTU and to try to modernize and preserve it.
All those leaderships that left the WFTU have followed for 30 years a path of integration into the capitalist system. They joined the ITUC and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) saying that they would supposedly change these mechanisms “from the inside.” After thirty years, what is the conclusion? Who changed in the end? Who was transformed? Let everyone draw their own conclusions.
We always have our door open. Every militant union is welcome. For seventeen years we have consistently promoted the unity of the working class and all workers. Building solid unity is our daily task.
But unity is not an “empty tunic.” It is not a colourless, odourless and tasteless drink. It has a specific content every time.
Take the Palestinian issue for example. The Palestinians are asking for unity, for alliances and international support to get their own independent state. Israel, on the other hand, is also asking for unity, alliances and international support, but to drive the Palestinians out of Jerusalem.
Take the example of Cuba. The North Americans and all the imperialists are calling for unity to isolate Cuba. And all of us are calling for unity, organizing campaigns and joining forces and efforts to support Cuba. We call for unity with the objectives of Cuba, against the objectives of imperialist unity.
So, the key is always to ask: unity with whom and with what goal? It is in this way that we have tried to face the needs of the times over all these years, supporting the unity first and foremost of the working class itself, its alliances with the poor peasantry, with the youth and with the progressive intelligentsia that is enlisted in the goals of the vanguard social class. This unity, our unity, class unity, aims at satisfying the contemporary needs of workers and at the same time demanding social changes that will go as far as the overthrow of capitalist exploitation. On the contrary, the pseudo unity of the reformists, the bureaucrats, the labour aristocracy and the so-called “neutrals” aims at the make-up and beautification of capitalism and at class collaboration.
We are neither neutral nor independent! We are 100 percent committed and dependent on the principles and values of the class struggle, on the history and sacrifices of our heroes, on the need for the emancipation of the working class. And because we are who we are, we are not afraid of imperialist threats. The imperialists and the international bourgeois class are afraid and worried about the strengthening of the WFTU. That’s why they always use the same anti-democratic measures like in 1952, when the renowned president of the WFTU, Giuseppe Di Vittorio, was banned from traveling to the United States to speak before the UN; similarly, today, the General Secretary of the WFTU was banned from entering the United States for the same reason.
The WFTU of today will either be respected or feared. There is no third way.
So, we organized four international campaigns and material support for the Palestinian people. We organized a global strike against Israeli merchant ships in all the ports of the world. We organized children’s camps for young Palestinians, campaigns for the release of prisoners in Israeli jails, …
We organized similar initiatives of internationalism and solidarity to Cuba and the Cuban people and together with many other movements we achieved the release of the Cuban 5. And so, we will continue until the blockade is abolished and the land of Guantanamo is returned to Cuba.
We had the same position for Venezuela, for Bolivia, against the coup in Brazil and everywhere. In every corner of the world the internationalist stance of the World Federation of Trade Unions became known.
Those who claimed that the overthrows of 1989-1991 would be in favour of international peace turned out to be hypocrites. Two wars in Europe, in Yugoslavia and the Russia-Ukraine war, and the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Libya, Syria, Azerbaijan and elsewhere, confirm that imperialism is a danger to the peoples and the workers.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brings to the surface issues that are always topical and always useful for the workers and the peoples. We remind you that NATO’s war against Iraq was “for democracy,” NATO’s 79-day bombing of Yugoslavia was “for freedom.” In Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, in all places where the US, the European Union and NATO attacked, it was because NATO is in love with democracy, as they tell us!!!
And all major mass media are rallying around these lies in order to fool the people. Wars like the present one are fought over resources, over energy roads, over ports and seas. Moreover, now in Ukraine we are witnessing another serious event: the close cooperation between neoliberals, neo-Nazis and social democrats. In Ukraine the mask of hypocrites is coming off. For example, in France everyone is happy that Marine Le Pen’s neo-fascist formation lost and at the same time they support the neo-fascist government of Ukraine and the neo-Nazi battalions. On the one hand, they supposedly accuse Orban of Hungary of being a racist, but at the same time they support the racist Polish government.
So, the support and arming of neo-Nazis in Ukraine proves the true face of the US, NATO and the European Union. All of them, with this attitude, legitimize Nazism. That is why we are ringing the alarm bell.
Behind all these mechanisms at the trade union level is dragging the ITUC and its subsidiary in Europe, the ETUC. They have chosen sides. They have always been with the imperialists.
They supported the imperialist wars in Iraq, applauded the wars in Libya and Syria, in Afghanistan, and made statements in favor of NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Once more, they now stand by the side of NATO imperialists. They shamelessly support the neo-Nazi forces and become a servant of the strategy of the US and its allies who want the Russian Federation defeated, the People’s Republic of China isolated, India and all countries that do not align with their plans captivated.
Now they want to redraw borders, dominate the Arctic and space. This big picture comes to confirm in our days that tolerance of the phenomena of neo-fascism produces great dangers for trade unions and workers, and also that cooperation and alliance with social democracy captivates the trade unions and deprives them of their founding objectives. History teaches that it is a deadly mistake for trade unions to participate in intra-imperialist rivalries and to choose an imperialist camp. Besides, it becomes more and more clear that the most consistent and most effective anti-fascist struggle is the one that leads to the emancipation of the workers and to a socially just society.
Our struggles and our attention included all the demands that concern the toiling people in every corner of the planet. During the period of the pandemic, we revealed that “the King is naked” and that the poor paid with their lives for the shortcomings in public health care. At the same time, we insisted on the importance of defending democratic and trade union freedoms while governments, under the pretext of the pandemic, are sharpening their anti-democratic attacks through teleworking [working remotely] and the generalization of part-time work.
The issues of climate change, the utilization of water resources, the need for decent housing, access to clean, potable water for all the residents of Africa, public and free health care, as well as our struggle against child labour have been for many years the frontline of our demands and our central claims on the Action Days established since 2008 and organized every year without fail.
After five years as WFTU Vice President and 17 years as its General Secretary, I am deeply convinced that the world working class and all the workers of the world need the WFTU. They need a WFTU that gives hope, inspires and defends their interests. Without the WFTU the situation for workers and the trade union movement would be much worse and with more difficulties than we have today.
Vladimir Mayakovsky wrote “the future will not come by itself” in his great poem “Pull the future out of the mud!” It depends on our action to pull the future out of the mud of capitalism. The future of all of us cannot be capitalism. The future belongs to the world of work and of struggles. For a world without exploitation. Let us continue united in our militant line, in the tested line of class struggle and proletarian internationalism.
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