From: Charles Brown <CharlesB@CNCL.CI.DETROIT.MI.US>
It's time to end the cold war in world labor
By Scott Marshall, 19 April 2000
The 17th Congress of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) is a good time for the left in labor to consider where world labor is headed in the era of globalization. Indeed, the ICFTU has made this question the subject of a planned year long discussion of it's future. The Congress named it the Millennium Review. Most of a day of the Congress was devoted to launching the debate.
Many of the speakers stressed that, while the millennium review is aimed at reshaping the ICFTU, to be effective it must include a much broader discussion, with much broader forces in world labor.
In his concluding remarks, Bill Jordan, ICFTU general secretary, speaking of the review and responding to the delegates, said, "We call on those outside the ICFTU to tread this path with us, and to find ways to join our hands and strength to better secure social justice for the world's workers and their future."
We should take Brother Jordan at his word. Any answer to globalization has to include world labor unity that cannot be narrowed down to a single center. And there's the rub.
World labor has to shake off the remnants of cold war thinking and alignments. The ICFTU has emerged as the largest post cold war labor center. But until now it excludes, on ideological grounds, any real work with the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). At the heart of the ICFTU's litmus test is what it calls "independence." By this, in general, they mean independence from governments and political parties. In particular they mean this to exclude unions in the socialist countries like China, Vietnam and Cuba. That this is a litmus test aimed at excluding the socialist countries is clear when you consider, for example, the relationship between the ICFTU's affiliate in Mexico with it's government and ruling party.
Yet, while this cold-war-old-thinking was still expressed by some few delegates, and was present in some of the documents and resolutions presented to the Congress, this was not the tone of most of the speakers. In fact several speakers, in calling for a wider discussion, mentioned the WFTU in particular. There are dozens of other centers outside the ICFTU including regional, national and international, but the WFTU is the key center in terms of cold war hangovers.
This is a critical point. Any steps towards a dialogue between the ICFTU and the WFTU would be giant strides in ending cold war hangovers and truly setting the stage for world labor unity. Is there a basis for dialogue? Better put, the question should really be, can world labor survive, much less meet the challenge of the multinationals and the new era of imperialism, now popularly called globalization, without it?
What is the basis for beginning the dialogue? The most important basis should be joint action against the multinationals. The trade unions of Cuba, Vietnam and China are no friends of the multinationals. In this sense the International Trade Secretariats (ITS), that is the international federations based on industries such as the International Metalworkers Federation, are the most important components. The ITS combine internationally the unions in a given industry and many ITS already have working relations with unions outside of the ICFTU.
Actually the ITS represent the real strength of world labor at this point. They are more focused on joint action and solutions. For them the common problems are more direct and immediate, unity and solidarity is specific and concrete. And as many industrial unions in the U.S. have discovered in action - when you're in a fight with a multinational corporation, you can't refuse the help of a union facing the same company in other countries, because you don't approve of their political affiliations.
World labor unity will come. It is compelled by the global class struggle. It is a question of survival. Underneath it all the unions in the ICFTU and the WFTU share basic principles that should provide for unity. They all have at their core a mission to fight for a better life for their members. It's time to finally end the cold war in labor. Every minute we wait means greater misery and exploitation for workers, people and whole countries at the hands of the multinationals.