World Federation of Trade Unions

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The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) was established in Paris on 3 October 1945. The First World Trade Union Congress (Paris, 3-8 October 1945) which voted to establish the WFTU was attended by delegates representing 67 million workers from 56 national organisations from 55 countries and 20 international organisations.

The First World Trade Union Congress was preceded by the World Trade Union Conference held in London from 6 to 17 February 1945 and which accomplished much of the preparatory work. The London Conference was attended by 204 delegates from 53 national and international organisations representing 60 million workers worldwide. The Conference had as co-chairpersons, representatives of the British TUC, the Congress of Industrial Organisations (CIO) of the United States and the All Union Central Council of Trade Unions of the USSR. They were assisted by three vice-chairpersons – from the CGT of France, the Chinese Federation of Labour and the Confederation of Workers in Latin America. Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the British TUC, was the General Secretary of the Conference.

The establishment of the WFTU closely followed the San Francisco Conference which created the United Nations Organisation (UNO). The U. N. Charter adopted in San Francisco on 26 June 1945 declared: “We the people of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of lwar, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, and for these ends to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples, have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.”

The basic aim of the First World Trade Union Congress was nothing other than the objectives quoted above from the U. N. Charter. The U. N. Charter spoke in the name of “We the peoples of the United Nations”. The Paris Congress of WFTU spoke in the name of the working people of the world organised in trade unions who wanted a world free from war and social injustices.

The foundation of the WFTU was thus seen as indicative of the new era that had opened with the defeat of fascism at the hands of the anti-fascist alliance of states. The working people and the democratic forces saw in that victory the new future of the world, where imperialism and colonialism would retreat and where freedom, peace, democracy and prosperity would advance for all humankind.

It was obvious to the working people and the trade unions that mere declarations of governments were not enough. In the anti-Hitler coalition and the United Nations itself, there were governments and states which had built up Hitler and which, even after the victory over fascism, were trying to suppress the liberation movements in those countries whom they held in colonial subjection. So, it was felt necessary to build the unity of the working people and the oppressed nations the world over, in order to achieve the aims of humankind which were enshrined in the Declarations. The unity of governments alone, in the form of the United Nations, was not enough. New organisations of the masses, of the working class in particular, were necessary. Hence trade union unity on a world scale was called for.

These concerns were clearly reflected in the Manifesto issued by the London Conference:

“Organised labour has made its full contribution both in the field of the armed struggle and in that of production by creating and sustaining the gigantic forces which have already brought fascism to its knees and will tomorrow destroy it completely and for ever.

“Our historic Conference, meeting in the midst of the armed struggle still raging, is itself a demonstration of the unity of the working class and evidence of the moral victory of the United Nations over the evil forces of fascism.

“Organised labour, with so great a part in winning the war, cannot leave to others – however well intentioned they may be – the sole responsibility of making the peace. The peace will be a good peace – an enduring peace – a peace worthy of the sacrifices by which it has been won – only if it reflects the deep resolve of the free peoples, their interests, their desires, and their needs.

“We therefore send forth from our World Conference this appeal to all workers of the world, and to all men and women of goodwill to consecrate to the building of a better world the service and sacrifice they have given to the winning of the war.”

II ) BASIC AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE FOUNDING CONGRESS

The Constitution of the WFTU adopted in 1945 placed among the aims of the WFTU: “To combat war and the causes of war and work for a stable and enduring peace.”

The first resolution adopted by the Paris Congress declared that “one of the primary tasks of the WFTU and the trade union movements of all countries is to fight for the speedy and complete eradication of fascism. We recognise that the forces of reaction do not want to see the German and Japanese war potentials utterly destroyed and fascism extirpated. World labour must take action to guarantee that these forces shall not prevail. . .

“. . .The Congress declares that world labour must be ever-vigilant to prevent any hesitation or weakening in the application of these decisions (the Potsdam Agreements).”

The second resolution adopted by the First World Trade Union Congress outlined the principles for a fundamental charter of the rights of the trade unions and their immediate demands. The Paris Congress in its second resolution, strongly reaffirmed the basic demands of the workers:

the right of the working people to organise themselves;
freedom from every form of discrimination based on race, creed, colour or sex;
the right to work and to paid holidays;
adequate rates of pay and a higher standard of living (housing, food, etc.);
social security providing guarantees against unemployment, in sickness, accidents and old age.
The resolution on the “people’s right to self-determination” clearly put forward the slogan of national independence:

“Victory over the fascist powers was based both upon the united military might of the United Nations and the active struggle of the peoples to secure their full enjoyment of our basic liberties and the right of self-determination and national independence.

“It would indeed be but incomplete victory if the common people in the colonies and territories of all nations were now denied the full enjoyment of their inherent right of self-determination and national independence.”

The Congress supplemented this demand for political independence with the call for economic independence as well.The Paris Congress decided:

To increase industrialisation and agricultural technical progress under democratic control in all backward countries, in order to free them from their present position of dependence and to improve the standard of living of their population;
To see that this programme is not used for monopolistic profiteering interests, native or foreign, which would harm the legitimate national and social interests of these countries;
To support the assistance which may be given to these countries by the technical and financial resources of advanced countries in terms of long-term credits and other means without permitting the latter to interfere in the internal affairs of the needy countries or to subject them to the influence of international trusts and cartels;
To insure international coordination of these measures, so as to achieve a harmonious evolution of all peoples;
To enlist all peoples within the framework of this movement, not merely those of the backward countries, but also those of advanced countries, whose real interests coincide with that of the former.
The founding Congress of the WFTU heard powerful arguments for international trade union cooperation and trade union unity.

Sydney Hillman, delegate of the CIO from the United States, said: “History – that harsh teacher – has taught us a costly lesson in the last tragic and booody decade – the lesson that unity among the democratic forces of the world is the one condition without which peace and progress are impossible. . . The international labour movement (before 1939) was a weak and ineffectual force in the anti-fascist struggle because it lacked the unity that is our sole source of strength.”

The delegate of the AUCCTU of the Soviet Union, V.Kuznetsov, supporting Sydney Hillman, declared: “The members of the Soviet trade unions unanimously call for world trade union unity and stress the fact that the establishment of personal contact with the workers of the democratic countries is a serious step forward in bringing this unity into being.”

But there were acute controversies and sharp differences at the Congress on several issues. For example, on the question of national independence for colonial countries, there were differing attitudes.

When, for instance, Shripad Amrit Dange (India) welcomed the prospects opened up by the establishment of the WFTU in the following terms: “For our working class, the simple thing is national independence and for that our people join the international trade union movement,” Walter Citrine of the British TUC replied that he did not think the WFTU was “the medium whereby this is to be done. If once we get into the maze of politics. . . . this International will perish.”

When the Standing Orders Committee proposed a resolution condemning colonialism in Vietnam and Indonesia, Kupers, delegate from the Dutch trade unions, came to the rostrum to deny the justification of the Indonesian people’s struggle for independence.

However, the spirit of the times was such that unity prevailed and all the Congress documents were adopted. The Congress thus become an outstanding event in the history of the world trade union movement.

The Congress elected Walter Citrine (British TUC) as President and Louis Saillant (French CGT) as General Secretary, with headquarters in Paris. ]