May 22, 2022

18th Congress of WFTU: Pull the Future Out of the Mud of Capitalism

K Hemalata

THE 18th Congress of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), which was held in Rome, Italy, from May 6-8, 2022, asserted that the future belongs to the world of work and of struggles. It called upon the working class of the world to unite and march forward in the time tested line of class struggle and proletarian internationalism. Recalling the lines of the revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, the Congress affirmed that ‘the future will not come by itself’. It has to be pulled out of the mud of capitalism, as the future for the working class cannot be capitalism.

Despite the increasing global attacks on the working class, the 18th Congress of the WFTU was held in an atmosphere of confidence and enthusiasm. The confidence reflected the growing working class struggles in all corners of the world and the increasing participation of workers in these struggles, particularly of young workers and women. The slogan of the Congress was ‘United, we continue! For the Satisfaction of Our Contemporary Needs, Against Imperialist Barbarity!’

Because of the uncertainties and difficulties still continuing in many parts of the world due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the WFTU Congress was held in a hybrid mode. 430 delegates from 93 out of the 133 countries where WFTU has presence, participated in the 18th Congress. While 330 of them participated physically, 100 participated virtually.

The Congress started with singing of the WFTU anthem in English and Spanish and the presentation of the report of action through a video. Pierpaolo Leonardi, general secretary of Unione Sindacale di Base (USB), which hosted the Congress, welcomed the delegates. Michael Mzwandile Makwayiba, president of WFTU addressed the Congress followed by the inaugural speech by George Mavrikos, general secretary of WFTU.

The central document of the Congress, ‘Theses and Priorities’, was circulated in advance to the delegates for their suggestions. In his inaugural speech, Mavrikos highlighted the progress made by the WFTU during the recent period and the perspective of the organisation, which can be summarised as follows:

Today WFTU has more than 105 million members in 133 countries in all the continents. Mavrikos said that this progress was possible through consistent struggle against reformist, revisionist concepts, through collectivity, by maintaining close touch with the base, with the unions and workers at the grassroots level and by following the principles of criticism and self criticism in analysing the situation. The historical experience of WFTU, both positive and negative was an asset as well as a weapon for building the future. The slogan ‘Action – Action – Action’ given at the 15th Congress of WFTU brought WFTU to life and this continuous action on various issues confronting the workers contributed hugely to its expansion.

The need for unity of the working class and all working people cannot be overemphasised. However, the word unity has become the most overused word, by both those who sincerely want unity and those who hate it but pretend to seek unity. Unity is not an ‘empty tunic’. For example, Palestinians seek unity and international support to get their own independent state while Israel is also calling for unity and international support to drive the Palestinians out of Jerusalem. We call for unity and international solidarity for Cuba whereas the USA and imperialists call for unity to isolate Cuba. So, it is always necessary to ask: unity with whom and with what goal? Unity has to be class unity, unity of the working class, with the poor peasants, with the progressive forces aiming to satisfy the contemporary needs of the workers and for social change to overthrow capitalist exploitation. In contrast, the pseudo unity of the reformists and so called ‘neutrals’ is aimed to ‘make up’ and for beautification of capitalism and class collaboration and alignment with imperialism. WFTU is not neutral. It is totally committed to class struggle and the emancipation of the working class. That is what makes imperialists afraid of the WFTU. The USA in 1952 banned the then president of WFTU Giuseppe Di Vittorio from entering the country; in 2018, it denied entry to the general secretary of WFTU. Because of its firm commitment to the working class and class struggle, WFTU will either be respected or feared; there is no third way.

The workers’ struggles that are taking place in almost all countries have achieved some results. Without these struggles, the losses for wage earners would have been even greater; the rights of the working class could be defended, privatisation could be stopped, retrenchments and dismissals prevented to some extent through these struggles. But the most important gain was that workers increasingly understand that their power lies only in class oriented struggles. Workers and broader sections of the people understand the limitations of the capitalist system. As the workers, through their own experience, realise this and question the exploitative system, they become more conscious, militant and stronger to change the system.

It is with this perspective that the 18th Congress of the WFTU set its goals. One of the major goals is to consistently lead struggles for the satisfaction of the contemporary needs of the working class – the right to free health, decent housing, access to clean water, the right to safe, reliable and cheap public transport, free public education for all children. Today, with the huge technological progress and accumulated wealth the bar for contemporary needs has to be set high. New technologies and digitisation must be utilised for the improvement of workers’ lives and not for the increase of profits.

WFTU has been consistently fighting for reduction of working day along with simultaneous improvement in wages, for 35 hour 5 day week immediately and to progress to 7 hour 4 day week of full employment without reduction in wages.The WFTU affiliated unions will continue to lead struggles for full time, stable work and dignified wages, for social security and pension for all, against privatisation and price rise, for health and safety at workplace, against child labour. They will continue to lead the struggles to defend the Right to Strike, an inalienable right of the working class.

The ‘Rome Declaration’, introduced by Swadesh Dev Roye, deputy general secretary of WFTU and unanimously adopted by the WFTU Congress, noted that the Congress was held in the midst of the systemic crisis of capitalism which was getting deeper and deeper. The real cause of this crisis must be traced in the laws of the capitalist mode of production, in the large over accumulated capital that could not be recapitalised or reinvested, hitting hard the capitalist class in their unlimited greed for profits. No capitalist manoeuvres can sustainably address this crisis, the burden of which is being shifted to the shoulders of the workers; the people are called upon to pay for this crisis. For the capitalist camp, the crisis is an opportunity to push their anti worker policies.

The ‘Rome Declaration’ also observed that imperialist antagonisms between imperialist alliances and also between states within these alliances for control of markets, energy sources and transportation routes are intensifying. Indo Pacific region where the main sphere of interest of the imperialist alliances has shifted has become a place where these antagonisms are being displayed. New anti China alliances like AUKUS comprising the US, UK and Australia and QUAD comprising the US, Japan, Australia and India are being formed. Imperialist military interventions have increased. Global military spending has for the first time in history crossed $2 trillion in 2021. NATO is aggressively conspiring to bring under its fold countries like Sweden and Finland, which were earlier described as ‘neutral’. Expansion on NATO is one of the sparks that ignited the Russia Ukraine war.

The 18th Congress of WFTU reiterated its solidarity with the Palestinian people, with the people of Cuba, condemned the US blockade of Cuba and demanded the return of Guantanamo to Cuba. It also reiterated its solidarity with the people of Latin American countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil and others who are fighting US imperialist interventions. It also extended solidarity with the people of Iran, Syria. Strongly condemning the imperialist wars initiated by the US during this period, it ridiculed those who claimed that there would be international peace after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist block in Europe. The two wars in Europe, in Yugoslavia and the present Russia Ukraine war, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Libya, Syria, Azerbaijan, etc belie these claims. These confirm that imperialism is a danger to the people and the workers. These imperialist wars are fought for control over natural resources, energy routes, ports, seas etc and strategic geopolitical areas. It called for the end of Russia Ukraine war and the dismantling of NATO that sets the fires of war everywhere. WFTU decided to observe September 1 every year as an international action day of trade unions for peace and friendship among the peoples of the world, reviving the earlier decision taken by WFTU in the 1980s. September 1, 1939 was the day when Nazi Germany started the Second World War.

99 delegates, including some who participated online, spoke on the report placed by the general secretary. Hemalata spoke on behalf of CITU. A four member delegation comprising Hemalata, CITU president, Swadesh Dev Roye, Elamaram Karim, and Anadi Sahu, national secretaries of CITU physically participated in the WFTU Congress in addition to the 15 delegates from CITU who participated online. Prashanta Nandi Choudhury, another national secretary of CITU also participated physically, representing TUI energy.

The new presidential council having representation from 50 countries from all five continents was unanimously elected on May 8, the last day of the Congress. George Mavrikos was elected honorary president. Michael Mzwandile Makwayiba from South Africa was re elected as president. The presidential council elected the general secretary, secretariat, vice presidents and the financial control committee. Pampis Kyritsis, general secretary of Pancypriot Labour Union from Cyprus was elected as the general secretary of WFTU. The secretariat has representation from 10 countries and the finance control commission from seven countries.

Swadesh Dev Roye was re-elected as one of the deputy general secretaries and Hemalata as one of the vice presidents.