The World Federation of Trade Unions 17th Congress: A report on the global state of the class struggle

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The World Federation of Trade Unions 17th Congress: A report on the global state of the class struggle


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The Party for Socialism and Liberation was honored to attend and participate in The World Federation of Trade Unions 17th Congress in Durban, South Africa, in October 2016. Below is an extensive report on the congress by our delegate, Jeff Bigelow. The report provides a glimpse of who and what organizations came, and the struggles they represent. Taken as a whole, it presents a snapshot of what the global class struggle looks like on the eve of 2017.

Placing this conference in historical context

This meeting of the WFTU was part of a long history of efforts to organize international working class solidarity. The International Workingmen’s Association formed in 1864 was in essence an organization designed to facilitate actions of international solidarity, in addition to being an organizational forum for exchanging ideas and charting the course forward.

Karl Marx played the key role in that organization. In 1866 he gave advice to the delegates abut the past, present and future that included this

The immediate object of Trades’ Unions was therefore confined to everyday necessities… to questions of wages and time of labor. This activity of the Trades’ Unions is not only legitimate, it is necessary. It cannot be dispensed with so long as the present system of production lasts..

If the Trades’ Unions are required for the guerilla fights between capital and labor, they are still more important as organized agencies for superseding the very system of wages labor and capital rule….

Too exclusively bent upon the local and immediate struggles with capital, the Trades’ Unions have not yet fully understood their power of acting against the system of wages slavery itself. They therefore kept too much aloof from general social and political movements…

Apart from their original purposes, they must now learn to act deliberately as organizing centers of the working class in the broad interest of its complete emancipation. They must aid every social and political movement tending in that direction. Considering themselves and acting as the champions of the whole working class, they cannot fail to enlist the non-society men into their ranks. They must look carefully after the interests of the worst paid trades, such as the agricultural laborer’s, rendered powerless by exceptional circumstances. They must convince the world at large that their efforts, far from being narrow and selfish, aim at the emancipation of the downtrodden millions.

Even then, the best strategists were those focused on class oriented unions that fought on the immediate aims of wages, hours and working conditions and which also understood the need for complete emancipation and aiding every social movement tending in that direction.

In 1899 the Second International was formed and it had as one of its purposes international solidarity. In 1901 an International Secretariat of National Trade Union Centers was established in the context of the Second International.

By the time of World War One, there were dozens of international solidarity organizations, most had reformist visions.

The U.S. based AFL argued against any organization that was ‘too political’ by which they meant any organization that was class oriented rather than reform oriented. The leadership of the AFL which did not want to challenge the system that it had to fight every day. Based in U.S. pressure, in 1913 the name and tone of the organization was changed to International Federation of Trade Unions.

World War I broke out and divided the labor movements based on their support for their own ruling class and not the international working class. The headquarters of the IFTU was then moved to Amsterdam.

This Amsterdam organization was weakened by the subservience of its unions to the ruling class of the respective countries. A new movement of class oriented unions arose after the war. Its organization was assisted by the new revolutionary state of Russia, where the working class had taken power.

For the next twenty years class oriented unions engaged in building the struggle in their own countries but connected with each other for international solidarity organizationally in various forms, mostly organized with the assistance of the USSR.

After WWII, the World Federation of Trade Unions was founded in 1945. Almost immediately anti-communist forces with roots in the U.S. and other governments acted to undermine this international solidarity. It was seen as a particular threat because the working class upsurge around the world was so massive and demand for freedom from colonialism and imperialism so loud and clear, they could feel that their system was in danger. Under this influence, the leadership of the U.S. and British unions engineered a split in 1949, creating a reformist group that would not seriously challenge capital.

In the international arena, the AFL-CIO was directly guided by the U.S. government and the most reactionary sections of capital. This became exposed to U.S. audiences at large only in the late 1960s.

Today that split between the class oriented WFTU and the reformist ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) continues. There are a number of international organizations of unions, many of them organized around sectors of work. There are also some unions that are members of both the WFTU and the ITUC. Still, in this complex of organizations, the tendencies represented by the class oriented unions in the WFTU versus the reformist unions of the ITUC characterizes the two tendencies of organized labor in the world.

The ITUC is founded on the principle that capitalism is good and that only a few reforms are needed to protect workers. The history of class society and the specific history of reformist unions shows that reforms will never “fix the system” so that it the underlying problems are solved and workers have real power. Reforms always leave the capitalist class in power and the capitalist class is always driven to exploit.

The ITUC is undemocratic in that it excludes class oriented unions and acts to restrict the right of organizations to belong to both. In various international forums the ITUC has established a record of attacking class solidarity and solutions.

The ITUC never takes a stand against imperialist war. Only the WFTU does that.

Over the years since the First International, capital has become dominated by finance capital and that in turn has become infinitely more intertwined with everything, infinitely more concentrated in fewer organizational hands and much more powerful. It has become global imperialism, exploiting the world. That is one of the reasons why unions must take on the task of opposing imperialism and imperialist wars and racism because without addressing that system, nothing fundamental can change.

The working class has also changed since the days of the First International. It is much larger, more multinational and more female. The conditions for unity and struggle are greater.

The history of most unions in the WFTU is one of finding ways to create the unity needed to win. Coalitions have been formed in several countries to fight on a broad range of issues.

By upholding the banner of class oriented unionism, the WFTU offers an organizational forum for real international solidarity. Its constituent unions are the repository of a wealth of working class experience in the fight for wages, rights and respect – and against exploitation. It is the place where unionists from around the world can meet others who are for complete emancipation.

The 17th Congress

The World Federation of Trade Unions General Secretary George Mavrikos has guided the organization since 2005, after a lifetime of working-class struggle.

During the dictatorship in Greece from 1967 to 1974, he was fired from a textile job for his union and political activities. He was in his early 20s. For 16 years, he worked in a factory producing agricultural machinery and was an elected union leader there since 1975. He eventually became chair of an organization of private-sector workers in Athens. From 1993 to 1997, he was the general secretary of the Greek General Confederation of Labor. From 1999 to 2008, he was principal leader of PAME—All Workers Militant Front in Greece. At the WFTU Congress in India in 2000, he was elected as a vice president, then in 2005 as general secretary

George Mavrikos opened and closed the Congress with an analysis of the condition of the world working class, the organization of class-oriented unions, and the path forward. A few of his points are summarized here.

Class-oriented unions fight on immediate issues, show their members the connection to the capitalist system, and make demands that address and confront systemic problems. Here are some indications of those problems:

  • Over 1 billion people in Asia and Africa alone are forced to survive on less than $1.90 per day. Over 20 million more in the rest of the world have the same wage.
  • About 40 percent of the people in the world between the ages of 15 and 74 have no form of employment and one in three have experienced unemployment for longer than a year.
  • In the process of creating profits for the owners, 2.3 million workers die from occupational accidents and diseases each year. There are 317 million recorded accidents on the job each year. Worker safety is not a priority.
  • In 2015, there were 244 million migrants, an increase of 41 percent from 15 years ago. Sixty million are forced to be on the move by the most violent situations.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, an area of great wealth, the average life expectancy is between 47 and 60. This was originally the result of being the target of European slavers, who profited from the most extreme exploitation and racism, and more recently multinational corporations who take the wealth and leave little.
  • In 2014, the Fortune 500—just 500 companies in the world—took $1.5 trillion in profits, all produced by the workers.
  • Corporations and governments are engaged in an imperialist fight for control of markets and raw materials. Layered on top of that is the role of NATO as the military arm of imperialism in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. And along with that, the role of the US in the Middle East and North Africa creating conditions for ISIS terror by way of regime change and imperialist occupation.
  • Millions have had their homes and neighborhoods destroyed. Millions are displaced—a polite term for having their lives ripped apart. Children, adults, workers and rural people are killed and maimed by wars created by imperialism while war profiteers fatten their bank accounts.
  • Over 50 percent of the U.S. budget, defined as “discretionary spending” (a budget of over $1.1 trillion), is spent on the military—on wars. It goes to giant corporations producing weapons. It goes for killing people on behalf of Big Oil and the banks while the people in extreme poverty are increasing.

To counter all of this, to provide the organization for mobilizing the world’s workers, the WFTU has been focused on increasing its capacity and improving its organizational reach.

WFTU women and youth

The WFTU has experienced women leaders in delegations across the world, but is focused on educating more women cadre, raising more women leaders.
The WFTU Secretariat of Working Women held 18 seminars in 12 countries over the last five years. Large meetings were held in Vietnam in July 2014 and in Bahrain in December 2014

The WFTU has youth in many areas who have experienced struggle and are taking on more leadership responsibilities. The WFTU will focus on bringing in more youth.

The WFTU has been holding workshops and conferences for youth. On April 29, 2012, the WFTU International Meeting of Young Trade Unionists was held in Havana, Cuba, attended by 135 youth from 35 countries. At the meeting, a WFTU youth committee secretariat was elected. In September 2013, WFTU held its first Youth Camp attended by young trade unionists from many countries—from South Africa to India to Lebanon. In December 2013, WFTU participated in the 18th World Festival of Youth and Students held in Ecuador.

Developing young leaders was high on the agenda of the 17th Congress. Young workers involved in many struggles participated in the congress as speakers in the plenaries and as delegates.

The Bahrain delegation came from the Alba union representing workers at Aluminum Bahrain BSC, one of the largest industrial companies in the Middle East and one of the top ten aluminum producers in the world. Yasser Al-Hujairi is the general secretary of the Union and Basem Kuwaitan is in charge of international relations. They were joined by Abdullah Ali and Abbas Ali.

Denmark was represented by brick layer Emil Olsen, a member of union 3F. After returning from a previous WFTU meeting, he was fired for having gone to a class-oriented union meeting, forcing him to find work miles away. Morocco was represented by Marouane Tounti, secretary general of the Mena Policy Hub. Norway was represented by a young teacher, Geir Skavern

South Africa had dozens of young leaders who had come up through the ranks of COSATU unions and who played various roles in making sure the Congress ran successfully. Pictured here is Sibusiso Ngobese who works in a public health department and serves as a leader of the SACP is the city where he lives.

International solidarity

WFTU’s purpose is to unite all the class-based unions, first and foremost on the basis of international solidarity so that no one is alone.

The WFTU focuses on using the collective experiences of its members, organizers, activists and leaders to build a movement grounded in the struggle for immediate demands, and that understands and targets the system that produces the problems we face.

WFTU Growth and Organization:

  • In the last 5 years WFTU has grown from 78 to 92 million members in its affiliates
  • The number of countries with affiliates has grown from 100 to 111.
  • In 2016 the number of positions on the Presidential Council leadership body was increased to 47 and the number of seats reserved for African and Latin American countries increased substantially together more than tripling the representatives from European affiliates. The WFTU is a body that believes in real affirmative action
  • A growing number of capitalist crisis to fight mass forced migrations, refuges, deep poverty and repression

The people and organizations who came and the struggles they represent

On Oct. 5, the World Federation of Trade Unions opened its congress with over 1,200 delegates from 111 countries, cheered on by a convention hall rocking with songs sung by hundreds of other South African union activists who had come to make this meeting a huge success.

These were songs of struggle sung by serious working class fighters. The delegates represented 92 million workers (an increase of nearly 20 percent in the last five years). Observers, represented at least hundreds of thousands more.

Over 340 of the delegates were women union leaders. About 70 percent of the delegates were from unions representing workers in the private sector and 30 percent in the public sector.

It was the first congress held on the African continent, and it was proudly hosted by the South African labor federation COSATU along with other members of the South African alliance: the Communist Party and the African National Congress.

What were the initial impressions of this congress by some in the U.S. delegation?

  • For union activists in the U.S. who were tired of hearing U.S. union leaders talk about “the middle class” instead of what they mean but are still afraid to say—“the working class”—this congress was a breath of fresh air.
  • For union activists in the U.S. who yearn for real political independence in relation to the parties and political system of the rich, many of the unions in this congress showed what is possible.
  • For union activists in the U.S. who see the desperate need for bold, united class action against all the anti-union attacks and the injustices of racist police brutality, the actions of unions in this congress showed a way forward.
  • For union activists in the U.S. who see the connections between global acts of imperialism abroad and working conditions at home—and who must fight hard to get any union leadership to agree—the internationalism of this congress was inspirational.

Delegates from many countries at this congress used language that might not be immediately understood here in the U.S. Nearly all unions at the congress referred to themselves as “class-struggle-oriented unions.” What is a class-struggle union?

All unions fight for better wages, hours and working conditions. Many unions are confronted with demands to cut pensions and health care, and they are threatened with privatization and layoffs. Class-struggle unions fight on these issues. But they also understand the root cause of these problems—capitalism. Their aim is to win some temporary victories on the immediate issues while fighting to end the.

Unions that are not in class struggle current in the labor movement don’t address the larger picture and in fact many times fight those in labor who do. The leaderships in non-class struggle unions find that by limiting their fights to the most immediate issue and restricting the types of demands that might be made, they can get a certain amount of “legitimacy” bestowed on them. On the other hand, class-struggle unions are focused on building working-class power.

This is not just rhetoric. On Sept 2, 2016, class-struggle unions in India spearheaded a coalition of forces that brought out 180 million in a general strike with a host of demands, ranging from pensions for all to faster recognition of unions and increased wages for temporary workers.

The idea for a national general strike is not new, even here in the U.S. It’s an idea that lots of rank-and-file workers have thought about but the national leadership refuses to consider. Think about “only” a 100 million workers going on strike for these same demands—and a detachment of 100,000 going to Washington, D.C., to stay until it happened. Organizing such an action would transform ideas of defeatism into “Yes We Can”. It would build consciousness of ourselves as a class and the power that we have

Making the connection between immediate struggles and the system has been dismissed as too radical or too distant or too unnecessary by conservative, non-class oriented unions. But it isn’t.

Thousands of steelworkers have lost their jobs and their health care and had their pensions cut by corporations controlled by banks. Now thousands of British steelworkers are losing their jobs. The Redcar works have closed and Tata is threatening to close Port Talbot, killing the jobs of 4,000 more workers.

In Netherlands, 4000 more workers are at risk of the same thing.

In Trinidad and Tobago, Arcelor Mittal shut down a plant in Point Lisas this year. The workers whose labor made all of the profits were among the last of the 175 creditors. It was their investment of labor that was key to everything. Their pensions were at risk, just as the pensions of workers in the UK are. Steelworkers in the U.S. are very familiar with plant closings, pension cuts and healthcare cuts,

What is driving this? Corporations say they need to cut pensions. But the real reason is that the banks and Steel Barons say there is a “glut” of steel that they can’t sell at a high enough profit. So they say the workers have to go. From a capitalist view there is a “glut”. From a working class socialist view, the world’s cities need steel to rebuild, providing the demand to put all steelworkers to work. Will it be profits or people? That is a class oriented union view.

On Oct. 12, the Wall Street Journal reported that 43 million gallons of milk were dumped in the first eight months of the year. Yet people are hungry.

“Gluts” of coal, aluminum, farm equipment, wheat, oil, natural gas and more are driving layoffs and demands for cuts, which unions must fight. And in doing so, we need to keep up the pressure to win immediate demands while maintaining awareness of the ranks of the larger forces at work.

Speeches and delegations that embody organizing and action

The congress heard from over 100 speakers from dozens of countries. Only a few can be described here due to restrictions of space.

Simply recounting who made speeches would miss the point of the congress. It was founded on the importance of international solidarity, and that in turn has been based on an understanding of what capitalism does to the working class and how globalized capitalism or imperialism impacts all of us. But this is not an organization that aspires to listen to academic papers or talks from around the world.

This was a congress of organizations of struggle; a congress that works to organize and mobilize the rank and file in struggle for greater working-class power.

The talks and experiences of these organizations show that none of them believes that mass mobilization takes place magically. Or that broader consciousness pops out of nowhere. It is hard and determined work.

In nearly every case, in order to mobilize millions of workers around a particular agenda, coalitions had to be built. Most of the time those coalitions had to be built with other organizations that were involved with splits or which had different political perspectives. Sometimes the historical relationship between the organizations was bitter or even violent. Overcoming that to achieve great things took patient, determined, principled organizing by all the parties.

The democratic nature of this congress was reflected in the fact that many different organizations were present from the same country. Stories from some of these organizations are briefly summarized below and are representative of hundreds of such stories.

Organizing the global class struggle in the current period

India:

Speakers highlighted the extreme cruelty of capitalism—hunger and low wages amidst wealth for a few. Amarjeet Kaur, national secretary of the All Indian Trade Union Council) representing 14 million members, made a moving and searing statement about the system. She said that we’re living in a world that has farm workers raising the world’s food yet going to bed hungry. Clothing workers labor all day but who don’t have proper clothes. Energy workers are not able to afford heating and cooling. These are realities in India and around the world. They represent one side of a terrorist system of exploitation with the other being racism, Islamophobia and imperialist war. She said that the working class must begin to see the system as a whole and adopt a working-class perspective, a working-class ideology, and the organizational capability to overcome that cruel system. With those tools in hand, workers will be able establish a new world order, with the working class in power—socialism.

K Hemalata, secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, or CITU, and representing 6 million members further analyzed the processes that create poverty, illiteracy, ill health and deprivation. She pointed out that science and technology, productivity and efficiency in the context of capitalism all become tools to maximize exploitation rather than lift humanity. She described the social dynamics behind the rise of right-wing “populist” movements and their appeal to workers. She said, “Right wing forces are seeking to divert the discontent of the people against the neoliberal policies into fratricidal fights against one another instead of directing their struggle against the common enemy, the big private corporate and business”. In response, the CITU has been mobilizing both workers and communities in every area to change the correlation of forces. She pointed out that one of the most important aspects of the general strike was the fact that so many unorganized workers and community members joined it. This showed a huge potential for organizing and confirmed the fact that we need to organize all who are adversely impacted by neoliberal policies.

Ukraine:

A delegate from Ukraine backed up his words about the life and death struggle they are in with graphic pictures showing how fascist death squads had destroyed union offices and killed union staff.

Colombia:

Since the U.S. Colombia Free Deal was passed in 2011 (with the support of Hillary Clinton) over 100 unionists have been assassinated. This year, in the space of two weeks in February/ March, three more activists were killed. In Honduras, because of the U.S. sponsored soft coup, death squads have reappeared. Two more people were killed on October 8.

Guatemala:

Estrada Tambito was shot five times and killed in Guatemala City on June 19, 2016. She was a leader in the UNISTRAGUA. She had just dropped off her father who was advising the banana plantation workers in contract bargaining. Several banana plantation workers have been murdered in the past several years, and in 2014 11 union leaders were fired. In the past eight years, 62 unionists have been murdered. This is part of the context for the May 20, 2015, arrest and imprisonment of Julia Amparo Lotan Garzona, a WFTU Presidential Council member. She also was a leader in UNSITRAGUA, an affiliate of WFTU.

Targeted murderous repression was also exposed in the Basque County, Ecuador and many other countries

Syria:

The Congress heard from delegates in the most embattled areas. Leaders of General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) in Syria stood up to denounce the death and destruction taking place due to the maneuvers of the U.S. with right wing terrorist groups. The Syrian delegates received a warm, sustained loud applause showing complete solidarity. So did the Palestinian cause, which was at the heart of so many delegates’ speeches.

Bangladesh:

The barbarity of the system was also highlighted by the delegation from Bangladesh. In the weeks leading up to the Congress another factory fire killed over 30 more workers in Bangladesh, less than four years after another fire killed 112 workers. The fight for health and safety was not the only matter being faced by the Bangladesh Trade Union Centre BTUC. New laws are being pushed which will slash labor rights. They returned from the WFTU Congress and immediately organized a large protest against the law.

Brazil:

Brazil had a very large delegation including the Central Workers of Brazil (Central dos Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras do Brasil), which brought 44 delegates. The INTERSINDICAL – Fighting instrument and Organization of Working Class had important leading delegates there as well. The President of UST, the Trade Union Central or Uniao Sindical dos Trabalhadores was there with a delegation, as was the President of the CGTB General Central of Brazilian Workers or CGTB

The energy of the Brazilian delegates was amazing and their determination to overcome the May 12 coup was clear to everyone. Everyone at the Congress was aware at least in part of what was going on. But hearing it and feeling it in their voices and the passion of their words brought it home.
As soon as the coup was consolidated, the ruling class began to dismantle the social protections that workers had fought for and won. Institutions to fight discrimination were dismantled and then the ruling class moved quickly to a direct attack on the most basic rights. Nearly every workers’ movement in the capitalist world is facing a battle in the legislative arena where vitally important rights are at risk of being taken away. In Brazil, after the coup, that process is on steroids. The government pushed a bill thought the House known as PEC 241 and is now in the Senate as PEC 55. It was freeze federal investments in education, health, welfare and safety for 20 years, causing the collapse of those systems- those public services won in previous struggles. (High school students occupied over 110 schools on Oct 11 to protest this)

At the same time the Supreme Court is moving to allow privatization- destroying decades old rights against it. That hearing is set for hearing and their will be demonstrations at the Court on November 9.

On September 27, the Court took aim at the right to strike by declaring that strikers could no longer be paid, despite the fact that the right was won long ago and the right to strike is referenced in the Constitution.

On September 30, two million workers went on strike to send a message that they would not stand still in the face of these attacks. Oil worker from Petrobras and auto workers joined others on the picket lines. Then on Oct 28 the Petrobras workers rejected a contract, setting the stage for a possible major strike on or about Nov 11. Following that will be demonstrations on November 25.

The president of CTB, Adilson Araújo, was one of the first speakers in the late morning of Wednesday (5). He denounced the coup and the Temer regime and described the impact of the coup on Latin America, particularly in the wake of the economic crisis from the mid-2000s. Remembering the direct role of the United States in the 1964 coup, he also pointed to how the oil monopolies and banks based in the US plan to benefit from the coup this time. This is a direct and brutal challenge to Brazil’s sovereignty that stands behind the coup.

Ricardo Saraiva-Big from the Intersindical Central da Classe Trabalhadora also exposed the forces behind the coup and its devastating impact. He called for greater focus on exercising the power of the working class through a general strike

Both speeches were met by wild cheers as deep militant solidarity.

Turkey:

Representatives DISK Nakliyat-Is in Turkey denounced the severe repression in Turkey noting that tens of thousands of workers have been summarily fired and put in jail over the last several months. On July 21, the government imposed a State of Emergency which is being used against the working class. Since then over 200,000 people have been arrested. Over 100,000 public workers have be summarily fired or suspended. Recently 10,000 more in the fields of education and health care were fired. And 15 more media outlets were closed bringing the total to about 160.

Even before the July State of Emergency, the government was engaged in repression. In June 2013 when hundreds of thousands were protesting and suffering police brutality, the DISK union federation and others called a general strike to challenge state terror. (In May 2013 the government had sprayed 14 tons of tear gas on union and progressive forces at May Day events).

The police attacked again on May Day 2015, not with the same ferocity as in 1977 when 34 workers were killed but still with brutality and a large number of arrests.

In June 2016, before the State of Emergency, the general secretary of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK) was detained based on the flimsy claim that she had insulted the president of the country in a speech in August 2015. Immediately upon her arrest, WFTU unions like PEO in Cyprus sent messages of solidarity to show that she was not alone. Ultimately she was released. (Also in June, a professor was fired on the same charge of insulting the president.)

One of the aims of this state violence is to send a message of not challenging the status quo, not lifting a voice for justice. Union organizing is extremely difficult in this context. And yet it is the courageous aim of the DISK union which sees that only 8 percent of public sector workers and 4 percent of private sector workers are organized and covered by a contract.

The conditions of struggle can be seen in the recent fight by logistics workers to have a union. Mediterranean Shipping Company is the second largest shipping company in the world. It is based in Geneva but its largest owners are finance-capital institutions in the United States such as JP Morgan, BlackRock and State Street. In August, 130 workers of MSC/Medlog Company organized and gathered the necessary documents to have their DISK-affiliated union recognized. They submitted the documents to the Ministry of Labor on Sept. 6. But to smash the effort, the company fired 130 workers on Sept. 1. Then, using the State of Emergency, all demonstrations by the workers were banned and the police attacked their picket lines. International solidarity by the WFTU unions has been helpful in bringing international pressure on MSC as the struggle continues.

The delegate from Turkey analyzed the conditions of struggle in the context of what imperialism is doing in the region.

Indonesia:

Simon, SH, coordinator of the Department of International Relations KASBI (serving as translator). On the right, Sunarno, KASBI secretary general addressed the participants of the WFTU congress

While workers in India and several other countries proudly display union banners with symbols of associated with communism and workers’ power (the hammer and sickle), doing that in Indonesia could be cause for arrest.

The year 2015 was the 50th anniversary of the 1965 U.S.-supported massacre of people suspected of belonging to the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). On July 21, 2016, a hearing in The Hague found the Indonesian government guilty and the U.S. complicit in the killing of half a million to one million people.

This is not a problem of the past. A 1999 Indonesian law is still on the books. Act 27, Article 107 says that any who talks or writes or develops the teaching of Marxism shall be put into prison for up to 12 years. If the person who is charged has an intent to change or replace the ideological underpinnings of the Indonesian state (referred to as Pancasila), the penalty is up to 20 years in prison.

This law is enforced. In June 2016, a young man was arrested for wearing a T-shirt that had a hammer and sickle on it. In July, a group of youth were arrested when one of the youth was found to be wearing a pin with a hammer and sickle on it.

On June 1, 2016, a conference opened on “Securing Pancasila ideology Threats Rise of PKI & Other.” It included several major leaders and organizations. The meeting was opened by Indonesian Minister of Defense Ryamizard Ryacudu, who has criticized any revision of the anti-communist drive. Rizieq Shihab, a leader of the ultra-right wing Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), gave a slide show presentation on the revival of communism. He denounced the attempts to change education about the 1965 massacre, which up until now portrays PKI members as criminals who tortured people and had to be killed.

Reporters covering the rise of reaction have noted that “since mid-2015 police, soldiers, and vigilantes have broken up dozens of events, from film screenings to meetings of massacre survivors, which have been labeled “communist.”

Organizing a class oriented union in this context is extremely challenging. But KASBI, the Congress Alliance of Indonesian Labor Unions has proven that it is up to the challenge. Formed just 11 years ago and led by young workers, it has 150,000 members. Its slogans and organizing combine the fight to win immediate needs with a sharp understanding of what causes low wages, contract labor, and foreign exploitation of natural resources.

KASBI has been mobilizing and fighting hard at the local and national level on raising the minimum wage. They have mobilized significant actions on a national level including their participation with others on the Dec 10, 2014, national strike by one million workers, followed by an equally impressive national strike Nov. 24 to 27, 2015, on the issue of wages.

Their spirit is captured in this video of an Oct. 31 KASBI rally of 50,000 members. The focus of the rally were 10 demands to abolish outsourcing, privatization, low wages and union busting. They demanded women’s rights and migrant rights, free education and reductions on the price of food. The mobilized workers for human rights and concluded by singing the Internationale.

Venezuela:

Marco Tulio Diaz, the vice president of the Socialist Confederation of Workers of Venezuela, took the podium to expose the United States’ efforts at regime change and the resistance of the Venezuelan working class. Among trade unions, the resistance is led by his union.

The loud and sustained applause for his speech indicated the firm support that all the delegates had for the struggle in Venezuela.

Marco Tulio Diaz analyzed the maneuvers of imperialism in Latin America and reviewed the resistance—noting and thanking Cuba for its support.

While most countries represented at the congress were having to fight the government to raise the minimum wage, Venezuelan President Maduro announced on Nov. 3 a 40 percent increase in the minimum wage effective Nov. 1. This is the fourth increase in 2016 and the 14th since Mr. Maduro became president in 2013. (The increase in September was 50 percent.)

In addition, meal allowances have been increased dramatically.

Greece:

Three rounds of “bailouts” by the major institutions of finance capital have each been framed as “economic adjustment”. But the reality has been that financial institutions get bailed out while workers get cut.

Since 2010, there have been massive wage cuts as demanded by the EU and IMF. There have been massive cuts (by about a third) in pensions (by about a third) have made life almost unsustainable for many elderly and their families. During the summer, new laws were passed that allowed banks to initiate foreclosures and now thousands risk losing their homes.

Privatization of the main public assets is being set for major public institutions like water and electricity airports, highways and ports. Workers will lose jobs and the public will lose services and have less control. All decisions will be based on profit and the people who need these basic services be dammed.

Prime Minister Tsipras has just changed his cabinet to get rid of anyone who has resisted the neoliberal drive against the workers.

Could it get worse? Yes! The IMF and EU “advisors” reviewing labor law believe that the working class must have fewer rights.

They have already forced changes in the law to make it easier to fire workers; implemented new laws allowing more “flexible” contracts—meaning, essentially, more temp workers with fewer rights; required and got a “freeze” on collective bargaining back in 2012; cut the minimum wage by 22 percent for those over age 25 and cut it 32 percent for younger workers.

Now the chair of the advisors wants to definitively end collective bargaining rights on wages, giving unions only the power to recommend while the government would unilaterally determine the wage. Now they want to “liberalize” mass layoffs and may want to attack the right to strike

The Greek government that has given in again and again, goes back to the bankers again in December.

In this context PAME has called for general strike on Dec. 8 and is asking all workers to participate and declare which side are you on.

PAME has now set December 8 as the next date for a general strike by all workers in Greece against the latest attack on labor rights. The latest round of pressure by the EU, the IMF and the ECB

Portugal, Spain, and France:

The massive attacks on worker rights in these countries are well known. The strategy and tactics of the class oriented unions in trying to build the fight against them is truly impressive.

There are lots of lessons in these struggles. The role played by “socialist governments” (socialist in name only) in driving these cutbacks is an important lesson referenced many times in talks at the Congress. Similarly, the role played by unions that just want to ‘get along by going along’ with concession after concession was also exposed.

Class oriented unions have been organizing at many levels and in complex conditions. In Portugal, unions began to find unity in struggle in November 2010 when 3 million workers went on strike against austerity (the first joint strike since 1988).

The “socialist” government planned to decimate pensions, outsource jobs and freeze wages. In 2013 massive marches focused on defending rights won in April 1974. In 2015 a coalition against austerity forced a right-wing government to step down after 11 days.

In Spain, over a million workers protested the government’s austerity program in July 2012. And now workers are more tired than ever of cuts to social services, pensions and salaries, labor market reforms and privatization. This is fertile ground for organizing.

In France, the fight against anti-labor “labor reform” filled most of the first seven months of the year with mass organizing and protest.

Railway worker Matthieu Bolle-Reddat thrilled the congress with his expression of solidarity for the struggles in Africa. He represented the millions of French workers who mobilized repeatedly against the anti-labor El Khomri law. It was first proposed Feb. 17 which immediately triggered mass actions March 9 by 500,000 workers then again March 31 with many more. Nationwide protests and occupations fought the law in April and again in May. On June 2, rail workers shut down the system and garbage workers went on strike in Paris June 8. One million workers and community members marched on June 14 even as police attacked the demonstrators. More mass protests fought the law in July. Although it was signed, Matthieu pointed out that the struggle is not over. Another general strike is set for November.

Costa Rica:

The Costa Rican government has proposed “reforms” that would change wage structures and cut wages by an estimated 40 percent.
The IMF has told Costa Rica to cut unemployment eligibility, cut sick leave, and already negotiated wage increases. This is the price they demand to release loans. Accumulated debt is expected to climb to 49 percent of GDP next year. Over 60 percent of the education budget will be financed through debt. That means that the banks will get rich while the people suffer cutbacks.

The health system is collapsing due to lack of investment. As a result, nearly 100,000 people are having to wait over three months for surgery. This in turn is being used as an excuse for privatization.

On April 26 and 27 over 40,000 state workers and students went on strike to protest the broad attack on rights and pay. On July 21 union activists interrupted the legislative assembly with chants highlighting their demands and reflecting the anger of workers targeted by their reforms.

In the fall UNDECA and a bloc of unions and community groups led by UNDECA (Bloque Unitario Sindical y Social Costarricense) continued to organize meetings and rallies to build the movement for larger and larger actions. UNDECA Secretary-General Luis Chavarria Vega was re-elected as the WFTU

Congo (DR):

The Congo (DR) was well represented not only in terms of numbers but even more so by serious organizers with political vision and a drive to create the organization needed for the complete emancipation of Congo. Pictured here is Alexander Kyungu Musheto, Secretary General of the SCTC with another bright leader of the movement.

Niger:

Haribou Tankari teacher and is general secretary of USPT, which represents teachers health workers, clerical, cooks, agricultural workers and small merchants.

Trinidad and Tobago:

Ozzi Warwick chief education and research officer of the Oilfields Workers Union, gave a dynamic speech, which briefly traced exploitation and oppression from slavery to the current conditions. Oil workers are at the center of Trinidad and Tobago’s life, and the union stands as the most organized force against any plans for privatization, a threat constantly lurking in the shadows. As the education director of a class-oriented union, Ozzie Warwick is on the front lines of tying the immediate experience of workers to the system of exploitation.

Nepal:

Workers in Nepal have had their sights set on power for some time. In many arenas of struggle, workers have felt growing power. It is a complex situation with competing political tendencies as well as the capitalist state and the forces of imperialism. There are many union federations as well as parties.

Perhaps one of most important lessons from Nepalese delegations such as CONEP, NDFRONT, the National Democratic Confederation of Nepalese Trade Unions, and the Nepal Trade Union Federation is the level of unity they were able to achieve while at the same time acting to build each organization’s individual identity.

The WFTU is an organization that embraces all class based unions and most delegations had several different groups within it.

Cyprus:

The financial crisis hit workers in Cyprus with a vengeance.

In 2011 and 2012, cost-of-living increases were frozen for everyone and remain frozen today, while prices have skyrocketed. In northern Cyprus, for example, the government proposed to cut wages for public workers by 40 percent along with imposing new tax increases, privatizing the Turkish Cypriot airlines, universities, telecom, and more. Workers went on general strikes in the north more than once with tens of thousands protesting in the streets.

By 2013, as banks were collapsing and poverty gripped 25 percent of the population, fees were instituted for health care, making it out of reach for some.

The troika of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the Eurogroup forced Cyprus to sign an agreement in March 2013 that required even worse cuts and more privatization.

By the end of 2014, wages were cut by about 30 percent.

The public ports of Cyprus are one of the defining features of the island. The IMF forced ports like the one at Limassol to be sold. In September 2015, the troika demanded that privatization continue with the Electricity Authority of Cyprus and with telecommunications. Big struggles forced suspension of it in the spring of 2016. Pensions have been target. Over the last several years thousands have abandoned their homeland to escape

This has been challenged in both sections of the island with organizing, mass protest and general strikes by coalitions of unions.

Everything that happens in Cyprus, happens in the context of its history as a colony of Britain (with its divide and conquer administration). It also happens in the context of the 1974 Greece/ US instigated coup followed by an invasion of the island by Turkey, which taken together ripped the island apart.

Based on its location, Cyprus has always been in the crosshairs of imperialist interests, led by NATO military leaders.

That is a tough position to be in—targeted by NATO, the IMF, and the European Central Bank. The situation also contains a mixture of local right-wing groups that feed at the trough of local capitalists and international capital.

Many labor federations have developed over the years, several steeped in class struggle. Seven federations sent representatives to the congress. Pampis Kyritsis, general secretary of PEO (Pancyprian Federation of Labour) and a VP of the WFTU, chaired one of the sessions and spoke at the plenary. Also speaking was DEV President Hasan Felek.

On Sept. 1, 2016, the class-oriented unions of Cyprus held a demonstration to mark the International Day of Trade Unions for Peace. The action took place in the buffer zone between the two sections of divided Cyprus. Pampis Kyritsis, the general secretary of PEO, pointed out that the common class interests of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots create the basis for intensified common struggles and real solidarity between them. For the class unions of Cyprus, he said, “and for the progressive people of this country.” the solution of the Cyprus problem and the reunification of the country is a top priority.

Italy:

Cinzia Della Porta spoke at a congress plenary. She is a national leader of the Italian union federation known as USB or Base Unions, indicating its focus on mobilizing workers at the base and with the perspective of class struggle.

Italian unions went on a massive general strike in December 2014 against the labor “reforms” being pushed by the government led by Prime Minister Renzi. They continued their fight with a mass action in March 2015.

In the end, the government pushed through laws that made it easier to fire workers. The law also allows employers to not make the contributions owed to employee pensions for three years if hired by the end of 2015. This has undermined pensions and increased profits, but it hasn’t made a dent in unemployment.

This is the fifth time in five years that labor rights have been reformed—each time only to benefit business.

Italy now has fewer people in work as a proportion of the population than any euro zone country except Greece. Youth under the age of 25 have an unemployment rate of 40 percent. The stagnation in the economy can’t be changed with gimmicks. It is a structural problem.

Instead of addressing the needs of the working class, the prime minister is now focused on changing the constitution with a referendum set for Dec 4. Nothing about the constitutional changes increases workers’ power.

In this context, USB organized a national general strike on Oct. 21 and a national demonstration on Oct. 22. These actions challenged the Renzi government’s program of cutting back on labor and social rights. Further actions in workplaces were to take place on Nov. 25 educating workers about the upcoming constitutional referendum.

Russia:
Several leaders spoke for the millions of workers in Russia. They have been organizing and building for 25 years. Renat Karimov, chair of a union for migrants spoke at a plenary about his union’s work organizing and protecting migrant workers from a number of neighboring republics.

Yuri Zaharchenko spoke to us about organizing over 6000 scientific workers in high schools, industry, higher education and in state scientific centers. This area of work was recognized by WFTU General Secretary Mavrikos as one in which the WFTU should begin to focus on internationally.

Evgeny Alexandrovich Kulikov a former chair of a rail workers union and now a general secretary of a union, talked about transportation industry workers organizing.

A major national labor federation from Russia became a new affiliate of the WFTU Congress.

The activist leaders from Russia had deep insights into the class battles in Russia and around the world

Peru:

Valentin Pacho, deputy general secretary of WFTU and a leader of the CGTP in Peru has played an important role in organizing in Latin America. Working with Jose Ortiz, for example he made it possible to file a complaint against Chile for violating fundamental ILO labor rights.

Valentin Pacho was set to represent the WFTU in Chicago by placing a plaque at the monument honoring the Haymarket martyrs, whose struggle gave rise to May Day, celebrated around the world. The United States refused to give him a visa

Carmela Sifuentes, president of the CGTP was on the presidium of the congress. She was joined at the congress by VP Olmedo Auris, Nazario Arellano and Luis Villanueva, assistant secretary general of the FTCCP (construction union).

Iran:

Alireza Mahjoub, secretary-general of Workers’ House in Iran spoke about developing workers power in that country. The base of support for class based organizing is partly reflected in the fact that he received over 1.3 million votes in a recent parliamentary election, getting the highest percent of votes in his area of Tehran. The Workers House is the largest trade union center in Iran.

Guadeloupe and Guyana:

A woman representing Guadeloupe spoke to the congress. Guadeloupe has a strong movement. In January 2009, a general strike involving the whole island brought power to the demand for lower prices and only ended when the government agreed to increase the minimum wage and made concessions on other points. This was during the world economic crisis and showed what was possible with struggle. (The general strike spread to Martinique, which also won concessions)

Komal Chand, the leader of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), spoke at a plenary giving voice to farmworkers’ struggles around the world. He reminded the Congress about the role played by Cheddi Jagan, who for decades led the union and the People Progressive Party. Today, Komal Chand is also an elected representative of the People Progressive Party in parliament.

Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka was elected for the first time to the WFTU Presidential Council. The country will be represented by Mr. Janaka Adhikary from the Inter Company Employees’ Union. Delegations also came from the All Ceylon Trade Union Federation; and the All Ceylon Estate Workers Union which work together as a coalition.

The Ceylon Bank Employees Union was there. They led a strong strike last December when 30,000 bank employees in eight state banks and 12 private banks joined in the action. The union represents all workers, Sinhalese and Tamil and is being vigilant against privatization.

Cuba:

Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, Politburo member and Secretary general of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba, led a significant delegation to the congress.

Everyone at the congress recognized the key role played by Cuba as an example of both workers’ power and resistance to imperialism. Cuba was praised for its internationalist aid to struggles around the world and its contribution to the ideological arming of all who want a better world.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:

Kim Tong Son, vice president, Central Committee of the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea GFTUK and a member of the Supreme Peoples’ Assembly, led a delegation from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In the U.S., the capitalist media tries to vilify North Korea. They refuse to describe the legal rights that workers in the DPRK have that workers in the U.S. are still fighting for. Far from being vilified or marginalized at this conference, workers from many delegations rushed to talk with and have their pictures taken with the DPRK delegation. Everyone understand how U.S. imperialism was targeting the DPRK, and expressed their heartfelt solidarity with the DPRK.

China:

An Jianhua, director general of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions International Liaison Department, led China’s delegation. China has hosted many conferences for WFTU unions, facilitating solidarity. For example, in March 2016 a union capacity building workshop was held for Benin, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Greece, Indonesia, Iran, Namibia, Nepal, Pakistan, Rwanda, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Unions in these countries are deeply concerned with national development that empowers workers and worker rights.

In the fall of 2014, China hosted a trade-union forum along with unions from the Organization of African Trade Unions and the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions.

Vietnam:

Bui Van Cuong, secretary, Standing Committee of Vietnam General Confederation of Labor, led Vietnam’s delegation. In personal conversations, Mr. Bui Van Cuong expressed his solidarity with the struggles of workers in the United States and recounted that he had been to Los Angeles.

In March 2016, Vietnam hosted a key meeting of the WFTU Presidential Council.

The U.S.:

A delegation of about 20 union activists came from the United States. It included a broad range of unions and workers including public employees, longshoremen, healthcare union representatives, an auto worker, roofers, musicians and community organizers.

Cherrene Horazuk, president of AFSCME Local 3800 gave a presentation to the congress on behalf of the delegation. She recounted some of the recent union struggles and pointed to the small but important number of unions beginning to join with the Black Lives Matter movement against racist police brutality. She talked about the unions that were joining with Native activists in Standing Rock in the battle against the pipeline. And she brought awareness to the struggle to free political prisoners Oscar Lopez Rivera, Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu Jamal and others, something that SEIU representatives played a particularly important role in.

Finally, she talked about how the U.S. government blocked WFTU representative Valentine Pacho from traveling to Chicago to place a plaque at the Haymarket site. A statement from the WFTU was read by Kay Tillow, however, and was received enthusiastically.

Cliff Smith, business agent for the Roofers Local 36 also spoke. His local just voted to affiliate with the WFTU, the first union in the United States to do so. He expressed solidarity with the national strike being carried out by COSATU on the same date, demanding decent work and an end to labor contractors. He talked about the need to fight racism and national oppression in the U.S. and around the world. He also talked about the election and the need to build a People’s Democratic Workers’ Party.

Sudan:

Leading delegates from Sudan, Cameroon and others with Haidar Ibrahim General Union of Palestine Workers on the presidium of the Congress
The WFTU has made developing solidarity with African unions a high priority. It has always had deep roots among working class fighters in Africa. This fact was reflected in the many African delegations.

The delegation from the Sudan was large and strong. Coming from a country with a proud history of organizing and struggle from colonial times through the 1960s and beyond, these experienced fighters know about the class struggle.

On Oct. 31, 2016, President Obama extended the 19-year embargo/sanctions on Sudan for yet another year. Sanctions are a form of warfare, and these sanctions are a part of the same history as the August 20, 1998 U.S. bombing of pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan. The factory had just opened in June 1997 and produced most of the medicine needed to treat Sudan’s leading causes of death. It also produced nearly all the country’s veterinary medicine. The factory allowed Sudan to have medicine at 20 percent of the cost on the imperialist world market. It was an important contributor of effective, low-cost medicine to much of Africa. The sanctions and the bombing are a part of a strategy to break Sudan’s sovereignty, to eliminate it as a symbol of resistance to imperialism and to gain access to its oil wealth.

In this context, Sudanese Workers Trade Union Federation (SWTUF) raised its voice against imperialist designs in Africa, the Middle East and around the world while holding up the organization of workers for greater power.

On Oct. 25 and 26, the Women’s Secretariat of the Sudan Workers Trade Unions Federation (SWTUF) organized a forum of women trade union activists. It brought together 250 women from many of the federation’s unions. The role of women in Sudan’s delegation to the WFTU reflected the organization’s attention to struggle and issues of women workers.

Representatives from dozens of African countries filled the WFTU Congress. Certainly, first and foremost were the delegates from South Africa who shared their struggles, political assessments, and amazing energy with all the other delegations.

Chad:

The general secretary of the Union of Unions of Chad participated in the congress. On Oct. 5 as the congress was opening, a court in Chad issued a ruling against ExxonMobil, ordering it to pay a $74 billion fine for systematically underpaying royalties for the oil it was taking from Chad. The challenge will be in how to force them to pay, or to take over the company’s assets as partial payment.

In this context, the Union of Union in Chad is fighting against poverty and poverty wages. Public-sector workers went on strike on Sept. 9 against the government, which has failed to pay proper pensions and failed to pay teachers, etc. For at least a full month, the government has essentially been shut down in an inspiring show of worker power that people in the U.S. only dream of.

Angola:

A new and vitally important union joined the WFTU during the congress and received special recognition for it. Altino Sérgio do Amaral Gourgel spoke for Angola at one of the plenaries.

Burkina Faso:

El Hadji Nana Inoussa, the dynamic general secretary of the union federation in Burkina Faso, shared his analysis of the struggle at one of the plenaries. He has been playing a key role in the coalition of unions meeting with the government over working-class issues.

Congo (DRC):

A number of unions represented the Congo and were quite kind in sharing their stories struggles and desire for international solidarity. The legacy of dedicated revolutionaries runs deep in the Congo.

We remember the inspiring role filled by Patrice Lumumba in the struggle for independence and then briefly as prime minister. He was just one example. But he was an amazing example and a leader. The U.S. CIA orchestrated the coup to remove him and arrange for his assassination.

We were honored to meet comrades from the Congo and to extend our solidarity to them

Congo (Brazzaville):

The Congo (Brazzaville) delegation followed up the congress with a Nov. 1 meeting between the WFTU Francophone Africa office and the Congo Brazzaville unions.

Gambia:

Long time Gambia and regional leader of the WFTU, Momodou K. Masaneh Ceesay, spoke at a plenary. He is the secretary general of the Gambia Labour Congress.

Nigeria:

The Nigerian Labor Congress is the class-oriented union federation of Nigeria, which is the largest country in Africa by population and has one of the largest working classes

Nigeria is rich with natural resources, especially oil. Yet the country is nearly broke and millions are poor and hungry. Many state workers are frequently not paid on time- for months. This situation exists for one fundamental reason, imperialist plunder that takes the wealth.

When the government abruptly announced in May that they were ending a subsidy on gas for cars and trucks, effectively imposing a 67 percent increase, the working class was looking for leadership on how to fight it. This increase came just after a 45 percent increase in the cost of electricity. At the same time the cost of all necessities from clothing to bus fares to kerosene used for cooking have skyrocketed.

The NLC created a coalition to fight the increase and called for a general strike to begin on May 18, Hours before, a court issued an injunction against the strike. At the same time, elements of the coalition backed out of the struggle. The NLC continued for nearly a week mobilizing people. Division within the NLC severely weakened the effort as did the abandonment of the struggle by the reformist unions. Yet someone stood up. An organization of the workers stood up on an issue of the utmost importance.

People in the U.S. may think that fighting price increases is impossible. But it has been done effectively in rent control struggles and in the 1970s against food price hikes in several cities. In New Caledonia, massive general strikes in 2011 and 2013 did force pride rollbacks and strikes this year won a law that caps some price increases. (This was led by USTKE or Union of Kanak and Exploited workers.)

South Africa:

It would be impossible to overstate the importance of South Africa in the congress and in the world movement. The main contributors to the congress were cadre from COSATU and the SACP.

The congress was honored with speeches by COSATU President Sidumo Dlamini. He gave a deep and detailed analysis of the situation in South Africa and the world. He described the 2012 COSATU decision to affiliate with the WFTU while maintaining a relationship with the ITUC. He noted that the “ideological DNA of COSATU can be traced from the class politics of the WFTU.” And he indicated that COSATU remains “guided by that clarion by the Communist Manifesto that “Proletarians of all countries unite,”, which has been popularized to read “Workers of the World, Unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!”

He described the advances made since the end of apartheid, especially in the areas of matched housing, no-fee schools, access to electricity and water and more. But still, the county remains “trapped under conditions of abject poverty, squalor and unemployment.” … “we remain locked and arrested by the neoliberal policies.” “The economy of our country remains locked in the Mineral-Energy-Complex, which is essentially a system of accumulation for white monopoly capital.”

He then reviewed the world situation, the increasing poverty amid concentrated wealth in the hands of a few. He exposed the forces of finance capital and the political forces of USAID, NED in enforcing the rule of capital.

He concluded by saying, what we “are trying to communicate is that the material conditions of the working class all over the world allows for the left forces to seize the strategic initiative and lead the working class struggles. But we are in disarray, we are too fragmented and as a result the right wing has seized the opportunity and has bought the working class into their agenda whose long term interest is against the working class. The fundamental question which this congress must answer is how we can ensure that we build a united trade union movement ,which can work and strengthen progressive Marxist – Leninist political organizations to lead an intensified struggle for socialism.

General Secretary of the South African Communist Party, Blade Nzimande spoke to the WFTU Congress. He also reviewed the global context of the working class struggle and pointed to the need to confront imperialism in every arena, because it is the source of the problem.

Every effort at independence from the imperialist system (and in particular, the U.S.) is met with schemes to undermine the effort. He described the BRICS efforts to counter the World Bank and IMF and called for even greater unity of the unions in those countries.

He talked at great length about conditions in South Africa. He said that “monopoly capital as our main strategic enemy and the parasitic bourgeoisie as our most immediate threat”. He described the continuing poverty in South Africa and again stressed that “without defeating imperialism on a continental and wider international basis, our liberation will remain incomplete.”

The poverty rooted in colonialism and apartheid frames the current conditions which also feature both corruption and the constant attempts by capital to capture full and complete control of the government in all its aspects. The natural disgust by the working class at the continuing poverty and corruption pushes workers to demoralization and sometimes to support for right wing parties.

He reminded the congress of the coup in Brazil and the desire by imperialism for regime-change wherever they sense resistance to exploitation.

With that context he described the dynamics in South Africa in 2012 in the Rustenburg platinum belt and the “Marikana Tragedy” which also occurred in the midst of the global economic crisis with mass layoffs in mining and auto.

He further described the aims of the SACP for free education for all, beginning first and foremost with free education for the poorest and the workers. He pointed out that, “We are dealing with… a global problem not only in respect to student debt but also the material basis of the problem and its essential content.”

Everywhere, the bourgeoisie needs skilled workers with higher levels of education. Yet when it comes time to pay for it, the bourgeoisie is “almost invisible.” Yet they are “opposed to corporate tax on a global scale and are campaigning against any increase in corporate tax needed to augment public resources.” “In other words, we are faced with a challenge of having to subsidize the exploitative bourgeoisie.” And we are forced to do that with a tax base that has shrunk due to the economic crisis begun in 2008

He said, “At the heart of the current student struggles in South Africa is the fact that capitalism is refusing to fund the education of the workers and the poor.”

National Education Health and Allied Workers Union President Michael (Mike) Mzwandile Makwayiba was elected president of the World Federation of Trade Unions on Oct. 7. He was born in a small village and began work as a migrant farm worker on apple farms in the Western Cape. In 1990, he became a cleaner in a hospital. He soon became an active shop steward and soon after he was elected to higher leadership positions. By the late 1990s, he was a regional leader and by 2004 a national leader. He was elected president in 2010

A WFTU program of struggle for public workers

The Congress adopted a program for the next five years which charts a course for increased organizational strength, increased international solidarity and growth for class oriented unions.

Among the sectors of WFTU work is an organization that unites unions in the public sector. Pierpaolo Leonardi is leading the work of the Trade Union International for Public Services. This is one of the most important areas of work since on a world scale, public sector unions are the most organized force in labor and are under the most intense attack.

Many of the fiercest attacks on labor are in the public sector, giving this area of work a high priority. A world meeting of public sector WFTU unions was held in Nepal in February 2015.

In March 2015, Mexican unions had massive mobilizations against the possibility of privatizing energy and in a particular, the national public resource, oil. Teachers and other workers came out to rallies in Oaxaca, Chiapas and Michoacan states.

On April 4, 2016, the WFTU organized a worldwide International Day of Action against privatization on April 4, 2016.

In Pakistan the April 4 rallies were held in the context of an attempt to privatize the national airline. On February 2 two workers were killed while protesting privatization. Many workers were injured in the police/ security attack. The same day, four airline trade union members were kidnapped and later released by unidentified men six days later.

The Pakistan APFUTU had previously denounced the government’s practice of taking loans from the IMF and similar organizations- stating long ago that the debt created would be used as leverage by finance capital to sell state-owned firms. APFUTU organized anti-privatization meetings and actions in 8 cities on April 4- including Gujrat, Sialkot, Gujranwala, Multan, and Fasilabad.

In Argentina, teachers went on a national strike against the new right wing government which has failed to live up to contracts with public sector unions.

In Greece, PAME organized massive demonstrations in many cities on April 7 followed by large rallied on April 10 against unemployment. On June 8, Greek healthcare workers went on strike to expose the way that the IMF imposed austerity was gutting such a vital service. They raised the slogan that Healthcare and Education is a right for all people. On October 11, city workers in Athens went on strike protesting the layoffs of all workers with 2 month contracts- and exposing the use and exploitation of temp workers and precarious labor.

In Peru public sector workers went on strike against privatization on November 5 (and had to face off with police) and then again during the International Day of Action on April 4, 2016.

Peru’s next big national public sector strike is on November 24.

Upcoming meetings and actions in 2017

  • March 22, 23 Latin American WFTU Public Sector meeting in Ecuador (organized by the newly elected Continental WFTU VP Perpetua Dionicia Mejia Echeverria).
  • First week in April – a week of fighting privatization. Asia Pacific continental meeting probably in India to be organized by the Vice President Nepal’s Punja Prasad Dhakal and Deputy General Secretary Sreekumar.
  • The Sudanese Workers Trade Union Federation (SWTUF) is organizing a meeting for the African continent.
  • Gabon is organizing a meeting for French-speaking Africa in Mauritania on April 3 and 4, 2017.

Another sector of work is led by the Trade Union International for Pensioners and retirees.

This work is being led by Quim Boix from the Central Sindical Unitaria based in Barcelona, Spain. He joined the Communist Party in 1964 during the period of fascist Franco. He was fired eight times, arrested 11 times, tortured on several occasions and sent to prison twice. He has been a leader of the movement of the substantial Catalan communist movement and has been a leader in the PCPE. His efforts now are focused on the many struggles around the world that revolve around pensions and the struggle of senior.

Joining him is Marcos Wolman from Argentina (Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina Autónoma). He is the General Secretary of the National Coordinating Board of Organizations of Pensioners and is deeply connected to the many struggles in Latin America over pensions.

The recent struggle in Chile highlights the role of pensions as a focal point of struggle against capitalism.

On the same day in November 1980 that Ronald Reagan was elected president, the fascist Pinochet signed a bill to privatize pensions. This was pushed by Wall Street advisers and advertised as something that would provide 70 percent of one’s income at the point of retirement for the rest of their lives. Instead it is less than 38 percent. Worse yet the amount is a monthly pension of $315 as compared to the official monthly minimum wage of $384. Neither is enough to live on. This impacts whole families and communities.

On August 21, over 1.3 million people demonstrated in Chile against this privatized pension. This has rattled the powers that be in Chile and forced some concessions, but much more is needed

On November 16, 2016, the WFTU affiliate in Senegal will host the first conference of class oriented organizations across Africa which are focused on the struggle of pensioners and retirees.

Workers all over the world have nothing but poverty to look forward to after a lifetime of work. That is certainly true in the U.S. and this remains an area where real struggle is possible.

Songs of struggle

Speeches inspired both strong applause in solidarity- and solidarity in song
South African songs of struggle sung by hundreds rhythmically rocked the Convention center.

One such song, “I’m a communist,” erupted spontaneously:

My mom
Was a kitchen girl
My father
Was a carrying boy
That’s why
I’m a communist
I’m a communist
I’m a communist

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