Under the slogan “Forward! For the attainment of the contemporary needs of the working class and the emancipation of workers against poverty and wars generated by capitalist barbarity,” the World Federation of Trade Unions will hold a congress in Durban, South Africa, hosted by the Congress of South African Trade Unions, from Oct. 5 to Oct. 8. The significance of the conference is highlighted by the fact that this is the first time the WFTU has held a congress in South Africa.
The last congress was held in Athens, Greece, the headquarters of the WFTU, which has member unions representing 92 million workers in 126 countries worldwide.
The WFTU was established and organized in Paris in October of 1945 after World War II and victory in the struggle against Nazism and fascism. According to the History Page of the WFTU website: “The foundation of the WFTU was … 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. … 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 which they held in colonial subjection.” (wftucentral.org)
A split in the world labor international came to fruition with both the Marshall Plan, which was not only an attempt to shore up capitalism in Europe but also to present an anti-communist agenda aimed at the strong Communist parties, and with the Soviet Union, which was key to armed resistance against fascism. That internal struggle, which took place from 1945 to 1949, became intensified with the birth of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which manifested increased military hostility and provocations against the Soviet Union and the newly formed socialist camp.
It was at this time that the so-called International Confederation of Free Trade Unions was formed as a counter to the class-struggle unionism of the WFTU. As its centerpiece, the ICFTU emphasized social democracy, which is a belief in the necessity of class collaboration by working in conjunction with monopoly capitalism and their governments.
It is noteworthy that even after a “split” was engineered to form the ICFTU, the Congress of Industrial Organizations stuck with the World Federation. The American Federation of Labor was a separate and conservative mouthpiece of capitalism and refused to even entertain the notion of sending delegates to the WFTU. The AFL was in an open alliance with the U.S. State Department, through their Free Trade Union Committee, to provoke disunity and strife between communist and noncommunist unions in Europe.
However, the inauguration of the Cold War, the advent of McCarthyism, the passing of the Taft-Hartley Act — in which U.S. union leaders were compelled to declare that they “were not now, or have ever been” members of the Communist Party — and the subsequent purge of communists and socialists from the CIO, resulted in the disaffiliation of all North American unions from the WFTU, with the exception of the Electrical Workers union (UE), which remained outside both the AFL and the CIO. Those two organizations merged in 1955, with the CIO capitulating to the AFL’s collaborationist agenda. (Encyclopedia of the New American Nation, “Organized Labor—World War II and the World Federation of Trade Unions”)
Unfortunately, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and most of the workers states in Eastern Europe between 1989 and 1990, many trade unions experienced a hostile takeover and merged into the ICFTU. However, the dismemberment of the socialist camp, with the exceptions of China, Cuba, Vietnam and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, only exacerbated the crisis of capitalism and inter-imperialist rivalry.
The WFTU was rejuvenated once again in 2005 at a conference in Havana, Cuba. The federation was moved from Prague, in the Czech Republic, to Athens, Greece, under the energetic leadership of both a Greek trade union leader and a leading member of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). Since that time, the WFTU has grown in strength and numbers and has focused on anti-imperialist struggles against the occupations of Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, as well as orienting their membership unions in the class struggle against capitalism. (Fight Back News, Dec. 4, 2015).
More information on the upcoming conference, as well as WFTU activities from 2011 to 2016 can be found on the WFTU website: wftucentral.org