16th World Trade Union Congress

It was heartening to listen to the speeches at the World Federation of Trades Unions Congress in Athens. Speaker after speaker, from trades unions in many different countries, emphasised that workers all over the world were faced with more than a defensive economic agenda. In outlining the effects of the economic crisis in their own countries and the details of their struggles, time and again they raised the urgent need to fight to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism; time and again they emphasised the need for international solidarity in pursuit of this aim.

The Congress opened with a massive ceremony on 6th April hosted by the Greek All Workers Militant Front (PAME) when a huge crowd of workers from Athens filled a sports stadium to welcome the more than 880 delegates and observers to the Congress. The President of WFTU, Muhammad Shaaban Azouz, from Syria, opened the proceedings and underlined in his speech capitalism’s destructive consequences all over the world and the imperialist ferocity with which it spreads disunity and pursues its only goal –  profit. There followed welcoming speeches from the First Vice-President of the Greek parliament, the Regional Prefect of Attiki and the Mayors of Athens and Pireaus. The speeches were interspersed with spirited slogans and singing.

The General Secretary of WFTU, George Mavrikos, set the tone for the congress, emphasising that we were “all together workers, men and women, fighters from all the branches, all of us who have voluntarily joined the rows of the class struggle against capital and imperialism.”

He raised the question of what type of international trade union movement the working class needed today. He asked whether it should try to be compatible with capitalism and ‘modernise it’, or be in conflict with the capitalists to overthrow the exploitation system; whether it should support imperialist wars or be in conflict with imperialism and unjust wars; whether it should follow a line of class collaboration to cooperate with the monopolies and multinationals, or follow the line of class struggle; and so on. He said:  “In these questions, our answer is clear; we continue the path of class struggle – against imperialism and capital; for a world without exploitation of man by man; for a future which belongs to the world of work.”

For the following 4 days the delegates and observers from 104 countries, representing nearly 80 million workers world-wide from well over 200 labour organizations, engaged in long and busy sessions, including regional and women’s meetings .

The first work session began with messages of solidarity and support from Presidents Raul Castro of Cuba, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Dimitris Christofias of Cyprus.

Over 120 delegates (from member organisations) and observers (from friendly organisations not yet members of WFTU) from all five continents addressed the Congress. There were leaders of major organisations from Africa, including the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the latter indicating that it will soon join WFTU. There were leaders of the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions (ICATU), as well as numerous unions and federations in Central and South America, the Indian Sub-Continent and other parts of Asia. Notably the speakers included the Vice-President of the Central Committee of the General Federation of Trade Unions of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) and also the Section Chief of its International Department, the Vice Chairman of the All China Federation of Trade Unions and the President of the Vietnamese General Confederation of Labour.

As already mentioned the overwhelming import of the Congress was one of determination to advance the interest of the working class and oppressed peoples of the world in the face of the onslaught of imperialism as it tries to push the burden of its current crisis onto their backs. Alongside the willingness to take up this struggle wherever it occurs, and seek and give solidarity, there was the clear recognition that, to bring real results, this had to be part of the anti-imperialist struggle. The agenda for the working class is the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialism.

It is high time that we in the working class of Britain took a lesson from WFTU, got rid of the dominance of the one-sided economic struggle in our trade union movement, got rid of the shackles that bind it to imperialism via the link with the imperialist Labour Party, and put the defeat of capitalism and the establishment of socialism on our agenda, where it should be.

The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) was pleased to send two representatives of its journal, Proletarian, to the WFTU Congress. They met and discussed with many of the delegates, and were fortunate that Comrade Pavel Tishchenko, member of the leadership of All-Ukrainian Workers Union, sent an English translation of his speech, which appears below.

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