The Guardian March 15, 2000


WFTU Congress:
For Unity and Struggle

Debkumar Ganguli the Asian-Pacific Secretary of the World Federation of 
Trade Unions (WFTU) visited Australia recently as the guest of the CFMEU. 
The 14th World Congress of the WFTU is to be held in New Delhi between 
March 24-28 and his visit to Australia was a part of the preparatory work 
for the Congress. During his stay he spoke to a number of Trade Union 
officials and The Guardian interviewed him.

Q: Mr Ganguli, who will be attending the Congress, that is,  what 
countries and what particular organisations?

Ganguli: We hope that trade union organisations from Latin America,  
Africa and Asia will participate in quite large numbers. Of  course, the 
fact that the Congress is being held in Delhi, means that it is quite far 
away from Latin America and Africa but, I think, given the seriousness of 
the problems and the challenges confronting trade unions, there will be 
great interest from these areas. 

We also expect that the trade union movements of the Arab countries, from 
Europe and the socialist countries like Cuba, China, Vietnam, Laos and 
Cambodia, will come. There is a commonness in the  problems and in 
understanding.

We hope that trade unions from around 70-75 countries will attend this 
Congress. We expect around 350 delegates. Since the Congress is being held 
in India for the first time, there has been a strong interest from the 
trade unions of India and Asia.

We hope for representation from all Asian countries including Japan, New 
Zealand and Australia. China's trade unions will definitely participate. 

Q: What do you see as the main issues facing the trade union movement 
today? What is the agenda for the Congress?

Ganguli: The key issues before the World Trade Union movement today 
are centred around the struggles to defend jobs, social security, health 
protection, trade union rights, poverty,  environmental degradation, 
exploitation of child labour, etc.. 

UN reports state that well over a billion people are deprived of basic 
consumption needs, are under-nourished and lack social security and health 
protection. Of the 4.4 billion people in developing countries, nearly 
three-fifths lack basic sanitation.

Neo-liberalist globalisation (economic rationalism -G), bringing poverty 
and unemployment, are common problems confronting the working class and the 
trade union movement all over the world.  Discussion and debate on these 
topics is long overdue.   

The trade union movements in almost all countries are, in their own way, in 
the struggle. What is needed is coordination of this struggle and for a 
united movement. This is possible because the problems confronting the 
working class, with only minor variations, are common. 

In the developing countries, for example, unemployment and poverty are 
extreme while in the industrially developed countries the problem of 
redundancy, privatisation and lack of employment  opportunities are also 
dominating. In many countries the attack on trade union rights is a common 
factor. 

Attempts are being made by employers and governments to undermine 
collective bargaining and thereby, all trade unions are being undermined 
and denied. 

On the question of employment, one can see how privatisation is taking the 
form of redundancy and the employment of labour is being organised through 
contractors and sub-contractors .

Q: Do you think that there is an increase in international  solidarity 
among trade unions and between international  federations? I have in mind 
here, not only between the WFTU and the ICFTU (International Confederation 
of Free Trade Unions) but  also between the various trade union 
internationals, the TUIs.

Ganguli: All along, since the foundation of the WFTU the Congresses 
of the WFTU have been open to everybody including non-affiliated 
organisations. Non-affiliated organisations could come to this Congress. 
They can speak and they can vote. The topics we have selected this time are 
very much common to the whole union movement. As a result of this there is 
a growing feeling of unity and cooperation among the trade unions of 
divergent federations. This is taking place in various countries, including 
India, Bangladesh and Pakistan where the trade unions of these countries 
have different affiliation.

I believe that everybody is feeling the need for a common  platform and 
there is a growing realisation that no one alone  can fight back the 
ferocious offensive against the working people and the trade union 
movement. There is no other way. 

To be successful it is necessary to have unity at all levels  at industry 
level and at national and international levels. Never before has 
international solidarity been so important as it is today. It is a decisive 
factor if we are to win this struggle.

Q: In Australia a number of unions are affiliated to the ICFTU  and I 
think that they would be interested to know whether the  relations between 
the WFTU and the ICFTU are improving. What  is the view of the World 
Federation of Trade Unions about the  eventual re-unification of the two 
main federations into one  body?

Ganguli: As a matter of fact since its foundation the WFTU has 
maintained very good, cordial working relation with the trade union 
movement in Australia. Many unions are connected to the WFTU through their 
international organisations (TUIs) The relations between the ACTU and the 
WFTU are cordial despite the fact that many Australian unions and the ACTU 
belongs to the ICFTU. 

During my visit I met a number of trade unions and I could see that their 
response was very positive, they are very cordial.

There is a common understanding that in view of the increasing offensive by 
capital and the various challenges which confront the trade union movement, 
mutual cooperation among the divergent international organisations and 
trade unions is very essential.

My appeal to them is to participate in the WFTU Congress and to maintain in 
future the mutual cooperation and cordial relations for international and 
national solidarity.

The discussion I had with the ACTU Assistant National Secretary was also 
very positive. He felt the need for mutual cooperation between trade unions 
of divergent affiliation and the need to go on. He asked about the 
possibility of mutual cooperation between the WFTU and the ICFTU. 

I told him that so far as the WFTU is concerned, we are not only for trade 
union unity but that there is no other way. Given the circumstances we have 
to work together. Let us forget whatever the causes for disunity were. Let 
us come forward to work together to meet the challenges of capital.

Q: Mr Ganguli, you've been to Australia on several occasions in the past 
but it is now some years since you last visited. Do you notice any 
particular changes that have taken place? Is there anything that you have 
noted particularly?

Ganguli: One thing I must tell you. Due to the amalgamation of some 
unions there are some changes. Trade unions are still trying to find the 
way to effectively meet the challenges of the time. 

The second thing I could see was that the attack made on the MUA workers by 
the stevedoring company was effectively beaten back. In that fight back, 
almost all the trade union movement in Australia, nationally and 
internationally gave solidarity support. And that brought the victory 
against the first offensive, against globalisation as employers tried to 
impose it in Australia. 

I found a common realisation of the need to strengthen international trade 
union cooperation. There is a  political understanding also that without 
such mutual cooperation  and understanding we shall not be able to defend 
the trade union rights and the various things we have achieved. 

Generally, there is a positive improvement it is true, but still to go 
further, to understand the gravity of the offensive and to work out trade 
union strategy. It may be that in some places even including in ourselves 
the implications and challenges created by globalisation are still not 
fully understood. The trade union movement as a whole will have to study 
the problems, exchange experiences and information among ourselves and then 
work out a common strategy.

Q: Do you regard your visit to Australia as having been  successful?

Ganguli: Yes, there is no question about it. I should have possibly 
come a little earlier. I must say again that the trade unions I have met 
were very  cordial, fraternal and gave a positive responsive. I think it 
has given me an optimism that we shall continue to strengthen the 
fraternal, mutual cooperation between the Australian trade union movement 
and the WFTU and, for that matter, the trade union movement as a whole. I 
am very happy for that.

Q: Do you wish to convey a message to the workers of Australia? You can 
do that to some extent through the columns of The Guardian. What would 
you say to Australian workers?

Ganguli: Unity and struggle! We see that a virulent attack has been 
let loose by globalisation in all forms. But we should not be pessimistic. 
I am very optimist and we are absolutely confident that, as in the past, 
with united strength we shall fight back the offensive of capital. The 
capitalist globalisation must be confronted with the equally powerful 
globalised united action of the trade union movement and the working class. 
I have no doubt about it. 

Due to its glorious history and traditions, the Australian working class 
will definitely respond militantly and efficiently with all its members. 
The working people all over the world will go ahead and fight back and 
defeat the capitalist offensive.

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