WFTU and the Arab Trade Unions


April 13, 2014

An interview with the WFTU General Secretary George Mavrikos, General Secretary of the World Federation of Trade Unions. The Arab Trade Union Conference (ICATU) which will take place in Athens, Greece on May 10-12, 2014.


Question: Which is the objective of the meeting held in Athens on 11-12 May?
On 11-12 May in Athens, an international meeting of Arab trade union organizations will take place with the initiative of the WFTU. The participation will be very large. 
Trade Unions members and friends of the WFTU are invited. It will be an open, democratic, modern trade union Conference, where each trade union will speak freely, will contribute its positions. The developments in the Arab world, Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Gulf are critical, are important and in this Conference we will discuss the tasks, the role of the trade unions and the workers for this period.

The Conference will discuss about the labor issues, the salaries, the social security rights for the workers. It is a clear fact that the salaries are low, the unemployment is terrifying, the trade union rights for the working women concern us, the needs of the youth are high. All these topics will be discussed openly and concrete resolutions will be taken. Resolutions for Action. Amongst our objectives, is also the functioning of Offices of the WFTU in more countries in the region so that the presence of the WFTU will strengthen in regional and sectoral level.

Question: Although you are originally from Greece, you have met many Arab trade unionists. What is your opinion about the Arab trade union movement?
I was born and raised in a small Greek island with 2,000 habitants by a family of cattlemen. Our history, our culture, our traditions, our land are similar to the Arabic. We both, Arabs and Greeks have great civilizations. Hence, I feel as a true brother to the Arab workers.

It is true that I have met, I have cooperated, I have worked with great Arab trade union leaders. From all of those that I met in person, I can say that they are militants, honest, proud, people-loving men and women who are stable in their friendships and are in love with their histories and countries. I believe the majority are like that.
 I should not mention names, since I am afraid I will leave someone out. But I can say, I have definitely gained many great friends amongst the Arab trade unionists.

It is also true that I have also met, as a General Secretary of the WFTU many leaders of the Arab World. I will only mention one. I met her together with Yasser Arafat inside his headquarters. The meeting was held in very difficult conditions as we had to break the blockade that the Israeli army had forced against the Palestinian leader. During our meeting the Israeli tanks destroyed half of the building we were in. O Yasser Arafat will remain in history as a legendary leader of the Palestinian people and an all-time international militant leader. A great personality, worthy of our admiration and love.

Question: How would you describe the relations between WFTU and ICATU?
The ICATU has a rich and long militant history. From its foundation until today it has defended the rights of the Arab workers and all the workers in the Arab countries. Consistently, ICATU defended the Palestinian struggle, the struggle of the people of Libya, Lebanon, of all the people in the Arab countries.
 ICATU teaches pride and decency. The WFTU since its foundation has had honest, fraternal relations with ICATU. In the contrary, the ITUC (formerly, ICFTU) has only had a hostile attitude against ICATU.

The real reasons for this hostility, is that the ITUC historically supported the positions and the strategies of Israel. ITUC supports the strategy of imperialism (e.g in Iraq, in Libya, in Syria, in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Algeria etc.) that wants to divide the Arabs, to intervene in the internal affairs of the unions and place trade unionists-puppets inside the trade unions.

It is the duty of all the militant trade unions in the Arab world to support ICATU, to help it become stronger. This would be for the benefit of the working class in the Arab world, for its great history, great culture and its militant characteristics. The WFTU centrally will continue its course along with ICATU in the Middle East, the Maghreb and everywhere, in all the continents and inside all the International Organizations were the role of ICATU may become stronger.

Question: What is the situation today in the International Organizations?
The situation in the International Organizations is not good. The correlation of forces is negative. Take into consideration that although there are numerous resolutions taken by the United Nations in favor of the Palestinian issue which remain only words, while for the invasions of imperialism against Libya, Iraq, Mali etc. one resolution of the UN was enough to be directly implemented.

Unfortunately, the situation in the ILO, in central and regional level is not good as well. There is no equality, no democracy, no representativeness. A monopoly continues to exist and operate. A characteristic example is that the ACFTU of China with 290 million members (which are more than the members of WFTU and ITUC combined) is represented in the Governing Body of the ILO with only one seat of the 31 that exist. So it is clear, that there is no democracy. This heavily reflects in the work and the positions of the ILO.

Question: The last years, the WFTU gained more affiliates and become very strong in the Arab world. What are the reasons for this upward course?
It is true that all the large Trade Union Organizations in the Arab world are either members or they cooperate closely with the WFTU. All the large trade unions are in our family. The trade unions of Sudan, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Mauritania, Djibouti, Somalia, Iraq, Bahrain and other smaller trade unions from Tunisia, Morocco, Libya.

This is mainly because WFTU respects its members and friends. Does not intervene in their internal affairs, respects their religious, linguistic and other differences, respects their history, their culture, their traditions.

Our objective is to strengthen the democracy and the militant characteristics of all the trade unions. To help them obtain democratic constitutions, to hold regular Congresses and elections. To strengthen their anti-imperialistic orientation, their internationalist character and the solidarity expressed between the Arab trade unions with priority to the struggle of the Palestinian people to have his own country with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Question: Your opponents raise the argument that the WFTU supports the governments. What is your response to that?
The WFTU, the class-oriented trade union movement is not “governmental trade unionism”. We do not support governments; we support the people, the working people, the movements. For example, in Libya, in Iraq our position was not to defend Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein. We were against the imperialists because we believe that the only ones with authority to decide for their present and future are the people themselves. This is our position in Venezuela, in Syria, in Egypt, in Ukraine, in Colombia, everywhere.

The imperialists do not choose to intervene against Syria, against Iraq, against Libya, against Ecuador, against Mali, against the Central African Republic for the purpose of “democracy” and “freedom”. The imperialists invade to steal, to plunder, to loot the natural wealth producing resources, for new fields of control, to get the oil, the gas, the waters, the agricultural production. The imperialists invade to gain geostrategic positions, to promote their geostrategic interests.


So those who say that the wars serve the peace, democracy and freedom are hypocrites. They lie. It sounds like a joke, the black propaganda of some, that the Kings, the Monarchs of the Gulf, Erdogan and others are interested for the democratic rights and the popular freedoms.

The position of the WFTU is crystal clear. The imperialist aggression to stop. All the Arab territories to be liberated. The relevant prisoners to be released and the refugees to be allowed to return to their homes.

The people are the only ones with power to decide freely and democratically for their present and future. The wealth of the countries belongs to the people and not the monopolies and the multinational trusts.

It is a stable position of the WFTU that all the trade unions should demand from the governments the satisfaction of the labor rights. Against any government, the trade unions have the duty to struggle for the workers.


Question: What is the message that you want to send to the Arab people?
The World Federation of Trade Unions was, is and will continue to remain their stable ally. We are stable on the side of the working class and the working people of the Arab world. For a fair world, without imperialist interventions and capitalist exploitation. Your countries are all rich. They have gold, oil, silver, sun, sea, gas, fertile land with many natural beauties, unique historic and cultural heritage. You have the Nile. You have worthy working people, scientific personnel, strong unions, militant experience.

Thus, if the people take the initiative and the power, the future of the region for the younger generations could certainly be better than it is today.

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