By Luis Miguel Busto Mauleón

July 25, 2022  Rebelión

In this second part of the interview with George Mavrikos, we review his work in the World Federation of Trade Unions between the Havana Congress in 2005, where he was elected General Secretary until the 18th Congress in Rome.

“In the modern world, with the great changes and technological advances, there are still two basic social classes: the exploiters and the workers.”

III. From Havana to Rome

8-What have been the achievements in the WFTU since Havana?

Well, the “Great Leap”, as comrade Quim Boix called it! We made an effort to give a comprehensive answer to this question in the publication of the same name on the occasion of the last 18th Congress of the WFTU. There we gave in a graphic form, as far as possible, a panorama of the course followed by the WFTU in the last 17 years, with the advances – the achievements as you say – and the growth of this great class-oriented family of the world working class.

Without wishing to repeat the figures exhaustively, it is worth mentioning that from 48 million members, grassroots workers, that the WFTU had in 2005, in 2022 the WFTU has 110 million members, i.e. we can speak of an increase of 129%. At the same time, it can be said that this increase is not only quantitative but also has important qualitative elements, since large organizations of great social significance and global reach rejoined or affiliated to the WFTU for the first time. The example of COSATU of South Africa (whose existence has always been so inextricably linked to the WFTU) that returned to our family, the powerful CITU of India, the dozens of federations and grassroots unions of the CGT France, the millions of agricultural workers of FAC in Mexico attest to this qualitative development.

Simultaneously, the TUIs -the International Trade Union Organizations of the WFTU- from 4 that were before the Havana Congress, are 11 in 2022, and, in fact, are present in strategic sectors of the economy where the contemporary working class works and suffers (Metal, Energy, Transport, Banks, Hotel-Tourism, Pensioners and Retirees, Textiles, Garment and Leather etc.). In other words, we are talking about an increase of 63,6%. We see a similar picture in the Regional Offices with 5 of them operating in 2005 while in 2022 there are 7. At the same time, while the WFTU had no Sub-Regional Offices before the 15th Congress, today it has 6. Moreover, 4 International Committees were set up (Working Women, Working Youth, Refugees and Migrants, Legal Advisory) that have developed a rich action. In addition, the International Action Days of the WFTU were launched, which had a great international impact, mobilizing millions of workers around the world under joint demands. The intervention of the WFTU in the international organizations where it has a permanent and general consultative status (UN, UNESCO, FAO and ILO) was reactivated on a different basis and with another point of view; international strikes, solidarity campaigns with the peoples groaning under imperialism were organized; books were printed and various ideological-political trade union publications were released; international poster and book contests were organized; international missions were held to more than 100 countries around the world; historical anniversaries of the working class were commemorated and so many other initiatives were undertaken to which one can refer…. I believe that each of these aspects of action could even be the subject of a separate question and analysis.

In general, it can be said that the WFTU once again became an opponent to be taken into account by the bourgeoisie and imperialism. Once again, the working class “got its claws out” against the class enemy at world level and all together in the class family of the WFTU we showed that history does not end as some bourgeois “scientists” hastened to predict. And honestly, for me the main criterion that the WFTU was developing and growing was – besides the indisputable evidence of the figures – the attacks that the WFTU suffered in the last years: both by enemies and by “friendly fire”.

After all, it is a classic rule of the class struggle that “to be attacked by the enemy is not a bad thing”, but a confirmation that the route you have chosen is the correct one; a route that worries and annoys the enemies of social progress. And while before 2005 almost nobody cared about the WFTU, after Havana we heard all kinds of accusations: first that the WFTU is a “sick man” on mechanical support that resists to be disconnected, then that we cultivate “hydroponic Stalinism”, that we are remnants of the past that only raise flags and shout slogans, that we are the separatists of the world trade union movement, that we are anti-democratic, that we support dictatorial regimes, that we support terrorists…

Our leaders have been imprisoned and assassinated by reactionaries and the bourgeois state in Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Indonesia, Paraguay, Peru, Israel and many other countries. Militants of the WFTU have been fired from their jobs all over the world or taken to court for their internationalist actions. Even members of the team of the WFTU Central Offices were persecuted or threatened in trade union missions to Colombia, Israel, Panama and other places…

And all this because we did not bow down to imperialism, because we did not enter into “the ministries” of the imperialist instruments of Brussels and the USA, because we did not become a “NGO of trade unions” as the ITUC is today. We had to do something very simple and everything would be for us “a bed of roses”: to affirm that the class struggle is over and that capitalism is eternal. But if we said that, we would not be who we are. Therefore, all this course of ours inspired pride and moral and political superiority towards our opponents.

9- Who were your greatest enemies throughout this time?

As I told you, the main enemy of the WFTU is the main enemy of the world working class itself: the bourgeoisie and its instruments. In other words, the definition of our main enemy arises from the Marxist-Leninist analysis of the world and the fundamental contradiction that exists in our epoch, which is the epoch of imperialism, of the parasitic existence of the global capitalist system. So the fundamental contradiction of our time remains between capital and labor; between those who have everything and those who have nothing but their labor power. Therefore, for the working class the “main enemy is in their own country” as Karl Liebknecht said in 1915, in the midst of the First World War.

So all these years, the bourgeoisie with its mechanisms, its powerful means, the huge sums of money it spent on anti-union propaganda and buying consciences, hindered, threatened, terrorized and fought the WFTU in any way it could. Sometimes it even resorted to direct attacks, such as the one orchestrated by the bourgeois state in Italy shortly before the organization of the 18th World Trade Union Congress, with the raid of the carabinieri in a premeditated manner and with fabricated accusations in the offices of the USB, which was also the host organization of the Rome Congress. Here let me also add that these tactics are usual for the bourgeois states when they choose to persecute the WFTU and its class-oriented line. I remind you that the French state had organized a similar kind of raid in 1950 on the then WFTU offices in Paris, just as the Austrian state did on the WFTU offices in Vienna in 1956 with a night raid, looting archives and documents and confiscating sums of money.

Was not the banning of my entry to the USA in my capacity as WFTU General Secretary in 2018 a direct attack on the WFTU? Much more so since the reasons for my visit were purely of political and trade union nature and my purpose was to participate in a UN event? Here again I should add that the bourgeois state has continuity both in its practices and in its list of “enemies”. Interestingly, the U.S. state had issued a similar ban to the Italian WFTU President Giuseppe Di Vittorio  – known in your country for his involvement in the Spanish Civil War –  in 1952, forbidding him to enter the U.S. to speak at the UN. Therefore, the bourgeois know very well that we are enemies. The key is that we do not forget it.

The second enemy was and is the imperialist organizations, the imperialist transnational unions and alliances that have caused so much suffering to humanity and the peoples of the whole world. Would it be possible that we were not bitter enemies of imperialism and its instruments? Rivers of blood separate us, millions of dead fighters who fell with a weapon in hand, fighting from the jungles of Vietnam to the mountains of Greece and the” maniguas” of Colombia. The WFTU has the anti-imperialist struggle engraved on “its skin” as a “birthmark”.

I remind you of the fourth resolution of the constituent congress of the WFTU in 1945 regarding its position towards imperialism and colonialism, around which there was a great controversy: “It would be an incomplete victory if the peoples of the colonies and the territories of all countries were deprived of the rights of self-determination and National Independence“. In short, our movement has always been on the right side of history, on the side of the real producers of wealth, on the side of the proletarians. Look at the position of the WFTU against imperialism everywhere: in Greece, in Cyprus, in Cuba, in Nicaragua, in Venezuela, in Angola, in Mozambique, in South Africa, in Vietnam, in Korea, in Afghanistan, in Libya, in Yemen, in Syria, in Kuwait, in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Palestine and so many other countries. Where imperialists assaulted peoples, created waves of uprooted, immigrants and refugees to redraw borders and plunder resources, the WFTU defended these peoples with an internationalist solidarity in practice, with its affiliates and cadres in all countries and continents in the front line of the struggle.

The third enemy, I believe, is to be found in the collaborators of the bourgeoisie, in its lackeys, in its representatives in the labor movement: labor aristocracy and the bureaucratic trade unionists. These individuals, most of whom have never worked in their lives, sometimes appear as progressive ones, sometimes as environmentalists, sometimes as anti-sexists, sometimes as humanists, or even pretend to show empathy for the suffering of workers. They are “test-tube” trade unionists, “manufactured” in the schools of various ministries and class-collaborationist foundations. The experience of your country with the yellow union leaderships of CCOO and UGT is a photographic representation of what I am describing. Internationally this tendency is expressed through the ITUC: with guaranteed high salaries, these trade unionists in name only do not belong to the working class and their main mission is to transform the unions from mass workers’ organizations into mechanisms and servants of the capital; they seek to restrain the working class, subdue it and disorient its struggles, propagating the “make-up” of the capitalist system and rejecting the role and mission of the working class. For all these reasons, they feel a deep hatred towards the class-oriented trade union movement and militant trade unionists. They fabricate various false theories to make themselves appear important and useful. They establish links with the media, invent news and take advantage of digital advances of science. At the ideological level, they are, in other words, the bearers of bourgeois ideology within the workers’ movement, the “fifth column” against the class-oriented workers’ movement.

Finally, I have to confess to you that there is one more enemy, a more dangerous and often invisible enemy: this is our own mistakes, our own oversights and errors. Without confronting them, without studying them, the progress of our movement is impossible. Their existence is inevitable, but their repetition is not. After all, let us consider that much of the experience of the workers and trade union movement is the product of mistakes and the lessons we draw from them.

Let me give you an example: is it the duty or not of the class-oriented trade union movement to always be a judge of the authorities from the point of view of the interests of the working class? Should not the “ABC” of the labor movement be to defend and raise the standard of living of the working class regardless of the economic system of each country? Does not the achievement of this goal always pass through criticism from the point of view of the workers? What criticism did the trade unions of the socialist countries make of the mistakes they saw being made in front of them in the socialist construction? For example, at the 11th Congress of the WFTU in East Berlin in 1986, unions from 75 countries participated. Were there any delegates who criticized Perestroika and the imminent capitalist restoration?

There were gathered there trade union leaders with a significant role who saw, understood -of course with the limitations of the time- what was wrong. Thus a great opportunity has been wasted for the world working class to give important help to the Soviet Union, opening a front of criticism and reveal the true objectives of Perestroika, against the methodically prepared capitalist restoration. So, in short, knowledge of the workers’ movement does not come without a cost. The key is to take advantage of it, to appreciate it, to always know that we get it with difficulties and hardships.

10- -What do you think has been the key to the great growth of the WFTU?

I believe that the great growth of the WFTU, the great leap we were talking about before, is not found in a single factor, but in a combination of tactical and strategic objectives, specific aspects that I also shared in the recent Congress; in other words, it is found in qualitative and quantitative keys.

First, I believe that it was achieved with belief, the deep belief that in the modern world, the working class needs a weapon of its own. It needs its own tool to elaborate its strategy and tactics; strategy and tactics for itself as a social class with a particular historical mission.  Against the reformist, revisionist concept that claims that there is supposedly no Working Class today and identifies the Working Class with the manual workers of previous centuries, we have answered and are answering scientifically that in the modern world with the great changes and technological progress, two basic social classes remain: The capitalists, the exploiters on the one hand and the workers and employees on the other. Of course, the working class is also evolving, developing, acquiring more knowledge, is more educated than before, has accumulated more knowledge and experience and its basic needs are constantly expanding. All these changes exist and we take them into account. But despite all these changes, the basic criterion remains: Exploitation. The production of surplus value and the stolen sweat that goes into the pockets of the bourgeoisie.  So we move forward with the belief that in the modern world there is social injustice, there is social exploitation which is even crueler and we still believe that the present Working Class with its great knowledge and experience is closer and holds the switch of the production process in its own hands. This thinking and awareness has been the “lighthouse”, the basis that has guided us in the development of our tactics during these 17 years.

The second factor has to do with the practical organization, the internal articulation of our forces and the combative spirit that characterized our militants. I am talking about collectivity and the common militant position of the great majority of our members and cadres. What we have achieved did not come as a result of a single person. It came mainly as a collective effort, a common pursuit and a common stance of all of us. Together we built this edifice. We do not nullify the role of personality. We know that in social history personality certainly influences developments. But it is the masses that write the developments, the progress, and the move forward; it is the collective groups who do that and not kings, cardinals or princes.

The third factor had to do with an important rule that we strictly observed in the struggles we gave: We paid attention to the base and we tried not to lose touch with the base; with our unions, with the workers, the unemployed, the immigrants, the refugees, the homeless and the excluded. We reinforced internal democracy in our operation.  I personally visited 87 countries over the 20 years and some of them many, many times. Members of the Secretariat and the Presidential Council have done the same. Many more of our TUIs and R.O. cadres traveled and were close to the base. With all these contacts we were getting strength from the base and encourage the struggles. We were trying to have our ears and our eyes open to the struggles and demands of the base. This is how one gains the trust of the base and the base becomes more militant, more aggressive because they realize that they are not alone in their struggles. We loved and supported the base of the WFTU and the base is returning its love and appreciation. After all, this was the brave force of the WFTU, its everyday heroes in their workplaces and countries.

The fourth key to the revitalization of the WFTU, I believe, was the use of criticism, self-criticism and emulation that are the law of our progress and improvement at the collective and individual levels. As cadres of the class and international trade union movement we must objectively analyze the situation at all times. We must have objective knowledge of the reality in our sector, in our region, in our union and in the world, as the WFTU leadership. To achieve this level we need self-awareness, critical and self-critical examination of our decisions and actions. We have a duty to foster collective emulation, militant ambition for improvement and global personality development in our cadres. And above all, our basic law was and will be the obligation to learn from our mistakes; to study our weaknesses and our mistakes; to analyze them. The intelligent militant learns from his mistakes. The frivolous one never!

The fifth factor is certainly the study of the history of our class and specifically of the WFTU itself. In this two-decade course we have walked by utilizing our rich history. With its positive and negative points, with its forward and backward steps; with its dignified compromises and its unacceptable concessions; with its great successes and its few but existing mistakes. For us today, historical experience, both positive and negative, is a positive asset and a positive weapon for the present and the future. As I have mentioned before, history is an open window to yesterday and to tomorrow;  to build tomorrow, one needs to utilize the experience of yesterday.

The usefulness of the history of the trade union movement at sectoral, local, national and international level is great today. And at the same time defending ourselves and counterattacking against the dirty attempt to rewrite history is a key task. We have been defending the historical truth. So we did with special courses on the history of the trade union movement, so we did with special seminars, with book and poster competitions, with publications, articles and speeches. As I said at the 18th Congress, in 17 years we had more than three thousand of our cadres, mainly young people, attending relevant seminars.

The sixth factor that raised the WFTU was the very heat of the battle, the action itself. We took over the WFTU in a state of paralysis, so the immediate task was action. That is why we launched the slogan “Action – Action – Action” at the 15th World Trade Union Congress in Havana, Cuba. We could not waste time with introversion, inaction and endless discussions. We stressed that we will bring the WFTU back to life “in action”. It was through action that we would prove whether and what we could achieve. And we developed all this rich action that you all know, that is described in the texts and main documents of our Congress and is available in our “Statistics 2005 – 2022” Handbook, in our videos and publications. So the lesson and the conclusion is action, the action with our goals and priorities. In action over the past years we have organized trade union education and many trade union training courses.

The seventh “pillar” was none other than the economic policy that characterizes a class-oriented union, a trade union organization by and for the working class: We relied financially only on our affiliates, on the base, on the ordinary workers. We received the WFTU in December 2005 with a financial debt of 200 thousand dollars. In Rome we delivered the WFTU not only without any debt, but also with a considerable remaining balance. The WFTU does not owe a single penny! The key actors in this achievement were all the organizations that during all these years have supported the WFTU despite the fact that they were “poor”. Their support gave strength to the WFTU and allowed it to deploy its class-oriented action. It was their support that allowed all the expenses of the 18th Congress to be covered by the fees and financial support exclusively from the affiliates of the WFTU. Financial sovereignty, operating solely on the basis of the workers’ affiliation fees is both a criterion for the class character of an organization as well as a guarantee of its commitment to the working class. After all, the criterion “show me your sponsor and I’ll tell you who you are” is usually correct….

11- Were there any mistakes during your period of leadership?

It is true that in the years that I had the main responsibility in the elaboration of the strategic and tactical options of the WFTU we have made mistakes. In my village we say “the housewife who washes dishes will also break dishes”. The right leader must learn from mistakes and not repeat them.

The risks of mistakes will always exist and that is why the leadership of the class-oriented trade union organizations needs to be vigilant at all times. Mistakes are either practical or ideological in nature. And while errors in practice are easily corrected, ideological errors are more substantial, more complex and often critical.

The long, living history of the international trade union movement has demonstrated both right-wing and left-wing ideological errors. The tool to limit these errors is deep theoretical knowledge by the leadership.

In my 50 years of trade union and political activity I have met right opportunists, right-wing reformists, who condemn everything and characterize it as sectarianism, and on the other hand, left opportunists, sectarians who condemn and characterize others as opportunists and reformists. This way of interpreting situations is called “voluntarism” in Marxist theory. Which in simple language means that I judge everything according to what “I want” and not by the objective reality.

The WFTU and all militant unions must draw their line by analyzing and synthesizing the objective reality, the real picture.

In the last century, the labor union movement often turned towards sectarian errors. This is explained by the excitement, exaltation, abnegation that dominated the consciousness of the workers. They went so far as to launch the slogan “now or never”.

After the world historic changes of the period 1989-1991 that overturned the international correlation, with the decline of the struggles, the difficulties of the trade union movement, the emergence of multiform NGOs, the aggressiveness of the international bourgeoisie and its governments, the dangers of right-wing errors, that is to say of opportunist and reformist deviations, are greater. Taking advantage of labor aristocracy, the international bourgeoisie nurtures frustration and defeatism in parts of the world working class, which pushes to opportunism. Then it is not enough to say that we are protected from right and left opportunism and that we have thus fulfilled our duty. NO. We must analyze the objective reality. For example, if the WFTU tries to change, alter or disguise its anti-system characteristics and become a partner of the system, it is certain to lose. The character of the WFTU has been forged since 1945 until today as an insurgent battalion; a battalion that many times goes against the current, that enters into conflict, that has a subversive strategy and a radical tactic; a fearless and brave battalion in the face of the enemies of the working class and always on the same side. After all, there are within the trade union movement at all its levels, the original systemic ones in whom capitalism trusts and supports; those are all barking dogs, but the caravan moves forward.

-English translation by Maria Barouti which appeared in Theory & Praxis.

Rebelion has published this article with the author’s permission.


First part of the interview was posted on Marxism-Leninism Today website on August 11, 2022: Interview with George Mavrikos, Former WFTU General Secretary | MLToday