By Luis Miguel Busto Mauleón
August 1, 2022 Rebelión
This third and final part of the interview with George Mavrikos deals with the basic ideological pillars of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) as well as Mavrikos’ retirement to the rear guard of the workers’ movement.
“The ‘specter’ of the working class is haunting once again the whole world and makes the bourgeoisie see, even today, the workers’ struggles in their nightmares.”
IV. Rome, final point
12-The 18th Congress of the WFTU has ended and you leave the responsibility of the General Secretariat. The problems of the workers, are they still the same or have they changed?
The same causes that have dictated the positions of the WFTU over the years on impoving the standard of living of the working class continue to exist. The exploitation of man by man is here; the core of capitalist exploitation, i.e., the extraction of surplus value from the working class is here; the stolen sweat of our class brothers and sisters is still ending up in the pockets of the bourgeoisie; the imperialist wars and interventions are still here. In short, the roots of all the basic problems for the workers of the world remain intact.
I might even say that to a large extent the terms on which the world working class sells its labor power have worsened not only in the so-called “developing” countries but also in the big capitalist centers where the working class has traditionally had a relatively better standard of living. This happened either as a result of serious and massive class struggles, of continuous claims, or as a result of “concessions” of the bourgeois class of these countries to their workers in the face of the socialist system in order to shield their own power. Since 1991 there has been a systematic “dismantling” -as I said before- of great achievements of the working class, which was produced by the decline of the class-oriented current of the trade union movement, the retreat of the struggles, the dominance of reformism and illusions in a large part of the working class.
With Evo Morales Ayma in Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014
Therefore, the problems facing the working class in this phase of the final decay of the capitalist system are even more complex, and although the core of these problems remains unchanged, their form may change. I think a typical example of this is the discussion about the so-called fourth industrial revolution, which is in fact a central point of analysis in many discussions about the future of work and others. There are talking about automation, disuse of productive forces, total replacement of the human factor by machines, and so on.
It is well known that the productive forces and the productive potential derived from them are the result of an endless process in which both the means of production and human labor evolve progressively, depending on the utilization and improvement of humanity’s existing knowledge, know-how, science and technology. Even under capitalism the productive forces do not cease to evolve. And human knowledge and know-how, as well as the most advanced and innovative means of production (e.g., the much-talked-about artificial intelligence) are all a constantly evolving social process. The “new” reflections on the relationship of the working class and technology should illuminate the essence of the problem which is the contradiction between the social character of knowledge, the means and techniques of production on the one hand, and the individual ownership of the means of production on the other.
In other words, the products resulting from this aforementioned process are in the hands of a small minority of the society. At the same time, there are possibilities for the working class to work less, to be better informed and to participate more in political and social life – to live better, to put it simply – but it sees its living conditions deteriorating. Therefore, when one speaks of “new problems” of the working class, perhaps one forgets that similar problems troubled the labor movement also in other historical periods. Surely you remember the Luddites, that movement in England during the industrial revolution in 1810-1812, who broke machines and threw them into the street because they believed that they were to blame for their poverty and not their employers. So it is a big gamble for the modern working class not to fall into the errors of the past, not to succumb to neo-Luddism.
The same analysis can shed light on other new phenomena that aggravate the difficult situation of the working class today, such as teleworking that become widespread in the period of the pandemic. It is clear that the new technologies were once again utilized to squeeze the working class even more, for a greater extraction of surplus value. On the other hand, we must not underestimate the facts; the class-oriented unions have the duty to analyze reality with our revolutionary tools, to respond scientifically based on the principles of our worldview to the new phenomena that life will never cease to give birth to; always being clear that only the abolition of capitalist property, the “expropriation of the expropriators” will end once and for all with the capitalist barbarism that is the root cause of these problems.
13-The WFTU calls itself anti-imperialist. How does imperialism influence the world of labor?
Anti-imperialism, the anti-imperialist stance of the class-oriented movement is part of its DNA. It is not just a theoretical assumption, it is not “evangelical goodwill”. It derives from a particular view and analysis of the world and, at the same time, engages class-conscious forces with a particular attitude and action on a range of issues. The anti-imperialist struggle can be said to be a criterion for separating consistent class-conscious forces from reformist ones. The consistent class-oriented position recognizes that imperialist wars are the continuation of imperialist politics by military means, that is, it is the other side of the policy of capital that attacks the gains of workers. In fact, I believe that the experience of the First and Second World War is rich and useful. The WFTU itself, as we said before, was born as the fruit of the anti-imperialist action of the workers after the Great Anti-fascist Victory of the Peoples in 1945.
Indeed, today, when imperialist aggression and rivalries between powerful imperialist blocs for the control and exploitation of markets, natural resources and energy routes are even greater, imperialist brutality generates more negative effects on workers: more anti-worker and anti-people policies, hunger, food crisis, poverty, modern slave trade. Do not all these factors force at least 71 million people around the world -according to UN data- to leave their homes? Among them are some 26 million refugees and every minute an estimated 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution and terror.
Let us consider specifically what sufferings imperialist rivalries have caused to the peoples of various countries: the sanctions imposed by one imperialist camp against the other, what consequences have they had for the peoples of Russia, Venezuela, Iran, Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, etc.? Especially each open war, each open intervention provoked by imperialist interests, what situations did it generate for the peoples and workers of these countries? In Libya, which was razed to the ground after the NATO intervention of 2011, in Yemen with the dirty war that has been going on for more than 7 years, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yugoslavia… A large part of their population, civilians, perished in the conflict while millions were forced to leave their homeland.
In Madrid, at the Memorial to the International Brigades, 2018
The imperialists redraw borders with the blood of the peoples for their own geopolitical interests; they crush countries in which they will find a profitable field of exploitation for their monopolies when the time of “reconstruction” comes; at the same time they generate whole armies of desperate people that are formed by refugees and immigrants who will serve as cheap reserves for capitalist production. Since its first steps, capitalism has exploited the uprooted as cheap labor force in miserable and dangerous working conditions, paying them peanuts, when it wants to increase production.
But the future that the imperialists are preparing for the peoples looks anything but rosy: The NATO 2030 Strategy, the “EU Common Foreign and Security Policy”, the “Strategic Compass for a stronger EU security and defense” and the “EU Global Gateway”, the war plans and the focus of the imperialist interest towards the vast Indo-Pacific region, the role of QUAD (USA-Japan-Australia-India) and AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom and EU) are plans that should concern workers all over the world. At the same time, “hot spots” are multiplying in a number of countries, while the arms race has broken all records, with $2.1 trillion spent in 2021!
Precisely for this reason, in the face of such a complex reality, the correct reading of imperialism is of enormous importance for the work and action of the class-oriented trade union movement itself. Because if we do not understand the economic roots of this phenomenon, if we do not take into account its political and social importance, we cannot take a single step in defining the practical tasks of the trade union movement. The analysis that reduces imperialism, for example, to the aggressive foreign policy of the USA or the powerful EU states and excludes other capitalist states, eliminates the basic criterion, i.e. the domination of the monopolies, the economic basis of imperialism. This analysis which clings to the unequal relations formed by the uneven development of the system, exonerates not only the bourgeois classes of the states that are not at the top of the imperialist pyramid, but also the role of the bourgeois states that express their interests, thus making the workers’ movement to drag behind the bourgeois class of each country and leading it down very dangerous paths. These positions form the basis of the so-called “multipolar world”, which is based on the logic of “bad” and “good” monopolies and capitalist states; their criterion is the attitude of those towards the U.S. Thus, such positions leave aside the essence of imperialist antagonisms and lead entire workers’ movements to side with one or another imperialist center. In short, I believe that this line is a dead end and causes great damage to the workers’ movement. It is necessary to further intensify the struggle against these positions, to fight the illusions that they generate and to realize the decisive importance of the monopolies that constitute the cell of the economic base of imperialism, of the relationship between economy and politics.
14-It is also anti-capitalist. In your opinion, is capitalism in decline or is it living its best moments?
Both on a theoretical and practical level, this question is inextricably linked to the previous one. It is the Leninist theory of imperialism itself that scientifically proves that imperialism, as the highest stage of capitalism, is the era of the final decay of a system that no longer has anything to offer to humanity. In monopoly capitalism all the contradictions which have characterized capitalist society since its birth are sharpened. Although capitalist monopoly “inevitably engenders a tendency of stagnation and decay” leads at the same time to the most extensive socialization of production and is the best “material preparation”, the last step before the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. In other words, the domination of the big joint-stock companies in the capitalist economy functions as a precursor of the new society, as evidence that the material conditions for the overcoming of capitalism have matured.
Everything around us attests that capitalism is incapable of overcoming its contradictions. We can still say that it has not yet overcome the consequences of its crisis of the 1970s and although it is in a prolonged decline, it refuses to die. Certainly the counter-revolutionary overthrows of the 1990s gave it an extension, a breath of life, with new fields of profit, new “virgin” markets that had remained outside the capitalist economic sphere for more than half a century. The global and synchronized crisis of 2008 shook capitalism and, on the occasion of the pandemic, the world capitalist economy is already entering a new cycle of crisis, deeper and sharper, as the bourgeois analyses themselves admit.
That is why capitalism shows every day more and more its reactionary and old face as well as its incapacity to solve basic issues of survival of the people. See for example the period of the pandemic, when the “fig leaf” of the powerful capitalist states fell and it was shown that the king is naked; when we saw the collapse of the health systems of the USA, Italy, etc., patients dying in the corridors of hospitals, “allied” states stealing ventilators and medical equipment from each other… But also on the other hand, what did the course of vaccinations show next? For example, the fact that African states had no vaccines and suffered from almost zero vaccination coverage rate, doesn’t it show the failure of capitalism? You know, this reminds me of Fidel Castro’s great phrase: “They talk about the failure of socialism, but where is the success of capitalism in Africa, Asia, Latin America?”
See even the most recent example of the hypocritical concern of the bourgeois about the world food crisis they “discovered” after the NATO-Russia war on the territory of Ukraine. It is a fact that Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of grain and fertilizers (together they account for about 30% of world wheat exports and 20% of corn exports, while Russia accounts for 14% of world fertilizers exports) and, of course, the war operations on the Ukrainian territory, the blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports, the coordinated Euro-Atlantic sanctions against Russia and Russian countermeasures have multiple consequences on the critical food sector. But, in parallel, a continuous increase in the number of starving people is recorded in all international reports. Specifically, it is stated that “the number (of starving people) has increased by 80% since 2016, when around 108 million people in 48 countries were facing acute food insecurity and were in need of urgent help”, while “the number (of starving people) almost doubled between 2016 and 2021 after rising from 94 million to 180 million.” So imagine the absurdity of a system that so blatantly marginalizes people’s needs: at the same time that wealthy tycoons are going into space in their private spaceships, at the same time that productive capacities have reached unprecedented levels, humanity is still discussing whether there are people who are hungry. Capitalism is breathing its last breaths and this reminds me very much of a phrase of the Roman philosopher Cicero when he said that “the closer the collapse of an empire, the crazier its laws are”. In our case, the greater the absurdity of the system….
15- How does the working class movement fight against fascism?
Over the last decades, the need for an anti-fascist struggle of the unions has indeed re-emerged. The rise of xenophobia, racism, neo-Nazism, nurtured and grown by the money of the EU and the USA in the fertile ground of the crisis, misery, mass impoverishment and the demassification of the unions, put back on the agenda the issue of anti-fascist struggle through the union ranks.
The history of the working class movement shows that in historical periods in which capitalism feels threatened, the bourgeois class has the capacity to be flexible in its tactics, to make new political representatives appear and sell them as something “fresh”; likewise, it pushes into the bourgeois political arena political forces that previously vegetated in the darkness. The character of fascism as a bourgeois political force is clearly demonstrated by its own historical experience, which should not be forgotten. After assuming governmental power in Italy and Germany, with the generous support of monopoly capital, fascism proceeded to a multifaceted support of the interests of the capitalists, crushing the workers’ movement and attempting a counter-revolutionary armed overthrow of the vanguard of the world workers’ movement, of Soviet power.
On the other hand, the movement, both in my country and yours, knows very well from its historical experience that the existence of fascism fulfills another function, less obvious but very important for the system: the social-democratic parties take advantage of the fear of “ultra-rightists” to ensure support for their own policy of managing the system, thus presenting themselves as the so-called “lesser evil” for the popular strata. After all, we have seen this scenario dozens of times in many countries.
At the third Congress of PAME, 2007
However, in substance, all fascist forces are part of the system and everywhere actively and decisively promote the main axes of the bourgeois strategy for capitalist development. More generally, they support the dictatorship of capital. They promote class cooperation in the name of the uniform national interest, obscure the capital-labor contradiction and seek to crush the workers’ movement by presenting labor struggles and demands as responsible for high unemployment. Throughout the years of the crisis, the fraudulent “anti-plutocratic” and “patriotic” rhetoric of these organizations aims to disorient and entrap popular discontent, leaving the real enemy, the bourgeois class, alone, and presenting immigrants, certain speculators and bankers, etc., as the culprits.
That is why the struggle of the workers’ movement against the fascist formations is an indispensable condition for the workers’ counterattack of which we speak. With this perspective, the class-oriented trade union movement must realize that fascism is synonymous with capitalism, “flesh of its flesh” and its gold reserve. Then, the authentic anti-fascist struggle is also an anti-capitalist struggle. Brecht had characteristically put it in his text, “Writing the Truth : Five Difficulties”:
“But how can an opponent of Fascism tell the truth about Fascism, unless he is willing to speak out against capitalism, which brings it forth? What will be the practical results of such truth?
Those who are against Fascism without being against capitalism, who lament over the barbarism that comes out of barbarism, are like people who wish to eat their veal without slaughtering the calf. They are willing to eat the calf, but they dislike the sight of blood. They are easily satisfied if the butcher washes his hands before weighing the meat. They are not against the property relations which engender barbarism; they are only against barbarism itself. They raise their voices against barbarism, and they do so in countries where precisely the same property relations prevail, but where the butchers wash their hands before weighing the meat.”
Therefore, any approach that separates fascism from the system that engenders it is doomed to failure and bankruptcy. Thus, the trade union struggle that targets fascism as theory and as practice in the service of capital can emerge victorious.
At the same time, I apologize for the long parenthesis I am about to make, but I want to highlight a useful point about something that takes away impetus from the anti-fascist trade union struggle: tolerance towards social democracy that historically has fed or collaborated with fascism on many occasions. Not only does fascism share historical origins, to a large extent, with social democracy, in the sense that many of its main leaders in the interwar period came from social democracy (Mussolini – former editor of the newspaper “Avanti”, central organ of the Italian socialists, Piłsudski – former leader of the Polish Socialist Party, Mosley – former minister in the second MacDonald Labour Government); moreover, the ideology of fascism derives mainly from the line elaborated by social democracy. The ideology of social democracy was actually the breeding ground for fascism in the interwar period. Social democracy emerged from the war with two clear characteristics: First, the alignment of each party with its own “national” – i.e. imperialist – state and the rejection of all kinds of internationalism except the innocuous one. Second, class collaboration in the form of alliance with the government and of trade union consensus to help build capitalist prosperity as a necessary condition for working class prosperity. It will be seen that these basic principles are already close to the basic principles of “National Socialism.”
After World War I, social democracy took on two tasks: First, to defeat the revolution of the working class; second, to help rebuild the damaged structure of capitalism. The first task brought the social-democratic leadership into close alliance with reactionary, militarist and White Guard circles and “trained” it to assume governmental responsibility for exterminating militant workers. The second task of capitalist reconstruction, once the period of direct civil war was over, required an ever closer collaboration of social democracy and the trade unions with monopoly capitalism.
At the same time, social democracy historically helped both fascism in many cases to rise to power, and the reactionary elements to crush the action of the class-oriented workers’ movement. Consider the traitorous role of the German Social Democratic leaders in the German revolution of November 1918, when in connivance with reactionary armed groups they massacred the leaders of the German proletariat Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg and crushed the revolution. Therefore, the front against social democracy must be brought to the fore of our anti-fascist action. Stalin’s conclusion that “it is not possible to put an end to capitalism without putting an end to social-democratic ideology in the workers movement” is no coincidence.
16-In recent years the struggle of women for gender equality and against the patriarchal system has also been reborn. Has the WFTU risen to the occasion?
In recent years, and on the occasion of the ILO campaign for the ratification of Convention 190 on violence and harassment at work, an intense conversation has started about “gender equality” and “the patriarchal system”. So, some people automatically wondered what role do trade unions have to play in this? What could be their contribution to such a struggle?
First of all, let me tell you that for the WFTU no new debate was opened; the struggle of working women was not “reborn”, simply because for us the struggle for women’s equality, for real equality between the two genders, never died. For us in the WFTU, in the class-oriented trade union movement, the role of working women is fundamental. The role of working women in the work process, in the unions, in the political struggle, can give additional strength to the popular struggles of the present and the future. The class-oriented trade union movement has always held a firm position and has constantly fought for equal rights for working women, for equality at work and in all aspects of life; it fought to end slavery and trafficking of women, for the right of women to vote, for their right to participate in trade unions, in political parties, for their presence in government and state positions as well as for women’s participation in social and cultural activities. Many of these rights became a reality in socialist countries where working women had the status they deserved. These achievements of women in the then Soviet Union and the rest of the socialist states generated the social force and pressure to advance certain gains in the capitalist states as well. In the latter, for example, the granting of universal right to vote to adult women was significantly delayed, not because it was an element incompatible with capitalist functioning, but because the survival of capitalism is also based on the mobilization-integration of pre-capitalist reactionary forces, for example the mechanisms of manipulation of popular forces possessed by religious denominations and their ecclesiastical structures.
Unfortunately, after the counterrevolutionary overthrows in the period 1989-1991 and the change in the international correlation of forces, many of the rights and achievements of women and men were taken away from them. Today in all capitalist countries, working women are subjected to relentless exploitation. They have mostly part-time, temporary and precarious jobs. They are paid less than men and have access to lower pensions. Working women are the first to lose their jobs. In many countries, violence against women is on the rise, prostitution and trafficking networks are spreading, economic migration is separating many mothers from their children and husbands. Working women today have an increasingly limited right of access to education, cultural activity and leisure time.
So today, going through the third decade of the 21st century, in many countries we are coming to the point of seeing an incredible social degradation of women, their dependence on men, obscurantist perceptions and practices, multifaceted violence against women by male family members, etc. The reaction to the above phenomenon by theoretical feminist currents and movements, mainly from European countries and the USA, is often accompanied by a mistaken explanation of the phenomenon: it is interpreted as a result of globalization, i.e. the import of capital and – therefore – the expansion of capitalist relations that have a dissolving effect on the agricultural community (as the main productive unit of female labor); moreover, according to these approaches, this effect is accompanied by the expansion of violence against women and the strengthening of male power; a regime that they characterize as “patriarchy”. This vision idealizes the previous situation, although it correctly highlights capitalist violence, which of course is practiced not only on women, but also on men. And so, on this basis, it exaggerates the role of the feminist movement and even detaches it from the class approach, from the workers’ movement as the bearer of the struggle against capitalism.
At the same time, this vision aims to disorient the working class, to divide it, to incite women workers to fight against men workers and vice versa. It also obscures the fact that not all women have the same problems, often hiding the class root of the problem. When we speak of the “gender issue” we are referring to the additional exploitation that women suffer in society as a consequence of their gender (i.e., we are talking about a combination of social and gender discrimination). These discriminations have mental, cultural and moral repercussions, since women are prevented from developing their abilities fully and equally. However, the core of the problem is that these negative effects concern first and foremost women of the working class, the toiling farmers and self-employed. On the other hand, the women of the bourgeois class find the means and the possibilities to solve their problems.
So the solution and the way out lies in the common struggles of women and men against the social system that engenders the exploitation of man by man. After all, the class-oriented trade union movement has the task to fight for the small and big problems until the final liberation of our class. This was also the compass followed by the WFTU, with special consideration and attention for the organic inclusion of women in the struggles of the class-oriented union movement, not as a decorative element, but as an integral part and condition of the final triumph of the working class.
As WFTU we fought against anachronistic perceptions, we fought for the creation of women’s committees in grass roots unions, we organized world congresses of working women, we fought for the representation of our class sisters in the leading bodies of the trade unions, we opened a front against bourgeois and reformist notions about the role of the women’s movement, we established a World Committee of working women. Always bearing in mind that in the banners and flags of the WFTU were written the most progressive demands, the most advanced positions for the substantial emancipation of women; in the “Charter of Trade Union Rights” of the WFTU the aspirations, hopes and demands of the women of our class have been embodied.
17-National and international employers, bourgeois governments, yellow and collaborationist unions… are not too many enemies to face?
I will turn the question around and wonder: Aren’t there too many enemies that the bourgeois class and its imperialist mechanisms have to face? Consider the 250 million workers who went on strike in the streets of India in 2020 and paralyzed that huge country, with WFTU unions, members and cadres at the forefront of its organizers. Think again of the 110 million WFTU members around the world living, working and struggling for the future of our class. Think of the great struggles of striking workers in France, Greece, Spain, Turkey and so many other countries. If you were in the position of the bourgeois, wouldn’t you be afraid that your kingdom is threatened by the class that has already abolished exploitation once historically?
In Mexico City, Mexico, march of the Frente Auténtico del Campo (FAC), 2017
So the truth is that the bourgeois are afraid and that is why they are taking their measures. That is why they are spending millions in repressive mechanisms, in new technologies of repression, in NGOs that corrupt consciences. That is why they are promoting all kinds of “Friedrich Ebert Foundations” that will act as “firemen” for “extinguishing” the class struggles. That is why they rewrite and falsify history, that is why they divide the working class in the ways we have discussed, that is why they support the yellow unions, that is why they invest in “next generation” propaganda with social networks and “fake news”, that is, the hybrid intervention of the new mechanisms of ideological repression. In other words, the “specter” of the working class is haunting once again the whole world and makes the bourgeoisie see, even today, the workers’ struggles in their nightmares. The hope for the world working class lies in the struggles that take place in all corners of the planet incessantly.
That is why, as a class-oriented trade union movement, we are optimistic about the future. Indeed, the enemies that fight us are many and apparently powerful, armed to the teeth, with countless resources and mechanisms. But the future belongs to us, the future belongs to the class that comes to abolish exploitation once and for all. And what helps us in this is our stable compass, the fact that we know where we want to go. Because we want to bring the truly new that is being born today to every small or big strike, to every small or big rally. We want a society where prosperity, creativity, productivity and solidarity take the place of the decay of profits, imperialist wars and the exploitation of man by man. We want a society where the working people are in power, a society where the word “exploitation” disappears from the dictionaries. And we know that we will be victorious.
V. The WFTU of the 21st century
18- What is your assessment of the 18th Congress of Rome?
The WFTU has celebrated throughout its history the most magnificent World Trade Union Congresses.
I have participated in the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th Congress. All the congresses have been congresses of positions of ideological and social content. Unlike the ICFTU-ITUC congresses which are congresses of fighting for seats, bargaining, financial expectations, leadership and power sharing, in our congresses the confrontations were and will always be about the theoretical issues of each epoch and how our theoretical and ideological choices will be put into practice.
So the 18th Congress was dominated, based on Marxist theory, by the analysis of the contemporary world and the practical tasks that derive from it, with the goal of defending the workers and strengthening the class perception in the grass roots unions.
18th Congress of the WFTU in Rome, May 2022
So, the main achievement of the 18th Congress is that we discussed, decided and voted the important text “Priorities 2022-2027”, under the title “Declaration of Rome”. This document is an achievement.
The other important aspect of this Congress is that, although it was an ordinary congress, it actually had the characteristics of an extraordinary congress. The restrictions on international flights, the strict sanitary protocols of all countries and the millions of ordinary people who lost their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, forced us to limit the delegates to 450; some of them spoke virtually and many participated in the electronic voting.
So, among these and many other limitations, we managed to hold a militant, democratic and uniting congress.
The third element of the 18th Congress is that, for the first time in many decades, we had a smooth change of leadership. The election of the new General Secretary was carried out by secret ballot gathering 92% of the voters. It is the duty of all of us to support the militant line and the new leadership.
Personally, I feel the need to call on all the cadres of the WFTU at all levels to support the principles of the class line and help the new General Secretary. And on this occasion I want to explain that of course I take the responsibility, since it was my idea and decision to propose comrade Pambis Kyritsis as a candidate for this particular position. Some of my dear comrades made criticisms and said that the new General Secretary is from a small country and from a small union. I have explained to them and I attest now publicly that during the last seven years I have discussed and proposed people specifically from big unions in Asia, Africa and Europe. For their own reasons, these unions responded negatively.
However, in addition to the election of a new general secretary, we also had the election of many new cadres, most of whom are also young in age. And we also had again the presence of a woman in the Secretariat.
All the above mentioned, all together in a cumulative way, shows that in extraordinary circumstances, with collective, hard work and persistence, we achieved the goals of the 18th Congress. Its success was also due to the members, friends and leaders of USB Italy, who were excellent hosts.
19-What are the greatest challenges for the new leadership of the WFTU?
The challenges and new needs never stop. The guide are the documents voted in Rome and at the same time everything new that events and life bring.
A constant for the militant trade unions are always the workers’ demands concerning their salary, social security, pension and working rights. Imperialist wars and intra-imperialist rivalries are also key issues; certainly, so are the problems of life, of the environment, of civilization and culture. I personally believe that the problem that will aggravate is the drastic restriction of democratic and trade union freedoms against the next generations of workers. The warning bell must ring loudly, a call for regrouping, a general invitation to fight for the defense and extension of democratic freedoms, respect for private life, personality and the specific characteristics of each one must be launched.
I have confidence in the affiliates and friends of the WFTU who can rise to these challenges because there is a developed sensitivity and genuine interest in all contemporary issues; at the same time we have very good elaborations, for example on water and groundwater, on the working environment and contemporary needs, on the food issue, cultural issues such as the need to return stolen cultural property to their countries of origin, as well as the cultural issue of protecting mother tongues and particular dialects. For any new leadership taking over such a large, mass trade union organization, there are three main possibilities:
First, to further develop and improve the qualitative and quantitative characteristics of the organization. Second, to enter a period of stagnation and third, to retreat and recede.
The WFTU has worthy militants at all levels and we will all work together to strengthen the WFTU; for a numerical and quantitative, but at the same time qualitative reinforcement and strengthening. In the last 20 years, in addition to the quantitative improvement, which is also necessary, essential qualitative struggles were won, like this great regroupment based on the principles of the class-oriented struggle, the rejection of the theories of class collaboration, like the bold and courageous stance within the international organizations, as the conquest of a better level of democratic functioning, as the open ideological unmasking of the role of the ICFTU-ITUC, the ETUC and their bureaucratic leading groups, as our analyses and positions on the so-called NGOs, the labor aristocracy, the social problems of corruption within the trade unions and much more.
In my opinion this quality brought massification, pride and satisfaction to our affiliates and cadres. Finally, let me point out an existing risk. Because poverty, unemployment, undeclared work, etc. are growing and entering – rightly so – the front line of daily action, vigilance is needed so that unions do not get entrapped simply in the routine. Our struggle and the class-oriented struggle must always have in the front line the struggle for the emancipation of the workers, for their liberation from capitalist slavery. Many times the daily stress magnifies and absolutizes the present and completely hides from the eyes of the workers the necessary future. In this case the unions become co-managers of the system and then the risks for the interests of the workers and for the mission of the unions increase.
20-What will be the role of Mavrikos from now on?
I had announced publicly that I would not be a candidate for general secretary again. I explained this from the podium of the 17th Congress in Durban, South Africa, in front of all the delegates of the Congress. I ask for the understanding of all those colleagues and comrades who collected signatures and launched campaigns for me to stay. Those who know me personally knew that the announcement I made in Durban was a product of realism, reflection and consciousness.
In my more than 50 years of involvement in social struggles, I have argued that leaders should leave in time, help new leaders emerge and not let time and age defeat them. I have always supported this with words and now is the time to support it with my personal example. In my final speech at the 18th Congress, I explained this topic in more detail.
I had prepared myself psychologically, emotionally and politically for this change in my life. I was ready. I was not surprised, although the change in the way of daily “operation” is great. Half-century habits are not easily reversed.
Of course, I’m not “going home,” I’m not “going out partying.” I consciously take my place in the “rear guard” as a simple soldier, but having the weapon at hand. I have already been in conversations with militants of the WFTU from all continents during the last years and we would like to help the younger militants with theoretical, ideological and trade union training seminars; not to become teachers but to help in an auxiliary way as “logistics” does in the army.
21-From Rome to Skyros?
Skyros is the place where I was born and where my character was formed; the place where are my childhood and youth memories are and where the tomb of all my ancestors, my parents and my wife are. I never forgot Skyros and my roots. I am attached to its people, their lives and struggles, their cultural traditions, customs and habits. I tried never to be absent from the events and needs of the island and I was always in Skyros whenever I could. One day I was traveling from New Delhi, India, to Athens and as soon as the plane landed in Athens I left for the island directly from the airport. And I even spoke, I gave a speech to a meeting of islanders over the phone, while I was in South Africa.
Skyros has returned to me a thousand times the love I have for it and its people. I was very moved when in one of my speeches as a member of the Greek parliament I spoke about the demands of the stock breeders of Skyros and the hundreds of residents who had gathered to watch my speech on television lifted my mother in their arms, hugged her and kissed her. Such expressions of gratitude were not few.
One of the reasons I delivered my last two speeches at the Rome Congress in Greek was also because my compatriots on the island had asked me to do so and some friends there virtually watched my last farewell speech. Back from Rome I spent two days on the island and in a week’s time I am going to stay for two months. I feel strange to stay there for 60 days. My visits were always 5, 10 or 20 days at most. The last time I spent two months on the island was in 1971, that is 50 years ago!
My friends, relatives and former schoolmates are getting ready to organize what they say is the final report; they tell me that I have to give a report before them of what I have done all these years. And I know they are all nice to me but strict. We all knew each other very well and no one can fool anyone.
My strictest judge during my 8-year term as a member of the parliament was my mother. Two or three times a week she would call me to complain about agricultural pensions, price increases, the cost of agricultural inputs, the need for the Ministry of Health to send a second rural doctor to the island, etc. Unfortunately, now that my son is in Skyros as a rural doctor, she is no longer alive.
On May 1, 1999 my father passed away at the age of 88. Before he died he asked me not to sell the 30 goats he had. My siblings and I have respected his wish. So now I have to take care of the goats somehow. My relatives are right to complain. They have been taking care of them for so many years, now it will be my turn! Even as an assistant…
So, until September 4 I will be in Skyros; I will be in contact with other comrades to prepare some international trade union seminars for free trade union training; I will continue to practice sport shooting in the mountains of Skyros and in autumn maybe I will reapply for a visa to the USA. I have a brother who is an immigrant in the USA, I have not seen him for many years and as we are getting older I would like to see him.
In conclusion, I am happy and fortunate to have the opportunity to be in my homeland more often. I feel fortunate to be alive even by chance, as I could never have returned to my homeland if, for example, in 2012, as passengers on the plane that, after an explosion, had to make an emergency landing in Tehran had not been so lucky; or in 2003, when the Israeli army arrested me along with 8 other dear comrades and kept us standing in a stream with our hands up all night, pointing lasers at our heads; or even in 2007, if we had not avoided by chance the explosion of a paramilitary bomb in Bogota, Colombia, because we were a few minutes late to a meeting place with leaders of the Colombian class-oriented movement, things would have been different. So for all these reasons I feel fortunate, above all because on our side, in the struggles, some gave even their lives; from their death we learned that the revolutionary must be willing to sacrifice his life in the next minute for the struggle and at the same time plan and schedule the struggles of the future as if he still had two more lives to live.
-See publication in Spanish on “Rebellion” here: El ‘fantasma’ de la clase obrera vuelve a recorrer el mundo entero y hace que la burguesía vea aún hoy, en sus pesadillas, las luchas obreras» – Rebelion