From April 6th - 11th, 2011, delegates from 210 organizations in over 120 countries, representing over 78 million members gathered in Athens, Greece for the 16th Congress of the World Federation of Trade Unions. Unfortunately, this exciting event that is held every five years is largely unknown to the majority of the labor movement in the United States.
Why is this?
Actually, there are a few different reasons.
1. Where Are Our Leaders? I'll start with a little history lesson. A century ago, the American labor movement was robust, active, and had leaders who transcended the labor movement and galvanized the working class as a whole in the United States. Leaders like Eugene Debs, Mother Jones, Joe Hill, to name a few. Who can we name in the last three decades that is anywhere near the level of leader with anywhere close to the level of influence as the figures I mentioned above? Sadly, the answer is no one. Our lack of leadership in the United States to galvanize the working class against the ruling class is just one reason why we don't even hear about major labor events such as the WFTU's 16th Congress. This brings me to my next point, which is why we haven't had any leaders.
2. The Purge - In the 1940's and 1950's, the ruling class pulled off one of the greatest strategical moves in labor history. Learning the lesson of Joe Hill(kill them, and you make them a martyr), the ruling class figured out a way to get the labor movement to get rid of their most effective leaders. That's right - a little thing called Loyalty Oaths. Sadly, big labor in the United States went right along with this idiotic exercise, expelling the most active and vocal leaders and organizations(UE, anyone?), and keeping the class collaborators. The effects of this event still resonate and shape today's labor movement. Have you ever notice that you can't start a union meeting without the pledge of allegiance or the national anthem? I'm not saying those are bad things, but it is very telling that labor is still stuck in that mindset of having everyone prove their Americanism before every meeting.
3. Class Collaboration - The labor movement today is a far cry from its militant predecessor. Instead of calling for the working class to unite and smack the ruling class back into reality, big labor has settled into the cozy setting of labor management forums and the bureaucracy of the toothless and cumbersome NLRB. Our conventions are held at casino's and resorts, where we spend members' money on lavish dinners for officials. This is the same activity that we complain about when it is corporations that are doing it.
4. Strike? What Strike? - In the United States, we have all but given up our best, and most powerful weapon of all - the ability to withhold our labor to deny profit to the ruling class in order to receive our fair share. Most standard union contracts contain a "no-strike" clause in them. This also barres unions from refusing to cross a picket line, or joining sympathy, or general strikes. This is designed to keep the working class from uniting across industry lines. Unless we bring back our most powerful weapon - which by the way, is used heavily, and with great success by WFTU unions - our movement will continue to wither away. It's time for us to return to our militant, grassroots, sit-down strike origins.
All of this brings me back to why the WFTU is largely unknown in the United States. The WFTU believes in an open, democratic, militant membership. They do not believe in discriminating against people with various political beliefs. Most importantly, the do not believe in class collaboration, and openly call for combating capitalism and the unity of the working class in the struggle against the ruling class.
You can find out more about the WFTU, and their 16th Congress here: