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A Personal View
Pietro Merli Brandini

Pietro Merli Brandini, former National Secretary of the Italian Trade Union Confederation CISL and Member of the TUAC Administrative Committee, first attended a TUAC meeting in 1950, when it was an Advisory Committee to the OEEC the forerunner of the OECD. The TUAC Plenary Session on 15-16 November2001 will be his last meeting. He has prepared these personal reflections for the occasion.

This is probably the last contribution I can offer TUAC as a member of this body.

Therefore, it will be sort of a recap of what I have seen done in this house, and by all of us who were and are here.
We, the TUAC, were born in parallel with the creation of the OEEC, the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation: the Marshall Plan.

Continental Europe was in pieces, a heap of rubble, and not only physical rubble. The political and institutional wreckage was all around us, all over the countries that had just ceased fighting one another so bitterly.

The defeat of Germany’s and Italy’s totalitarian regimes was a healthy outcome.

Citizens’ freedoms and political democracy were not the only victors.

The institutions of totalitarianism were destroyed. In Italy, the stigma of a corporatist mandatory order, identifying society and the State were dismantled, removed from office. In Germany, beyond institutional aspects, the coal and steel cartel was battered, being held an accomplice of the European disasters.

Well, right then the first thrusts towards an initial European economic integration – those of Schumann, Adenauer, de Gasperi started – were supported in parallel by the economic co-operation pillar named OEEC.

That was the context in which free trade unions themselves acted. While Communist inspired unions were obliged by Moscow to opt out of both processes: what was then still the unitarian CGIL in Italy wished to join the process, but just couldn’t.

Therefore TUAC was born as the expression of free trade unionism, the legitimate child of our original associational heritage.

Within the trade union movement, most particularly in Italy, France and Greece, relationships were tense and confrontational.

But already by the end of the ‘60s, unequivocal pointers emerged from within several Communist inspired trade unions – through the efforts, particularly, of their Socialist elements – of a deep process of rethinking both towards the European Community and the European Trade Union Confederation, towards the TUAC and the OECD itself.

A path which was followed to its end – not easily, of course, not without difficulties – over a few decades.

Now, we can well say that all European trade unionism adheres to the fundamental values of free trade unionism and actively takes part in the work of TUAC.

It is not really that easy to trace TUAC’s development. The most important trade unions in the West have operated within this house and the most prestigious trade union leaders were here with us.

Also TUAC experience, most particularly in its first few years, offered an important contribution to developing a different conception of trade union work itself.

We can thank the Marshall Plan for the idea that trade unions are an indispensable factor of justice and, at the same time, a competitive stimulus both for economic growth and for the spread of social welfare.

In my own country, in France and in Greece, in particular, trade union conflicts hinged upon the concept of productivity as a more or less explicit reference point of trade union action itself.

The European Productivity Agency then launched a specifically focused plan of trade union information and training aimed at encouraging collective bargaining systems more or less related to the dynamics of productivity.

The meaning of such an undertaking is obvious, nowadays. But it wasn’t then, not at all. It became a watershed, at that time, feeding conflicts among trade unions, most particularly between my own country’s trade unions.

My union, the CISL, on the basis too of a self-determined conviction of its own, for sure, then – in the middle of the ‘50s – sponsored the need to develop company level of collective bargaining, tied to the parameters of productivity, as a complementary system to national sectoral contracts.

Today, and since the early ‘90s, such a two-tier system formally linking the local and the national levels is reflected in the entire industrial relations system in the country.

Here in this house, but in our own countries as well, the long TUAC journey started by achieving the accreditation of our Committee on the merit of the issues we dealt with both in relation to the OECD Secretariat and to our own national Governments.

They did not always understand our points of view. They did not always accept us as bona fide interlocutors. It is also true that we did not succeed in making always quite crystal clear the connection between our common, natural stance on claims put forward for better wages and/or working conditions at factory or sector level and the need to transform and develop our economic systems at national and international levels. Not always...

Over the years, though, both the different TUAC Secretariats we nominated and our own growing participation in the common TUAC work helped urge all of us to take more responsibilities on issues such as growth, inflation control, the environment, social welfare, international finance and co-operation, development aid.

The fact is that TUAC has grown through a decisive improvement of co-operation among unions coming from different historical roots and even different structural characteristics.

What many thought of as the unlimited growth horizons of the ‘60s and ‘70s, uneven as they were, allowed the continuous improvement of our wage and social gains. And we gave then critical but positive support to the OECD economic and financial policies. 

The ‘90s brought, we know, radical changes. Technological innovations, the opening of markets made for the phase we are now living of so-called jobless growth and our main job, all through the ‘90s, has been that of recovering full employment without losing salaries, purchasing power, or squeezing the welfare net down. We were obliged to confront tough problems of negotiated, and often also non-negotiated, flexibility.

Global growth still gives us problems by displacing production, imposing labour turn-over, or much too high wage differentials between skilled and unskilled jobs. And we seem to be stuck with unacceptable levels of unemployment.

Meanwhile – but this is a challenge as well as an opportunity we dare not miss – both TUAC and the OECD have come to be relevant points of reference for unions and countries in the Eastern half of Europe, as well as in South East Asia and Latin America. True, Africa lingers still very much behind...

The pledge to and, at times, the reluctant effective acceptance of political democracy, of the respect of human rights, of the right to choose freely one’s own trade union and to the free collective bargain of one’s own wage and working conditions, have conditioned the entry of many countries into this Organisation and of several trade unions into this Committee.

Now, of course, September 11 and the murder of so many people it brought about beg all of us to take further our thinking and our elaboration about development. All of us, I believe, are convinced that it must be oriented to a higher degree of equality of conditions among peoples and countries.

But the task we have is certainly not that of hindering global development, as others believe they have to.

On the contrary, we believe that a higher degree of integration among countries is needed, through the pooling for the common good of capacities and of resources.

I do not really believe that such a process can be left to its own inner mechanics. I am convinced – I believe we are convinced – that it must be constantly prodded and governed by the accomplishment of wider horizons of justice and freedom for all. 

Yes, in other words, we need a governance of globalisation. Globalisation is here with us and is here to stay and the need to bend it to an ongoing correction of any diversion from the path of social justice is, therefore, a must. 

Again, at the very start of the Marshall Plan the notion of trade unions as an irreplaceable factor of justice was accepted here: not at the World Bank, not at the IMF....

Such a notion must now be strengthened in order to legitimise the concept itself of global development.

Then, in the early ‘50s, various forms of aid were devised to shore up the action of trade unions aimed at reconstructing Europe.

Nowadays, such support must go to any and all free trade union movements arising in the world. They are often moved by courageous leaders who confront the challenge of government repression and national and transnational firms, a leadership often capable of fighting for more justice and more freedom. But in many of these countries real grassroots have yet to grow where the people are and the people must work to give full life and victory to these efforts.

It is trade unionism in the rural sector, which is most badly needed, as a stage towards the full development of free trade unions, built upon more evolved structures.

Many of our own unions, in Europe as well as in the United States, developed significant rural branches and practices of their own.

I am aware, of course, that such a perspective is not strictly that of TUAC. But I am just as aware that, without the expertise accumulated here, many of our efforts aimed at strengthening trade unions everywhere at the international level and, thereby, at reinforcing ourselves, will not succeed.

To further justice and equality, the globalisation of trade union development becomes an essential part of the landscape still to be built.

This is the wish I want to make to all of us here, from our President to John Evans, the whole Secretariat, its staff, and all of us. 

My best wishes for the future and my heartfelt thanks for all those whom, since the year 1950, I have met here: since this house was first built.

We have done a good job, together.

But there is still a lot to be done, may be more than we have already done.

Go ahead, my good friends, and do it.

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Capturé par MemoWeb à partir de http://www.tuac.org/news/NBrandini.htm  le 25/03/02
Capturé par MemoWeb à partir de http://www.tuac.org/news/NBrandini.htm  le 25/03/02