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HALF A CENTURY
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 Germanys and Italys totalitarian regimes was a healthy
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
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 couldnt.
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 TUACs 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 wasnt
then, not at all. It became a watershed, at that time, feeding conflicts
among trade unions, most particularly between my own countrys 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,
The fact is that TUAC has grown through a decisive improvement of co-operation
among unions coming from different historical roots and even different
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
ones own trade union and to the free collective bargain of ones 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,
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
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
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
We have done a good job, together.
But there is still a lot to be done, may be more than we have already
Go ahead, my good friends, and do it.