Christian Trade Unions
Christian Trade Unions
trade associations that arose with the encouragement of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the late 19th century in some European countries, including Germany, France, and Switzerland. They were formed for the purpose of slowing the development of the class revolutionary workers’ movement by propagating the social doctrine of the Christian Church.
Under the guise of defending Christian “universal brotherhood,” the leaders of the Christian trade unions preached the preservation of private property and the collaboration of labor and capital based on the eternal nature of the class division of society. The ideological bases for the unions were formulated in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum (1891) and were later confirmed in a number of other papal encyclicals. Toward the theory of scientific communism and the socialist movement, the leadership of the Christian trade unions maintained a distinctly hostile position. Under pressure from believing workers, however, Christian trade leaders were often forced to oppose employers and to participate in strikes, which were considered by the leadership of the unions to be a necessary, although extreme, measure. Disputes between the rank and file and the reformist leadership of the unions were manifested in clashes of opposing tendencies within the unions. During World War I, Christian trade unions in the warring countries took a chauvinistic position, supporting their own governments.
In the circumstances of the postwar revolutionary upsurge that enveloped many countries under the influence of the Great October Socialist Revolution, the position of the leaders of the Christian trade unions, who sought to counteract the development of the communist movement, was defined by the formula “neither capitalism nor communism.” This formula was adopted in 1920 by the International Federation of Christian Trade Unions, which had united the Christian trade centers of a number of European countries after unsuccessful attempts at unification in 1908. The leaders of the Christian trade unions frustrated the creation of a united workers’ front, which was necessary in the face of the fascist threat. With the fascist seizure of power in Italy, Germany, and Austria, Christian trade unions in these countries were disbanded, along with all other trade organizations.
In 1945, the Christian trade unions refused to join the International Federation of Trade Unions. At the same time, however, the unions changed their character substantially as a result of the participation of members of the Christian trade unions in the resistance movement; the reconstitution of Christian trade organizations after World War II on an industrial principle, which added to their numbers and drew workers in heavy industry into their ranks; and the general growth of consciousness and organization of the workers and the strengthening aspiration among them for united action. Many of the workers participated in the sharp class battles that were spreading in a number of countries.
Christian syndicalism spread in the postwar years, even in the developing countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where trade unions of believing workers came to play a significant role in the struggle of the people against neocolonialism and economic backwardness. Thus, for instance, the Latin American Confederation of Christian Trade Unions, the regional trade center of Latin America founded in 1954, worked out a program to overcome the dependence of Latin-American countries on the USA, to change the existing structure of society, and to change to a noncapitalist path of development. Under the new conditions, a movement against the ideological limitations that fettered the activity of the unions became noticeable. This became manifest in their dechristianization. In 1960 the Confederation of Catholic Workers of Canada (founded 1921) was renamed the Confederation of National Trade Unions, and in 1964 the French Confederation of Christian Workers was renamed the French Democratic Confederation of Labor. In 1968 the International Federation of Christian Trade Unions received a new name, the World Confederation of Labour. The dechristianization of the Latin American Confederation of Christian Trade Unions took place in 1971, when it was renamed the Latin American Center of Workers.
In a number of countries, trade unions that hold or have held to some measure of Christian orientation have established contacts with progressive class trade unions. Thus, for instance, in France the French Democratic Confederation of Labor, although not repudiating the social-reform concept of “democratic socialism,” has nonetheless collaborated with the General Confederation of Labor since the late 1960’s. In Italy, the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions entered a united federation with the All-Italian Confederation of Labor and the Italian Union of Labor. Many national Christian trade centers maintain regular contacts with the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, and the World Confederation of Labour maintains contacts with the World Federation of Trade Unions. Adaptation of changing conditions, however, does not eliminate the contradictory nature of the Christian trade unions, some of the leadership of which holds anticommunist views.
The progressive trade unions of all countries seek to normalize collaboration with Christian trade unions in the interests of the antimonopoly struggle peace, democracy, and social progress.
M. IA. DOMNICH