Charles Millard, a Canadian in the International Labour Movement: A Case Study of the ICFTU (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions) 1955-61

Article excerpt

Introduction

THE WORLD FEDERATION of Trade Unions (WFTU), the global union organization formed in 1945 in an ambitious attempt to continue in peacetime the alliance that had developed in World War II between the labour movements of Britain, the USA, and the Soviet Union, split apart in 1949 under the pressure of big power politics. Different approaches to internal structural matters, as well as policies on Marshall Aid in the context of the deepening Cold War, caused most `western' labour federations to withdraw and create in 1949 an avowedly non-communist rival body in the shape of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). The project that this new International set itself was to stimulate trade union development and cooperation around the world in a form that was `free' from state control, with devolved regional structures designed to avoid the degree of administrative centralization that had been part of the WFTU. Within 5 years the ICFTU had secured the affiliation of 108 national trade union federations in 75 countries, representing in total 54 million members. On paper it was a powerful organization. (1)

However, within the ICFTU there was an imbalance of influence between affiliates from developed industrial countries and those from developing nations. Equally, among the largest affiliates there were ongoing mutual suspicions, especially between the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the American Federation of Labor (AFL), a legacy of the previous period when the former had been a loyal member of the WFTU while the AFL had never belonged and was the Federation's most vehement critic. This rivalry was reinforced by a tendency for national labour centres to identify in international affairs with the policy line of their own government, and in this respect there were often important differences between British and American foreign economic policies. (2)

Such mistrust between key trade union centres had the potential to undermine the Confederation's cohesion. To preserve organizational stability in this context and guard against the dominance of the International by one or the other of the big affiliates, it was agreed from the outset to locate the headquarters in Brussels rather than London or Paris, and it was understood that the leading officers of the Confederation would be drawn from smaller affiliates. This arrangement had the effect of projecting into the international limelight union leaders from the Netherlands, Belgium, and Sweden. Though by no means small fry in terms of their financial contribution to the ICFTU, Canadian trade unionists too assumed a prominent role in the Confederation, their close relations with both the American and British movements and the respect in which they were held by national centres of the smaller European and unaligned states allowing Canadians to play the role of honest broker in international affairs.

This was how Charles Millard, the one-time Canadian Director of the United Steelworkers of America, conceived his role when in 1956 he was appointed Director of Regional Organization of the ICFTU, effectively the number two job in the International. Millard's prominent career in the Canadian labour movement has been well documented, but his international work for trade unionism is largely unknown. (3) This article describes his career within the ICFTU while at the same time using his experience as a prism to demonstrate the limitations of the role of honest broker in a situation where internal power politics were so much in evidence. An examination of Millard's work in the Confederation from 1956 to 1961 highlights both the tensions operating in the

field of international labour in this period and the powerful constraints on those who, for all their moral authority, simply did not command the big battalions. Despite the ICFTU's worthy intention to avoid dominance by the large affiliates, the practicalities of the international labour movement were that such pressures were hard, if not impossible, to contain. …